Kapwa Baking Company

Faye remembers it fondly – using a big fork to mash all the ripe bananas that were in a huge white plastic bowl her mom handed her. Smashing the bananas was Faye’s special job every time they made banana bread, and she was happy to do it. Her mother would eyeball the recipe, adding a splash of milk, mixing in flour and sugar, and somehow getting it perfect every time. Making banana bread with her mom are the earliest memories Faye has of baking. And now with her own children, Faye has passed down the banana smashing torch to them – remembering how excited she would get to help her mom in the kitchen.

Growing up, she had always watched both of her Lolas cooking, and her parents were pretty nifty in the kitchen as well. Faye has always felt like baking was always in the “background” of her life, and didn’t realize at the time how much baking meant to her. With time, Faye saw it clearly – baking was her passion that lit a fire in her soul. With the help of her husband, Ryan, and COVID, Kapwa Baking Co. was born. And now, Faye and Ryan are serving classic Filipino desserts, selling out almost every time, while balancing their full-time jobs and raising their 3 children.

It has been a journey to get Kapwa Baking Co. to where it is today. The business was formerly known as Bake Me Happy SF, but with the help of COVID, it took on a new look, menu, and name in 2020. Faye shares her small business’ story, but Kapwa Baking Co. is so much more than a business to her. It has been her dream for years, and her and her husband are finally laying down the foundation of their business. Her goal is still the same – to one day have a cafĂ© or bakery where she serves her regulars their usuals, a place where the community can gather and enjoy her delicious food. This is why she named her business “Kapwa,” the Tagalog meaning for “community / neighbor.” She was 9 years old when she left the Philippines for the US, and the desserts she offers are some of her favorites that remind her of home.

“My family moved here when I was 9, so I was still pretty young,” Faye said. “But I was old enough to have some concrete memories from the time time I spent there. I admit, a lot of my memories revolve around food haha!”

Ironically, the baking dessert connoisseur’s dream growing up was to be a dentist. Faye’s mom had a dental practice in the Philippines, and for as long as she could remember, she wanted to be just like her mom. Faye wanted to make that dream come true, so she went to college to pursue being a dentist. At the time, she didn’t even think twice about baking and owning a business. She continued with her studies, but found herself spending every break – before and after school – in the Culinary Department’s library. Every time Faye stepped foot in a bookstore, she would go straight to the cookbook section. She wanted to learn more about everything and anything related to desserts and baking. And when she wasn’t reading about food and baking, she was watching it on the Food Network.

Faye knew that she probably loved baking more than the average person, but didn’t give it much thought, other than being a hobby she really enjoyed. Baking was a stress reliever for her during her high school and college days. Faye would bake cookies pretty consistently, and just give them away to her classmates in college. When she started becoming aware of her new found passion in baking, she still continued with her original plan – she never switched her major to pursue the culinary arts. Faye has no formal culinary or baking training – everything she has learned has been through cookbooks, Food Network shows, other cooking channels she would religiously keep up with on YouTube, and of course, trial and error. She is 100% self-taught and humbly acknowledges that she is learning new techniques and information everyday.

“I never really looked at the underlying interest I had in sweets and desserts,” Faye said reminiscing on her college days. “I spent a good chunk of my college life working towards a career that I thought was my dream. In the end, I finally realized that baking and creating fed my soul and that it was what I was most passionate about.”

So, Faye fed that passion when she could. She felt as though baking and creating desserts was just the natural path for her to take. Her very first official “order” came from her dad. He ordered a Shako chocolate cake. If you look it up, a Shako is a cylinder shaped military hat that has embellishments and pompoms and feathers coming out of the top. Faye’s dad took her to get all of her materials to make the Shako cake, and she felt a little overwhelmed. At that point, she had only worked with American buttercream. In the end, she completed the chocolate Shako cake – decorated with fondant, a Styrofoam feather pompom decorated with royal icing, and edible gold dust for the embellishments. This tough first order of hers really opened her eyes to all the different mediums she could use in her dessert making. She started researching all the different ways she could use edible decorations and mediums.

