DAGUPAN CITY—In Pangasinan’s major commercial center, homegrown bakeries and pastry shops have been surviving amid competition from commercial chains by relying on their loyal clients and unique products developed by their families.
Among these shops are the Eats by Ella, which specializes in pastries, and Rebecca’s Cassava Cake and Bake House, which sells native rice cakes perfected in the family’s kitchen. The city government has included these in the list of local products that it would support and market under the label “Dagupan’s Best Products.”
Estrella Andaya, 74, owner of Eats by Ella, found success in her butterfly- and rose-shaped pastries, pastillas de leche and pecan tarts that have attracted even top government officials and entertainment personalities.
“I even got orders that were given as gifts to [former] President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and even the late [Manila Archbishop Jaime] Cardinal Sin,” she says.
She uses a recipe her mother Azucena Melecio, 97, developed.
“I used to watch my mother bake butterfly-shaped pastries as a young girl. I learned how to make them myself and gave them out as gifts to friends and relatives during special occasions. Soon after, many were asking where they could buy these,” Andaya says.
Her friends and relatives loved her pastries and encouraged her to turn her hobby into a business.
By word of mouth from satisfied customers, Andaya’s pastries gained a client base. She never sells her pastries in stores or supermarkets, and makes them only when orders are placed.
“This could be the reason why many customers buy my products because if they give them away as gifts, they are unique as they can’t be bought in supermarkets or other places,” she says.
Andaya plans to expand her products’ designs by looking for unique pastry molds in the United States.
“Some customers are looking for other designs so I am buying molds in the shapes of angels, hearts, Christmas trees and teddy bears, especially for children,” she says.
While she considers her pastry business to be on a commercial scale, Andaya has only two workers helping her produce the sweets.
She regrets that none of her four children want to take over the business. But her workers, she says, know the recipe and she hopes they could continue what she has started so the business would flourish.
Like most successful food businesses, Rebecca’s Cassava Cake and Bake House started with a mother preparing snacks for her growing children.
Rebecca Mamorno, 68, remembers baking cassava cake for her children in the mid-1980s. Friends who came for visits were also served with the native cake.
“They liked my cake and asked me to bake some for their families. They encouraged me to bake more and make it a business. On weekdays, I would prepare one or three trays after office hours, then bake in the early morning and bring the cassava cake to the office,” says Mamorno, a former government employee.
On weekends, she baked more trays of cassava cake and went around the public market to sell to market vendors and friends, food establishments in the city and employees of a gasoline station near the family’s sari-sari store. Soon, she added glutinous rice cakes to her products.
Her son, Matthew, who is now running the business, says his mother started the business with a few kilograms of cassava and rice.
It was in 1988 when Mamorno decided to avail of early retirement from government service and focus on making her business grow. It flourished when in 1993, she put up a bakery that also offered ensaymada, cinnamon bread, hopia, Spanish bread and polvoron cookies that earned a loyal following.
“I did not expect that it will be successful. When I started to bake, it was just for my family and friends,” she says.
While the bakery’s production grew bigger, Matthew says they continue to bake just enough—around 50 cassava cake boxes on ordinary days and more on special occasions like Christmas and local fiesta celebrations.
Since there are no preservatives added to their cakes, those who order to bring to other provinces and even abroad are asked when they are leaving so these would be baked before they leave. The products have a shelf life of only two to three days, or four if refrigerated.
Mamorno may not be directly in control of the business now, but she still continues to bake egg pies and cupcakes. Major decisions are done through consultations among her children, she says.
Learning the intricacies of any business, ensuring product quality and passion would lead to success, she adds.
“Start small and learn lessons along the way. If you start big, you may commit big mistakes and it would be financially painful,” Mamorno says.