LJ Moreno-Alapag has a new baby.
No, it is not the diaper-wearing kind. At least, not yet. The newly wed actress recently opened a cake pops shop in Kapitolyo, Pasig, called Lollicake Factory. It’s a cozy, pink-laden place where LJ gets to do things that she’s really passionate about: baking sweets and surrounding herself with her favorite color.
LJ, who’s married to PBA player Jimmy Alapag, was busy preparing for her wedding in Laguna Beach, California, in late 2010, when she visited the baker for her wedding cake and sampled other products. There, she was introduced to the cake pops, which kept her coming back to the store.
Cake pops are bite-sized balls of cake stuck in lollipop sticks and coated with candy melts.
Upon returning to the Philippines after the wedding, LJ started craving for cake pops, and looked for bakeshops selling them. Her search proving to be futile, she decided to make them herself.
About a week and 3 batches later, she finally perfected the shape. Making simple designs at first, she asked family members and friends to sample her cake pops. The response was very encouraging.
“I started bringing them to friends’ parties, and parties for family members, and they were like, ‘Why don’t you try selling them? They’re really good.’ It started from there,” she relates.
Time to pursue baking
LJ has always been interested in baking when she was young but had no time to pursue it as she was sidetracked with other activities. But she has fond memories of baking as a little girl.
“I baked cookies and cakes and forced my family to eat them,” shares LJ.
But after the wedding, she realized she had more free time and decided to finally pursue her passion for baking.
Her first attempt at making cake pops successful, she moved on to more complex designs and characters. By December, she was accepting orders for cake pops from friends and family members, and later on, even from strangers who’ve heard or tasted her creations.
“As I post designs on Facebook, people would start ordering and request certain characters, and as I have a problem saying ‘no,’ I accept them as a challenge even if it looks impossible, and I end up surprising myself,” she says.
Most of the equipment that she needed in baking are already available in her own kitchen – one of which is a heavy duty mixer, a Christmas gift from her husband. With everything else available and just minimal supplies needed, and their own home serving as their base, she was able to start her business with only P10,000 as capital.
Right from the beginning, LJ was adamant in doing everything – from baking the cake pops to seeing the orders leave her kitchen – by herself. She would start baking at 6 a.m. and finish up by 11 p.m. She was determined to be as hands-on as possible in this new project. But this meant less time for her new family.
“The business was already overtaking my house… Good thing my husband’s there to remind me ‘Hey, hold on. All you ever talk about is lollicakes,” she shares.
Having too much in her hands with the orders, show biz commitments and less time with her husband, and eventually getting sick with overfatigue, LJ decided to slow down and assess her situation.
Preferring to keep the business within the family, she asked an aunt who lives nearby to help her in baking and decorating. She also hired some relatives to help her out.
Her husband, Jimmy, also helps her in quality control, in suggesting new equipment he sees on TV, and being her biggest supporter. In fact, he was the one who came up with the name Lollicake Factory, after his favorite restaurant in the US, the Cheesecake Factory.
No to kinky designs
LJ, a former pre-school teacher, knows too well what clicks with kids, and she uses this in creating designs that would surely be appreciated.
With this background, LJ, of course, would be considerate in keeping her characters as child-friendly as possible. That means no kinky designs for this budding entrepreneur.
LJ also enrolled in cake workshops conducted by renowned chef Heny Sison to improve her craft. Aside from her lollicakes, cupcakes and birthday cakes, she also wants to include wedding cakes, sculptured cakes, and other pastries to expand her business.
By March 2011, LJ’s Lollicake Factory was taking bigger orders for event giveaways, Easter parties and such, that LJ was egged on to finally open a shop. Ever the cautious one, she decided to first think things through instead of plunging into a full-venture business.
“Before I opened the store, I calculated if what I was making monthly would be able to pay for the rent, for the overhead, and this and that,” she says.
When she finally opened her first outlet in September, there was an evident increase in sales, from the pre-orders to the walk-ins.
LJ considers herself lucky because of her and her husband’s line of work, which gives free massive advertising for her business.
“Some of our regular customers are my husband’s team mates and my show biz friends,” she shares.
From the initial three flavors (buttercream, chocolate and red velvet), LJ now has nine flavors for her lollicakes, the latest of which is cheesecake. From the simple basketball design, she has now perfected designs ranging from Disney characters to the Angry Birds.
Her lollicakes are baked fresh every morning, which could last three days (room temperature) up to a week (stored in a fridge). Orders should be placed at least two days in advance. LJ’s brother, Rob, works for her part time, delivering bulk orders while he’s in the country trying out with college basketball teams.
Trying to challenge herself more, LJ is bent on perfecting more complicated, tiered cakes, so she continues to attend workshops here and abroad.
She plans on joining bazaars this coming holiday season to cater to her customers in the South, preferring this to opening another branch soon. Again, her cautious side prevailed even with the success of the first outlet.
“We do need more space, but I’ll expand when I see the sales picking up more, because I’m not the type who’ll go ‘Okay, let’s jump into this,’ and then later, I’ll realize, ‘I don’t have any more money!’ I think I got that from my grandpa who’s a really good businessman in Dagupan,” she shares.
For now, LJ is content on concentrating on her first venture, or what she calls her ‘baby’, and slowly makes a name for herself as an entrepreneur. She relishes the comments from satisfied customers, especially from kids whose birthday parties were made more memorable by LJ’s creations.