From there, Faye started baking cakes for her friends and family’s birthdays or for special occasions. And usually she would give the cake as a gift. With time, she started experimenting with cake pops, personalized sugar cookies, macarons, and other small desserts. Faye jokes that the time she spent in the Culinary Department’s library finally came in handy! But it wasn’t until she had her son that her business started to slowly take form, about 8 years ago. This is when dessert tables started to gain popularity for being the highlight of parties.

When Faye’s son had his 1st birthday, she wasn’t working at the time. They couldn’t really afford to pay someone to make the anticipated dessert table, so Faye put her baking skills to the test and made all the desserts herself. Friends started to ask about all the desserts that were at the party, so Faye gladly started to take orders. A couple years later, Faye and Ryan welcomed their daughter into the world, and that’s really when the ball started rolling. They started their first small business, Bake Me Happy SF, where Faye catered desserts for birthdays, parties, showers, weddings, and any occasion that required treats.

Kapwa Baking Co. has been an idea that Faye and Ryan sat on for some time, but never pursued. It wasn’t until they took a trip to Portland 3 years ago that re-sparked their interest in having a small business that they could one day have a physical location for. When they were in Portland, they were inspired by all the mom and pop shops that they saw. Still, Bake Me Happy SF was doing well, and they were content with what they were doing for the time being. That all changed when COVID hit. When one business fell through the cracks, another business was born.

Faye admits that COVID and the Shelter in Place orders were the catalyst for starting up Kapwa Baking Co. It was the push that the needed since a lot of events that Bake Me Happy SF had were canceled due to the pandemic. Faye and Ryan had no choice but to pivot their business. That’s when the couple decided that Bake Me Happy SF would change into Kapwa Baking Co. Faye closed down Bake Me Happy SF ‘s websites and Instagram account since she was no longer going to offer the same desserts as she used to. Faye was very hesitant when they were going to launch Kapwa Baking Co. because she didn’t know how her followers would receive it. Her dessert menu was completely new – serving classic Filipino desserts, and some with a new twist, like her Pastillas Milk Jams. Since these were products that were different from what Bake Me Happy SF was originally known for, there were some doubts about how successful the new menu and business would be.

“The first week of our launch, I was fully prepared to only receive 1 or 2 orders from family members because our first product was something completely new,” Faye said.

To their surprise, Kapwa Baking Co. launched successfully! They have only been in business for about 6.5 months, but have already received so much success and support. They consistently sell out of their items, and can get booked pretty quickly. The max amount of orders that Kapwa Baking Co. can take each week varies based on Faye’s work schedule. She works as an administrative assistant at an elementary school, and even though there are no kids present because of the pandemic, COVID has made the job more demanding. There are weeks where they sell out pretty quickly, and that can be due to the limited orders they can accommodate, and then there are weeks where they can take a lot more orders because her work load isn’t as bad. It really all depends from week to week.

Kapwa Baking Co.‘s menu includes: Pastillas Milk Jams, Ube Monster Bread Pudding, Ube Cheesecake Fudge Brownies, Ube White Chocolate Cookies, Cookies and Cream Bread Pudding, and their most popular item – the good ‘ol classic Pastillas. Pastillas are a milky sweet candy that’s very popular in the Philippines. The recipe Faye uses is the same recipe her sister taught her over 10 years ago. When her customers drive by to pick up their orders, their pastillas are soft and fresh. Around the holidays, Faye was selling out of their milk jams because people were buying them to give as gifts. And usually one person will order on behalf of other people like their coworkers, family, and friends, and Kapwa Baking Co. will be greeted with a hefty order. This isn’t something Faye and Ryan complain about, though. They are just happy and grateful that their products sell out and that a lot of people enjoy them.

It’s definitely a blessing to have your products be so popular and selling out very often. Because of the business’ success, Faye and Ryan are still trying to find the middle ground of balancing Kapwa Baking Co. , their 9-5 jobs, and spending time with their 3 children. COVID has brought its own level of craziness to her full-time job, so Faye does all the work for Kapwa Baking Co. after hours. It is chaotic to say the least, but Faye thanks Ryan for having her back, because without him she wouldn’t be able to manage it all. Their daughter has commented on how busy her parents have been, and how they aren’t spending as much time together. Because of this comment, Faye has made a point to have “break” weeks where they don’t take any orders so they can have quality time with their children. Thankfully, her two eldest children are very helpful and self-sufficient, and love to help their youngest sibling, so when it is time to get down to business, all hands are on deck.

