Words and photos by Anson Yu
According to one of the cardinal rules of business, the location of your firm is crucial as to whether it will succeed or not. If that is the case, then the odds are stacked against the newly opened Sweet Blooms Café as it is tucked underneath an escalator at Gateway Mall. But its owner, May Tiburcio De Vera, is not going to let that get in the way of her café succeeding.
She has already managed to turn her home business of making pastillas or milk candy flowers into a food empire. So it is only a matter of time for her to turn what seems to be a hindrance into something that will contribute to her success.
May’s path to her business started when she was still a student in college. She wanted to give her then boyfriend a gift, but her funds were low. So she began wondering about the possibility of creating her own gift. She knew how to make pastillas but, she wondered how she would make them more special. After some experiments, she discovered that she could shape the pastillas into roses. Her idea worked well and her boyfriend was impressed with her sweet gift.
After graduating from college and marrying her boyfriend, May began exercising her creativity again by making pastillas flowers as a gift to her mother in law. Soon, word spread to other relatives and they began ordering from her as well. “I was surprised that every week I would have orders. I would make the pastillas at night and my relatives would pick it up the next day. They would give them out as gifts for events, for birthdays or holidays like Valentine's.”
It was in 2008 that May decided to make her hobby into a business. She asked Php5000 from her husband as start up money for her to set up a booth at a food bazaar at the Trinoma Mall. May admitted that while introducing her product to the public for the first time wasn’t easy, she did managed to sell out her entire stock. After the bazaar, May began applying for her business permits. When she had to come up with a name for her business, she chose “Sweet Blooms” in honor of her product.
After ten years, “Sweet Blooms” has grown to eight branches across the metro. It was then May thought that it was time to take on a bigger challenge and open a café. Why a café? May admits that there were products she wanted to sell like cupcakes and ensaymadas. She thought these were more appropriate in a café rather than in a kiosk.
Looking for a location for the café, she decided to convert her branch at Gateway Mall into one. The mall operator then offered her a space under the escalator. It was in a quiet location behind the Spanish fashion label, Mango, and the variety store chain, Miniso but, they assured her that location would attract more foot traffic as soon as the new expansion for the Gateway Mall opens.
Since the pastillas flowers will still be the café’s main product line, it will be called the Sweet Blooms Café. To fit with the name, May chose a garden theme for the décor. For its initial offerings, the café offers baked goods as well as hot and cold coffee beverages. Even if they are still new, they are already winning fans for their lines of cakes. Their most popular cake, the Rainbow cake, was sold out on the day that I visited. So I ordered a slice of their red velvet cake instead. It was a huge slice and upon tasting it, I noticed its smooth and dense texture with just the right amount of moistness. It was just sweet enough and blended well with the slight tang of the cream cheese icing.
To accompany the cake, I ordered a cup of their hot chocolate. A bittersweet flavor of the chocolate works well with the sweetness of the cake. I also decided to try out their ensaymadas.
May admits that the café is still a work in progress. In the future she is planning to introduce more Filipino flavors to the menu. “I am already deciding to replace the imported coffee beans with more locally sourced ones. I am also planning to add more Filipino delicacies to the menu such as ensaymadas with Laguna cheese.”
Aside from running the business, May admits that she, like many Filipina women, face the challenge of trying to balance her life as a wife, mother and entrepreneur. She feels it is because of this that her time and energy are stretched already. Yet, she is determined for her café at Gateway to succeed and hopefully open a branch in your neighborhood soon.