Cristina Santiago-Rivera continues to create her own identity and live her dream.
The owner behind the patisserie Sweet Bella is now proudly welcoming guests in a second store in Greenbelt 5—less than two years after she opened her first store in Bonifacio Global City.
She admits however that opening a Sweet Bella branch in Makati was not part of the original plan as she was already set to open another store in Alabang.
But the offer to open a branch in Makati was difficult to turn down because it is a prime site for businesses and it is where most of her clients are.
“We were already preparing for the opening of the [Alabang] branch when I got a call from Ayala offering me an area here in Greenbelt 5. I can’t go full blast opening two outlets at the same time,” Rivera reveals.
The dilemma led her to consult her dad, whose advice she values the most.
“My dad has been in the business for a long time already and he has already accomplished a lot.”
Rivera’s family owns the chain of Melo’s restaurants, famous for their steak selections. It was when she was working at Melo’s that she channeled her passion for sumptuous treats through Melo’s desserts selection.
“Although my Dad’s comments can sometimes be offending, they are all true and it sort of wakes you up. I really seek guidance from him,” Rivera adds.
“I told my Dad that there’s a space being offered to me, and he advised me to tell them that I was interested so that they would hold it for me. Then when he came back (from a US trip) we talked about it and he said ‘this is your area, this is your market,’” Rivera says.
As soon as she got her father’s nod, Rivera then proceeded with the task at hand.
Asked if she expected this kind of success that Sweet Bella is enjoying right now and the praises that the store has been receiving, Rivera candidly says “no, not at all.”
She is set to open an outlet in Molito, Alabang.
“It’s always going to be a challenge, especially now that I have two stores to attend to, not to mention a third branch which we are opening in December,” she explains.
Rivera also believes that being focused, combined with hard work, will enable anyone to achieve his or her goal.
She is also thankful to have people around her who keeps her going.
“I’m actually blessed to have good people around me. They’re actually like angels who are trying to help me reach my goal. The feedback from the people that matter to you is what actually keeps you going. They are the people who allow you to do the things you love to do. True, there would be problems in the beginning, but you’ll overcome it through the help and praise that these people give you,” Rivera says.
Rivera hopes to make Sweet Bella a household name for desserts, eventually turning it into a full restaurant that serves delectable dishes from start to finish.
“For Burgos, it was just a cafe where only pizza and sandwiches are being served. But for these two other branches, a full restaurant menu is available,” she says, explaining that the outlets now offer full meals, ranging from appetizers to desserts.
Rivera discloses that with the two branches, they are hoping to capture the full restaurant experience for their clients. For the Makati branch, they see this as a perfect avenue to showcase the famous Melo’s steak since there is currently no Melo’s restaurant in the area.
“I want people to have a perfect dining experience, but the challenge really is how do you make people aware that apart from having the three best desserts we also have the best food selection from salad, soup, oysters and main course of wagyu steak, lamb and fish and the finest fine dining service,” she explains.
For three consecutive years now, Rivera’s cakes have been voted as the Inquirer’s Best Dessert.
Rivera says she is still far from attaining her ultimate goal.
“You see my one secret dream is to be able to open a store outside the country and to be known internationally.”
Indeed, with the success of Sweet Bella, Rivera is slowly establishing her own name, gaining the respect of people and, as an added perk, getting voted as having the best desserts in town.
“Everything that is happening right now is just unbelievable. I believe this is really God’s plan for me and I just have to remain focused and really work hard in maintaining the quality of my products and the service we provide. I am up for the challenge. I am a single mother and this is the best legacy I can leave for my one and only Bella.”