And that is exactly what is needed on baking days. That is the most chaotic time of the week – when it’s time to make and bake all the orders that came through. Faye does prep work throughout the week, like measuring out ingredients, prepping packaging, and tiny steps that can be done ahead of time. But all the baking and food preparation are done the night before the pick ups / deliveries. It may get crazy, but Faye does it to make sure that her customers have the freshest products from their company. Faye handles all the bookings, communications, and baking, while her husband, Ryan, handles the packaging aesthetic and deliveries. They have been meaning to find a time where they can have official “business meetings” between the two, but haven’t had the time to pencil that in permanently yet. For now, the flow and balance that they have now is working well.

There are days when Faye feels discouraged, exhausted, and like there aren’t enough hours in the day, but it has never gotten to the point where she feels like throwing in the towel. Faye admits that there have been a handful of nights where there were some tears and a lot of frustration because things didn’t go as planned. She deals with it by letting herself feel the emotions, but letting it go after. Faye knows that for the time being, she has to hustle to get Kapwa Baking Co. to where they want it to be. There are days where her full-time job drains her and she is overwhelmed with her “to do” list, but she knows that this business has been her dream for a long time, so she has to push through those difficult days. This mentality is part of the reason why Kapwa Baking Co. is so successful.

Faye has also been successful when advertising her small business online. When they were planning to launch Kapwa Baking Co., Faye made an Instagram and Facebook account for the business. They have gained a lot of their followers through friends and family sharing their page and posts. Faye recognizes that this is why Kapwa Baking Co. has been so successful – because of the support of friends, family, and customers sharing their content online. Faye makes it a point to add a personal touch to what she posts on the business’ Instagram and Facebook page because she doesn’t want to just post their menus from week to week. She tries to switch it up and have that personal connection with those who interact with the business page.

The positive feedback that they have been getting from customers and those around them is what surprised the couple the most. The support that they get from other small businesses is very heartwarming and encouraging. That’s why Faye’s advice for other small business owners is to support one another. This builds connections and awareness of other small businesses, especially during a time where small businesses are most at risk. She believes that supporting other small businesses will shed light on what’s important – raising up the community, her “Kapwa.”

“We are also looking forward to working with many many other small businesses and doing our part in raising our kapwa business owners up,” Faye explained as she went into collabing with other businesses.

When Bake Me Happy SF turned into Kapwa Baking Co., they revamped their whole menu. Faye was inspired by her favorite desserts and foods that she ate when she was a kid living in the Philippines. Their very first product, Pastillas Milk Jams, were inspired by her favorite candy – pastillas. Instead of having the pastillas in candy / solid form, the Milk Jam can be served on top of bread, ice cream, or even by itself! Faye and Ryan do a lot of experimenting with flavors and testing their recipes. Taste testing is Ryan’s primary job, and though they let their kids in on the tasting fun, they are aware that anything sweet is good to them! So, they will sometimes ask friends and family to taste their new treats. For now, their dessert menu is centered around them taking their own spin on traditional Filipino desserts and food.

Faye laughs and says she wants her customers to know that she is “extremely shy and awkward.” She wonders if people at curbside pickup notice how “awkward” she can be, but wants people to know that despite her shy demeanor, she loves to meet new people! A lot of their customers are friends, or friends of friends, or somehow know a mutual connection, and Faye enjoys building friendships with those who buy from Kapwa Baking Co. There are times where she is very hard on herself, and is working on celebrating her own victories, since she loves to celebrate others’ victories.

Their goal for 2021 is to partner with more local businesses and possibly expand to Farmer’s Markets. Faye wants to dedicate more time to Kapwa Baking Co. so she can consistently take more orders. They are really hoping that opening a physical location will be in their cards somewhere down the line. It has been Faye and Ryan’s dream to one day open up a brick and mortar for their small business, and that’s where the conversation always leads to when they talk about their dreams and goals. Faye loves that she has her husband’s support through it all. She describes him as her #1 supporter, business partner, and all around helper. This is their dream, their goals are aligned, and they are keeping their eyes on the end goal.

