Thursday, July 20, 2006
By Raoul J. Chee Kee, Senior Reporter
A CAUSE FOR CELEBRATION
In this fickle food industry where whatever is new greeted with much fanfare but is often set aside when something never comes along, it’s thrilling to hear of businesses that have gone on to mark their 20th, 30th or 50th anniversaries.
This year is the 60th anniversary of Estrel’s Caramel Cakes, a name that should be familiar to those who grew up in the years following World War II. Estrel’s was the nickname of Estrella Ylagan who started out by accepting orders for cakes and pastries from friends.
When she decided to leave her job at was what then the Bureau of Agriculture, she put up her own bakeshop at Lepanto then later, the Laperal Bldg. on Azcarraga Ave. (now Recto), Manila. This was a couple of years after World War II when the country was slowly picking up the pieces.
Although the money may have been scarce at the time, business was good at the shop.
Birthdays weren’t complete without a caramel cake from Estrella’s. At the time, one could have a regular-sized birthday cake for P9.
A single woman until she passed away in the late 1980s, Ms. Ylagan was fond of traveling abroad. During the time she jetted off to the US or Europe, she would leave the business in the capable hands of her sister Alice Y. Navarro.
Now her sister’s two daughters, Joy and Gina Navarro, run the business from their home in Quezon City.
Not much has changed since 1946. The chiffon cake is still light and airy, and the caramel frosting that is used as both filling and frosting is the stuff dreams are made of—never too sweet, always just right.
The cakes, which come in circular and rectangular forms, may be more expensive than the ones sold at commercial bakeshops but so far the only ‘complaints’ they’ve received are from customers who live all the way in Alabang or Antipolo and who keep pleading with them to open a more accessible branch. While the cakes may be ordered via phone, they still have to be picked up by customers.
Technology may have made it easier and faster and easier to beat the eggs and prepare the frosting for the cakes but the two sisters insist that everything else be made by by hand.
"Our aunt really never wanted to go commercial. She wanted to keep things small enough so she could manage things easily," Joy said. "By not expanding the business for the sake of expanding, she was able to take time off for herself and travel around the world.”
A cake from Estrel’s is easy to identify because of the lightly tinted roses made of butter cream and the smooth caramel finish. To be sure, they have experimented with other flowers, notably sampaguita (jasmine) and daisies, but it is their roses that they are known for.
“When a cake is not at par with the others, we have no qualms of starting all over,” Gina said. Although the sisters declined to say how many cakes they bake in a day, they said that it was in the dozens, almost all of which are pre-ordered.
"If they come early enough though, walk-in customers can also choose from the 30 extra cakes we bake on daily basis," Joy said.
Since the day starts every early at Estrel’s, the sisters thought it wise to rent a nearby apartment for the staff. On weekends, when they usually receive the most orders, work can start as early as 2 a.m.
The Navarro sisters are very different from other business folk. Any other cake maker might be thrilled when a customer orders a really large cake but sometimes Gina or Joy go out of her way to suggest to the customer that they order the next smaller size.
Our largest cake which measures 20”x28” is almost as wide as a desk.
"When the customer tells us that there might be other desserts served at a party or event they’re attending, we tell them it might be a better idea to get a smaller cake because they might have a problem with storage space at the end of the party,” Gina said.
Fortunately, the Filipino tradition of sending off guests at a party with pabaon (package food) ensures there is very little food—and caramel cake—wasted.
Aunt Estrel would have been pleased.