Ecija’s ‘pilipit’ queen expands to real estate

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CABANATUAN CITY, Philippines—At 19, Leticia Uy decided to go into production of baked goods with pilipit, a twisted native pastry, as her main product.

Her first attempt failed. The pastry she made, which was supposed to be crunchy, turned out soft when she undercooked it.

LETICIA Uy of Cabanatuan City was named “countryside investor of the year” in 1990 by the late President Corazon Aquino.

But that experience only pushed her to try harder to perfect her product.

“I asked a relative to teach me how to make pilipit the right way,” Uy says. Soon, she was selling several packs of pilipit.

Her success eventually earned her the moniker “Pilipit Queen” of Nueva Ecija.

Grit and determination

Uy later acquired a rundown warehouse which had a hurnuhan (firewood-fed oven). Through this warehouse, she continued baking pilipit and other bread like pandelito, bakya and dalagang-bukid that became bestsellers.

She got another break when one of her Chinese customers, who owed her P6,000, agreed to sell one of his stores to her for P12,000. She raised the amount with the help of her father, a Chinese businessman, and soon, she had a bakeshop and mini-refreshment parlor.

THE NE complex in Cabanatuan City houses a bakeshop and restaurant.

Two incidents brought out her grit and determination.

One was when a teacher placed an order for 2,000 pieces of meat pie for an occasion the following day. Although her helper had turned down the order, Uy got in touch with the teacher and quickly sealed the delivery deal.

“There will be 2,000 people who will know of our product and our bakeshop,” Uy told her helper.

That night she and her helper prepared the pies and delivered them in time for the school program.

The second incident was when her establishment was gutted by fire. She immediately hired street sweepers to clean the debris and carpenters to build a kiosk. The following morning, it was business as usual, as if the fire did not happen.

NE Shopping Mall is the first shopping center in Central Luzon. Photos by Anselmo Roque, Inquirer Central Luzon

She built a three-story building in place of the gutted establishment. It soon included a small restaurant, a grocery section and a bookstore, which was the first of its kind in this city in the early 1970s. She called the new establishment NE Quality Bakeshop, which was to become the center of her growing group of companies.

First shopping mall

Uy was able to accomplish much despite having finished only fourth grade. But while she lacked formal schooling, she made sure she would not stop learning, and read books on the lives of successful businessmen.

At 11, she helped the family by selling boiled corn and other items in the city’s transport terminal. She also sold wares on the city’s sidewalk.

When patronage of her bakeshop-grocery-bookstore picked up, her son, Lito, urged her to put up a shopping center in the city.

Lito, she said, would always ask her to visit shopping malls whenever they were in Metro Manila just see how they operate. She was also told by her son that a shopping mall with escalators would be a hit in this city.

Convinced, Uy approached a bank here for a P30-million loan to fund the construction of a shopping mall.

“The bank manager turned down my loan application. He told me Cabanatuan City was not yet ready for such a project,” she says.

Determined and hopeful, she approached another bank and was granted a P35-million loan. An additional P15 million was released to complete the three-story mall.

Built in 1983, the mall housed a supermarket, cinemas, a fast food center, a recreation center with computerized bowling alleys, boutiques, drugstores and other shops put up by tenants.

In 1996, she opened the two-story NE-Pacific Mall, which has more than 300 shops and restaurants, a supermarket, a hardware store, theaters and a cluster of stores selling various items. It was put up with the help of Landco Pacific Development Corp.(Landco).

In 2008, through a special arrangement, a branch of Robinsons shopping mall was set up beside it. The two malls side by side covered six hectares.

Uy is also gearing up for another big development project, the Lakewood City Golf Course and Residential Complex, to be situated on a 200-hectare property near the NE Pacific Mall.

After putting up two shopping malls, a subdivision, a warehouse-type supermarket and other businesses, Uy had not forgotten to expand her flagship business, the NE Bakeshop/Cakes and Restaurant. Sometime later, she put up branches of the bakeshop in Cagayan Valley and Central Luzon.

She also established Plaza Leticia, a fine dining restaurant, in this city.

In 2009, she ventured overseas and put up the NE Bakeshop and Fastfood store in California. In December that year, the establishment was given an “A” rating by the County of Los Angeles’ Department of Health Services. One of the products offered by her California branch is pilipit.

Now at 71, Uy does not plan to slow down and wants to continue overseeing her business empire and 3,000 employees.

“I learned from books and various reading materials how to do it. I put up a management team which is doing the job for me. I just approve or disapprove the concerns the team brings to my attention,” Uy says.

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