“That’s always what it came down to – to own a place where people can come together, share their talents, and enjoy our treats,” Faye said. “A place where people came in as strangers and left as family, where we would know our customers by name and serve them their ‘usuals.’ We wanted a place where we could feature other small businesses and their hustles, hold open mics and art shows for local musicians and artists. Hence the name we chose… Kapwa.”

His Name Was James

It’s crazy to think of all the little things we seem to overlook when it becomes routine. We’re so used to people, things, feelings, interactions – whether big or small, on a daily basis. Most times, little things in our routine change, sometimes it’s for the better, sometimes it’s not, sometimes you don’t even notice the change, and sometimes you realize it but keep it movin’ because what can you do?

For over 6-ish years, my dad and I literally crossed paths with an old man from our neighborhood almost every day. He was a Japanese old man, probably in his 70’s or 80’s, it’s hard to tell because he seemed to be in good health – being that he would talk to my dad every day during his morning walk. He had white hair, that kind of hairstyle where they’re bald in the middle, but he covered it with a Golden State Warriors championship hat, usually with a matching blue Golden State Warriors Letterman-type jacket. And his most important feature – his smile. He was always in a good mood, with a huge smile on his face. He just radiated kindness. My little sister and I described him as the “cute old man.”

For years, it was routine for me to walk out of the garage to find my dad talking to this man. How did they even get close? I don’t even know. My dad is the type of guy that smiles and says good morning to strangers if they so happen to walk by our house. My sisters and I have crazy schedules, between my older sister’s job, and at the time my little sister & I’s changing school and work schedules, my dad was basically always chillin infront of our house anywhere from 7:30 am to 1 pm, waiting for the next daughter he had to drop off (bless my dad’s heart, he works hard as hell.) before he leaves for work at 1 pm.

When I would walk out of the garage to get in the car, I would already expect my dad to be talking to this kind old man. When they would see me, my dad would say something along the lines of “Well, there’s my next customer!” The old man, with his charming warm smile, would wave at me as I say goodmorning to him, and he would tell my dad, “Ah! Taxi, your next rider is here!” He would say departing words to my dad, and 10 see ya later’s/goodbye’s we would be on our way. My dad would get in the car with a big smile on his face, close the garage, and pull out of our driveway. All the while, our friend would be waiting infront of our house for us to drive away, we’d wave goodbye, he’d do the same, and then we’d drive off. Through the mirror I’d see him continuing his morning walk, going up the hill towards the stop lights. This was routine. Every day.

My dad would tell me little bits and pieces of this man he got to know over the years. He knew he was Japanese, that he had an adult son he wasn’t close to because of the son’s troubled past, his wife had passed away and he was living alone, and he basically had no family in the area. He lived a block away from us, which is why our paths crossed plenty of times during his daily walks. He expressed to my dad that his next door neighbor was his friend, who was on his Will to obtain his house and belongings when he was to pass away.

As the years went by, gradually, things began to change. It seemed that we would pass by him on our car ride to school or Bart, when in the past, he would already be talking to my dad in the driveway way before we got out. It seemed that either our times weren’t lining up, we left earlier, or he started his walks later. All of this was so minuscule to me at the time, but now that I look back, I see that it was his health declining. My dad would make comments that he would see him taking a few steps and pausing. He was getting weaker and older, but still he persisted on with his daily walks. Everytime we passed by him in the car, my dad would honk. The old man would smile and lift up his whole arm to say hello, and we went about our drive. It made me sad to think that my dad and him didn’t talk as often, because it seemed like our times weren’t matching up anymore. Like I said, schedules changed, he was getting older/ walking slower, and we just seemed to see him in passing.

As time went on, it went from seeing him everyday, to seeing him every other day, to seeing him once a week. Gradually, we saw him less and less. This was all over a span of years, so it didn’t seem too drastic as how I explain it now. Like I said, we get so used to routine, that little changes in our day seem so minor, until you look back and realize it’s no longer the same.

