A new life in baking

By Ciara Jean/El Inde

Four years ago, Mariel Montiel got into her car with a small Mexican hot chocolate cupcake and drove across Tucson to her friend Megan’s work. She was on a mission. She needed to know if the cupcake that she just created was actually good or if she was just imagining things. What was different about this cupcake from every other basic cupcake was that it was gluten-free and vegan.

Megan was Montiel’s only vegan friend at the time and needed her true opinion. Not as a friend, but as a critic. Megan’s answer was the beginning of Montiel’s journey in creating her own vegan and gluten-free dessert company, Tilted Halos.

Montiel began making vegan cupcakes after she started following the diet when she learned what it can do for a person’s mental and physical health. She learned to bake for herself, but she eventually expanded her talents from baking for one to baking for over a thousand customers. 

When Montiel’s home-based business became a hit, she quit her behavioral health job and made Tiled Halos her full-time priority. She decided that she wanted to expand her dessert options and started to create cakes, donuts, churros, pies, brownies and cookies. The flavors expand the spectrum of taste from classics like vanilla bean, Funfetti and yellow cake to more of her specialties such as chai latte, rocky road and hibiscus chocolate.

Although Montiel continued her love of baking by starting a business, that wasn’t the sole reason why she created Tilted Halos. She wanted to provide transitional employment to people coming out of prison or recovering from addiction. She wanted to provide support to people who didn’t have it from anyone else.

“I saw people struggle who had the barriers of having no family support, not having any financial support, or directly coming out of prison to having absolutely nothing,” said Montiel.

Getting support is one of the hardest things when being an addict, Montiel said. She has a passion for helping people and wants to be that support for anyone wanting to get their lives back on track to a better life. Montiel knows how hard it can be because she was in their shoes at one point in her life.

She was 12 years old when she first tried drugs, and from that very first moment, she couldn’t quit them. It was “inevitable” for her to do drugs since childhood trauma was her motivating factor. She did not live in a happy home as her parents got divorced when she was not yet a teenager. Her father was a court judge who sentenced other people’s families to jail. She started to get severe depression and that factored into her doing more drugs, but even if she’d had a perfect life, drugs would have still been involved. Montiel explained that addiction is a disease — you are born with it.

“I liked it immediately, whatever I tried, I liked,” said Montiel. “I was never the one to turn down drugs, even drugs that I didn’t like (as long as I did not have) to be in reality.”

Montiel knew she had a drug problem ever since she was a little girl. She tried every kind of drug, but her latest addiction was painkillers like oxycodone and Xanax. When she didn’t have drugs in her system, she would get sick, not just mentally, but physically. Her addiction was so intense, that her love of narcotics got her car repossessed, she dropped out of college, she lost her job and she was hiding in her home because she owed people money. Her life was a mess and knew she had to change.

“I thought I was going to die, I was afraid to die,” said Montiel. “I honestly felt death coming— it was bound to happen, and I was scared.”

She reached out to a childhood friend whom she used to drink and use with that was going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. She started attending meetings with her but ended up going to Narcotics Anonymous (NA_ meetings because it focused on addiction more as a whole rather than on a substance. 

Montiel has been seven years clean of all drugs and alcohol. She thinks about drugs every day, but then she remembers her life before and knows she never wants to go back. In her free time, Montiel does as much service as she can with NA: She is a sponsor for other people in NA and is heavily involved with the 12-step program. Montiel loves talking about the experience she went through because she thinks the subject of addiction is so taboo, and if it wasn’t that way, then more people would recover.

She wants to go back to college for commercial baking and hopes one day to expand her business to provide more people with jobs. Her perfect future is to live in California and own a “treat truck” that she can park on the side of the ocean. But for now, she bakes at home with Nas’ music blasting in the background and her dog Gunner watching her make delicious desserts that anyone would enjoy.

Tilted Halos gluten-free and vegan chai latte cake.
Photo courtesy of Mariel Montiel.