Dez: Creativity Is Limitless

This is story 7 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

Dez has many hobbies and creative outlets that include, but are not limited to: fashion, writing, cooking, interior design, gift giving, DIY projects, event planning, and more. During the interview process, Dez found it hard to focus on just one creative subject, so, she talked about all the things that brings her joy. Here is her story written in her own words:

“My hobbies have always included areas that allow me to be creative. Because I’ve struggled so much with figuring out what I wanted to do career-wise, I’ve found refuge in all my creative endeavors. I love creating in many different forms: fashion, cooking, interior design, event-planning, story-telling, gift-giving. I don’t believe I’ve mastered any of them but being able to tap into these different modes of creativity has really filled my soul. The idea of doing one thing as your career for the rest of your life truly bores me and I’ve found a lot of resistance to the exploitation of labor that this country expects from us, so exploring all the ways I am able to escape from that, especially through creation and art, reminds me of all the pleasures we human beings should be allowed to experience everyday. 

I absolutely felt pressured to pick a major going into college. It’s interesting how much your future relies on your 17/18-year-old choices, an age where I barely experienced my own autonomy yet nor had I explored my interests enough to even know what I wanted to do/be. Coming from a Filipino family, the expectation to be a nurse was set from a very young age. So once I finally got to the age to apply for college, my whole mindset is set on following the pressures I’ve received my whole life, but that was also taking away from me thinking about what I really wanted to do. My decision was automatic of what major I should be applying for, the only career I ever had an idea of doing, which was nursing.

I applied to about 6 colleges, and my number one school was San Diego State University for their highly favored nursing program. I ended up getting waitlisted, so I accepted at San Jose State as an undeclared major. A week later, I got an acceptance into the nursing program at SDSU, and it’s glorious news. I get to move to a completely new city when I’ve barely even traveled to new cities on my own before. As a freshman at SDSU, I got really caught up in the social aspects and trying to build community over my actual education. I also was super used to getting good grades naturally (because high school is a joke) so I thought the same would apply in my college courses. To my demise, I couldn’t have been more wrong or more unprepared for the load I was given.

I ended up failing my first class in my entire life in my first semester of college, and what a sobering reality that was. In just my prerequisites alone, I struggled and already fell behind my peers. As soon as my nursing courses started in my 2nd year, I struggled miserably. I was such a bad test taker, always in between two answers and picking the wrong one, and all my nursing courses depended on passing these rigorous tests. It was super discouraging to think I wasn’t good enough or smart enough to continue my nursing school successfully. I failed my second test in my clinical nursing class and that was an automatic failure for a 6 unit class. This led me to being dropped from the nursing program entirely because you could only fail 2 courses throughout the entire 4-year program. ABSOLUTELY INSANE. 

So now I’m freaking out, scrambling about what tf I’m gonna do now. I actually didn’t tell my parents that I got dropped for my entire second semester of that school year because I was too afraid to let them down. I was too afraid they were going to pull me out of that school because it was the only reason I accepted there in the first place. I basically had to start from scratch when picking a major because all of my prerequisites I took were for nursing.

I went one semester undeclared, then in my 3rd year I chose Child & Family Development as my new major. This major was going to extend my time by 1.5 years over the original 4 years planned, and if I had all the money in the world I would’ve done it, but I felt pressured to be in school as little time as possible for financial purposes since I was only paying with loans. I found a nice program where you can emphasize in 3 majors and get your BA in Interdisciplinary Studies, it was meant for “indecisive” people. It allowed you to choose the classes you wanted to take as long as you reach a certain amount of units for each emphasis. This allowed me to graduate in 4.5 years total. 

This was truly one of the most stressful experiences of my entire life, and I still get frustrated thinking about all the time and money I wasted doing that nursing program when I know now that I would have never succeeded in nursing. It’s not where my passion and heart lies, although I admire the profession so much. I know that everything happens for a reason, and of course I learned so much about myself, but it took away from a proper college education experience. 

It was so terrifying to admit to my family that I got dropped. My dad wanted me to leave SDSU immediately, which I knew would be his reaction. My mom was pretty disappointed but she still supported me in my education, and understood why I didn’t want to leave my school in the middle of my college career. Eventually, she expressed that she just wants me to be happy and successful, however that looks for me. I know she worries about me financially, which I completely understand, since she grew up prioritizing labor in order to survive. My dad is no longer alive but he never really supported my dreams, nor did I feel comfortable sharing what my dreams even were because of how traditional he was. My mom is much more adaptable and knows that I have goals and dreams to be my own version of success, and I am comforted in knowing that she is always proud of me no matter what.

If I could change it, realistically I would have started off my college career as a Child & Family Development major from the get-go because I find so much interest in learning those courses. I love applying it to real-life situations that I witness. If I could change it to anything, without caring about the judgment from my family, I would probably do interior design. I feel like that knowledge would have allowed me to explore my creativity so much earlier instead of exploring it after college.