The last time I could remember seeing our friend was around November 2018. I want to say sometime after Thanksgiving. It was a brief encounter since I was on the way to school. From what I remember he came walking up our street just as we were about to get in the car. They talked about the Warriors briefly, and that was that.

In February 2019, it had been months since we seen him. I asked my dad a few times before if he had seen the old man recently, and he also said he hadn’t seen him in a while. My dad thought that he had passed away since we hadn’t seen him in months. I brought it up a few more times, and when I didn’t verbally ask my dad, I thought about it everytime I got in the car in the morning and we didn’t see him.

Finally, one night when my dad and I got home, I brought up to my little sister how we haven’t seen the old man in very long. My dad agreed that it had been such a long time, that he’s pretty sure he had passed away. He also told us that he drove past his house a couple days before and saw a big container in the driveway filled with belongings, further explaining why he’s been M.I.A. That thought made my little sister freak out, even though I knew it was a huge possibility. My dad enthusiastically said , “Ok, Marinelle, tomorrow before I go to work, we’ll drive by his house and knock on the door.” This made me happy but at the same time sadness had taken over me. I thought it would be good to get closure on our longtime friend, but I had a gut feeling that it wouldn’t be what I expected. I doubted that he was at home just chillin this whole time, but a part of me still clung to hope that it was a possibility.

My little sister was bummed that she wouldn’t be present when my dad and I planned to go since she would be at school. I asked my dad how he even knew where he lived, and he said, “I’ve been in his house before! In his garage.” My dad also brought up how he would give the old man bread from the bakery, after dropping some off to my grandpa. My dad said he would see him walking by and would give him a portion of our family’s share. All these things we never knew, my dad going to his house, giving him bread, all these aspects of this man’s life that we had no idea of.

“… wait…. do you even know his name…” I asked my dad.

“…….I think its Steven? Steve?”

“Bruh! How have you been talking to him for years and not even know his name?!” Yes, I called my dad ‘bruh.’

“I…… I don’t know it never came up…” My dad said sheepishly.

“Did he know your name?”

“You know, I don’t think so. We might have said it maybe 1 time and we never called each other by name.”

The next day before my dad went to work, we drove the block to the old man’s house. The big container my dad was talking about was gone. There was no car in the driveway. My dad got out of the car and made his way to the house. I lost sight of my dad since the stairs were located on the side of the house. But I did hear a bell ringing. Not a doorbell, but an actual bell that you have to “gong.” After about 5 minutes my dad came back to the car.

“Yeah, he didn’t answer… I think he passed away,” my dad said.

“Was that a real bell?”

“Yeah, he said his doorbell wasn’t working so he just has a lot of bells.”

I felt bad that my dad didn’t get any closure. I looked at the old man’s house again. I saw that his neighbor 2 houses down was outside cleaning her car.

“Go ask his neighbor, or you’ll never know,” I told my dad. My dad’s a shy dude, so I expected him to say Nahhhhhh and drive off and forever wonder. To my surprise he agreed and got out of the car.

I watched as my dad approached the middle aged lady. She was cleaning her car and had to turn off her vacuum. From the car I could hear my dad say “… yeah, he’d be walking all the time.” After about 3 minutes my dad returned.

He got in the car and explained that he asked the neighbor about the old man that lived in “that” house.

“Oh, James? He passed away a couple months ago,” she told my dad.

My dad went on to say that he knew he passed away because it was so long since the last time we seen him. I said atleast we knew for sure and wouldn’t have to be wondering anymore. It was a pretty depressing moment and my dad said how the whole situation was just sad. I tried to brighten up the mood and car ride…

“Bruh, you said his name was Steve.” I said. My dad laughed and shook his head.

When I texted the group chat with my sisters and told them that James had passed away, my little sister texted back that she was actually tearing. He was a familiar face that we saw almost daily. His smile and positive upbeat attitude will always be the first thing I think about when I remember him. Mornings aren’t the same as they used to be. But nothing stays the same. These small routines and conversations were just that at the time – small routines that you don’t think twice about. But now that he’s gone, it makes us think of him everytime we pull out of the driveway to start off our day / morning.

His name was James.