Rebekah Ontiveros was standing outside Lotus Town Yoga in Lovettsville when she missed a call from a California number. She didn’t know it yet, but it was the folks at Netflix, responding to her application to Sugar Rush: Extra Sweet, the timed cooking show that challenges four teams to go cupcake-to-cupcake in the hopes of winning a $10,000 prize.
She’d applied on a whim a year and a half prior, sharing the story of the bakery she runs with younger sister Sally. “If we never hear back, at least we tried,” Rebekah says. She hadn’t planned to tell Sally she’d put their name into the ring—until
Netflix emailed the bakery, too.
That sweet spot is Hive Bakeshop in Brunswick, Maryland, across the Potomac from where Rebekah lives in NoVA. Yes, they did compete. They made it through all three rounds of a tropical-vacation-themed contest with a cardamom cupcake (iced with tequila-lime Swiss meringue buttercream and topped by a macaron decorated to look like a grapefruit) and a desiccated coconut tart (with tamarind-hibiscus custard filling) before being eliminated when their cake’s water feature wasn’t executed quite as planned.
“We aren’t sad about the outcome,” Rebekah says. “We earned a lot of street cred as a result of the show.” The cupcake sold out in a matter of hours on their website. “It speaks to our overall mission that we want to keep improving and bring recognition to small-town areas.”
It’s also a testament to their passion for cuisine and good-hearted sisterly rivalry. They grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, (Rebekah was born in Colorado), where they were influenced by Asian flavors, shopped for unique food at New Sagaya Midtown Market and watched Iron Chef.
“We were encouraged to learn new recipes,” says Sally, who lives in Brunswick with her husband, Ian Fuze (they were married in July during the pandemic). “Rebekah and I have always had a competitive streak.” The older sister (by four and a half years) largely picked out the special ingredient; it was tofu for a year. Rebekah was also the judging panel. It fueled a fire for Sally. At age 12, she decided to be a pastry chef—and made some “awful desserts” with her new Silpat mat.
Their parents eventually moved the family to Lovettsville; Sally finished high school in the area, and Rebekah was in college at University of Maryland, College Park. Hive didn’t happen right away. Sally graduated from James Madison University and moved away, spending time on the West Coast and pursuing a career in rock climbing (her background is in geography). When it didn’t pan out, she moved in with her parents to save money and rethink her goals. “They said to focus on something that makes you happy, and that was baking,” she says. While she didn’t have professional experience—save for a few stints in bakeries like the former Cupcakes Actually in Fairfax and Leesburg—she had passion. With a little help from their project-manager parents, she found an affordable space in Brunswick and opened Hive in 2018.
“As a young entrepreneur and woman, you aren’t always taken seriously, but Brunswick helped make this a reality,” says Sally. She got the name from her penchant for bees (their dad used to keep them, and Sally would pet them) and her desire to create an accessible gathering space for the community to enjoy pastries.
She admits that she’d bitten off more than she could chew. That’s where Rebekah came in. The latter had built a career in early childhood education, was unfulfilled and made the tough decision to quit. “She didn’t even quit to work at the Hive,” notes Sally. “But she decided this is what makes her happy, too.”
It was an ideal partnership: “I do better with the bigger picture. I’m not good with the finer details,” Sally says. “But that’s where she shines. We’re so different but complement each other.”
Adds Rebekah: “She’s the peanut butter to my jelly.”
You get a taste of that on Sugar Rush. “That tart is the greatest visual description,” Rebekah says. “I brought a lot to the crust and the analytics, and then Sally had the curd. Then somehow we had this … really memorable dessert.” It earned acclaim from the judges—as did that grapefruit macaron, which they made knowing that the master of the treat, Adriano Zumbo, would try it.
And the show is every bit a competition.
“Contrary to popular belief, it’s not staged,” says Rebekah, who, along with her sister, was flown out to L.A. for filming earlier this year. “You’re baking for six hours straight [a three-hour block, plus the time you bank]. I did the Marine Corps Marathon, and this was one of the hardest things I’ve done.”
They don’t recall everything. “I just remember sweating a lot,” says Sally, who explores the outdoors and occasionally coaches at Sportrock in NoVA in her downtime. “I do a lot of active things. But the next day, my legs were so sore. It’s a kitchen you’ve never seen before till you’re cooking in it.”
They landed $3,000 before losing to competitors Chuck and Tom and their dolphin water feature.
“Our parents taught us not to be afraid to fail,” Rebekah says. Indeed: The pair pushed themselves in the final round to create a cenote (Spanish for “sinkhole”) cake inspired by Mexico, complete with a subterranean pool, dry ice and isomalt sugar substitute.
“The cake was challenging, and that’s who we are,” she adds.
They aren’t sure what they’ll do with the money; they’d initially planned to take a vacation, but with the pandemic, they’re considering reinvesting it in the bakery.
The Hive is buzzing as they head into fall. Sally’s figuring out how to make birch beer macarons. She’s also working on a line of mega macarons, which will come in flavors like blood orange black sesame. And they’ll add boozy plum palinka profiteroles, inspired by Rebekah’s travels to the Transylvanian region in Romania a few years ago, to their menu this November.
Although some of their inspiration comes from travel, much of it comes from NoVA. “It reminds me of Anchorage in a lot of ways,” says Rebekah, who, by the way, is the reigning queen of Lovettsville, a title she earned during the 2019 Oktoberfest (her husband, Chris Gardner, is the reigning king). “The community celebrates diversity. You see all of these cultures: I can get a banh mi then a great barbecue, and it’s fabulous.”
Ask them if they’ll be on TV again, and they say they’d love it. “It pushes you out of your comfort zone,” Sally says. But most importantly, they just want to bake. “One cupcake can turn someone’s day around,” she says. “Or one cookie. With the show out, it’s that, but at such a bigger magnitude. We’re inspiring people. Don’t give up on your dreams.