The Biz Beat: San Jose shop hoists piñatas to an art form
Cynthia Velasquez, who owns Dulceria Mi Carnaval in San Jose with her husband Jose, handcrafts 15 to 20 piñatas every week. Photo by Robert Eliason.

    There are few things as joyful as a piñata, and Dulceria Mi Carnaval in San Jose can design them to resemble anything that makes you happy.

    In a small room adjacent to their shop on East Santa Clara Street, Jose Velasquez and his wife, Cynthia, are surrounded by shelves filled with cardboard templates where the couple has been handcrafting about 15 to 20 piñatas a week since they bought the business in 1991.

    “My sister-in-law started it in 1986,” Cynthia told San José Spotlight. “Jose had just gotten out of the army when she decided to sell it, and he decided, ‘Well, I’ll try it out.’ We started making custom piñatas because people were always asking for something we did not have in stock. It was a natural part of what we were doing.”

    Cynthia and Jose Velasquez, owners of Dulceria Mi Carnaval in San Jose. Photo by Robert Eliason.

    Jose said people send him photos of what they want. He figures out how to create it.

    “I love making them and get really excited when it’s really hard to figure out, like this one,” he told San José Spotlight, referring to a four-foot-tall piñata of a margarita glass, rescaling it based on a customer’s tiny cell phone photo.

    Jose Velasquez and the margarita glass piñata. Photo by Robert Eliason.

    Looking at the shop’s calendar offers a glimpse at the couple’s creative range: a four-foot-tall cow, an alebrije from the film “Coco,” a 30-inch long crayon, Lightning McQueen, a bee hive, a strawberry, a campfire and a troll head are among the completed or pending tasks for the month.

    The couple also makes more substantial piñatas designed for display rather than destruction, including for customers such as the San Jose Earthquakes and the San Francisco Art Institute.

    After Jose adds the final details to the framework, the piñata goes to Cynthia for dressing and decorating. Rather than looking like something made to be broken, it’s remarkably solid. Cynthia said customers don’t want them to break easily—they want the piñata to last.

    “I’ve had kids scream because they are so happy and excited with the piñata they choose,” she said. “And the parent will come back sometimes and buy another one because their child does not want to break it, so they can have one to hang up in their room or the garage.”

    Customer Adam Lopez is only slightly taller than the John Cena-wrestling-themed, star-shaped piñata he chose for his sixth birthday.

    “We come here because of the huge variety of themes for all age groups,” said Eduardo Lopez, Adam’s father. “For me, piñatas are a way to celebrate kids and bring the family together.”

    Customers Adam and Eduardo Lopez at Dulceria Mi Carnaval. Photo by Robert Eliason.

    Indeed, Cynthia’s favorite piñata to make is a simple design: the number one.

    “Customers are so excited to celebrate their child’s first birthday,” she said. “We do them in many different styles. It’s fun to do their first piñata and then watch them come back every year for their next birthday.”

    An elephant piñata made at Dulceria Mi Carnaval. Photo courtesy of Cynthia Velasquez.

    Growing up in Tijuana, Jose remembers having only one piñata as a child: a scarecrow his mother made for his sixth birthday. He said she was overwhelmed by all the kids who showed up from all over the neighborhood—kids he didn’t even know.

    “Everyone was very poor, and kids came from all of the houses around us just to line up to try to break it,” Jose said. “It was a big thing.”

    Jose said when he makes piñatas, he thinks about the children who are going to having that same kind of experience he had.

    “That makes me feel good,” he said. “And I’m happy their parents are getting them a really nice piñata, not some little thing from a supermarket.”

    Dulceria Mi Carnival. Photo by Robert Eliason
    Cynthia and Jose Velasquez have owned Dulceria Mi Carnaval since 1991. Photo by Robert Eliason.

    Once a piñata is finished, customers can take them as-is—or they can fill them at the shop from the wide variety of candies imported from Mexico. Dulceria Mi Carnaval also stocks balloons, noisemakers, toys and other party goods. But whether for use or display, the piñatas contain the love and good wishes of the couple who makes them.

    “Sometimes I think, ‘Well, I worked on that for so long, and they’re just going to hit it and break it,’” Cynthia said. “But we know the excitement it brings them, a memory that will last a lifetime. We have the photos we take of our work. So, you know, I think we’re okay with it.”

    Contact Robert Eliason at [email protected]

    Editor’s Note: The Biz Beat is a series highlighting local small businesses and restaurants in Silicon Valley. Know a business you’d like to see featured? Let us know at [email protected]

    Dulceria Mi Carnaval

    Located at 1161 E. Santa Clara St. in San Jose

    (408) 295-3633




    • Monday: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
    • Tuesday: 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
    • Wednesday: 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
    • Thursday: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
    • Friday: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
    • Saturday: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
    • Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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