 In college, I was more focused on creating experiences and making the most of my time away from home. I also don’t remember having much time to pursue many hobbies because I was always trying to be involved in organizations, struggling as a full-time student, working part-time jobs, and exploring/adventuring any time I had the chance to with friends. Thrifting was always something that existed in my life at the time but I didn’t consider it a hobby at the time. I practiced my creativity through the roles I had in my orgs. For example, I was the sisterhood chair in my sorority and we had to plan bonding activities. This was the perfect opportunity to get as creative as possible because I hated doing basic stuff lol, I was always looking to make a unique experience for any event that I was in charge of. 

My journey with fashion has truly been a pillar in my evolution. It’s been the best and most obvious way I can express myself. Ever since I was younger, I loved buying clothes with my mom at the mall or finding cool shit at the thrift store, and I would take photos of my outfits and post them on MySpace or Tumblr. Even though my fashion taste was disgustingly 2000-2010s, it paved my love for dressing myself up. It was also the foundation for my love of the thrift store because finding something old or previously used and revamping it into my own style was always extremely gratifying, I would, and still do, feel so proud of myself when someone asks me where I got something and I respond ‘I thrifted it.’

I think I put my love for fashion on a back burner when I moved to college because I was trying to assimilate myself with friends/people. I very much cared what other people thought about me at the time and I focused more on having my personality liked over my clothes. It was also hot as hell in San Diego (like 108 degree weather in my first week of school walking 20 minutes to class raw dogging the sun) as opposed to what I was used to at my foggy home in SSF, so I was wearing super basic shorts and tanks all the time. In SSF, I was good at dressing for the cold; I loved layering and was obsessed with jackets. Moving to SD was a complete 180, I didn’t even own more than one pair of shorts. My closet was honestly funny to look at because I brought hella jackets from home and I think I only ended up wearing 3 of them. And I had to lug those jackets every year I was living in San Diego, stored away 95% of the time. That was so drastic so it definitely took me awhile to find my style again.

Thrifting is what inspires me the most when it comes to fashion. I’ve always been a broke hoe and brand clothing was never that enticing to me. Probably because I’ve always been a broke hoe and never had the money to even consider it. I just love finding a random piece on the rack and envisioning how I can experiment with it. It provided a low risk way of experimenting with my expression and taste. Through thrifting, I learned that I really love color, patterns, anything inspired by the 60s-90s, and anything bold. I also learned I am super passionate about upcycling old clothes and finding a way to give them new life. A lot of clothes that I think I’d never wear, I saw on the racks one day and was like “maybe I’ll try it” and ended up loving it. That’s exactly how my taste and style continue to evolve. It’s also a sustainable way to create a unique closet for yourself.

Nowadays, having a good outfit for any occasion makes me feel good. My closet is actually mostly comfy chic clothes but when you color coordinate or accessorize, your outfit can be amplified by 10x. During the pandemic, I started experimenting and elevating my looks a lot more because I had so much time and I had literally nothing better to do in quarantine. I also was incredibly inspired after watching Euphoria when it first came out. All the makeup and looks in Euphoria made me feel so much joy, and I thought to myself ‘I can do that. Ever since, I’ve been unafraid to really play around with makeup, accessories, jewelry. I started spreading that encouragement I felt to experiment to all my friends around me, and now I’ve become an unofficial thrift advisor and fashion stylist for some of my friends.

I love how much freedom and fluidity that exists in fashion as long as you’re willing to try it. I also learned that just because I see something I like on someone else doesn’t mean it will always work out for me, so trying things out on my own has been the most beneficial. Individuality is of the utmost importance to me, so I will always be finding ways to share that. I don’t believe there should be any rules to how someone chooses to dress and express themselves. Fashion allows me to express my personality, and it will always be for my joy and not for anyone else’s.

Cooking was never my forte growing up. I didn’t cook much of anything my first 18 years of life, nor did me or my family really explore many different cultures of food. My family only ate Filipino food and fast food. When I got to college, I realized my experience in food was super limited, to the point where I thought it was pretty embarrassing. I think I learned how to cook an egg my freshman year of college. My first 2 years, my ‘home-made’ meals were really just college struggle meals – something quick, cheap, and filling.

I began cooking a lot more on my own probably my 4th year in college when I was living with only one friend in our own apartment. I enjoyed trying new recipes with friends and realized that cooking with people you love is one of the sweetest and now my most favorite pastimes. As I began cooking more, I then realized that it is one of my favorite pastimes to do with just myself too. Back then I would pretty much follow a recipe to the T, exact measurements and ingredients. But with more experience and a more reliable flavor palette, I am able to use my creativity and create a more free flow in my cooking. 

I began a healing journey once I moved out of San Diego to San Jose to live with my partner at the time and some best friends, mostly so I could be somewhat closer to my family back in the Bay. I felt very out of my body because the entire life I spent the 5 years in SD creating was suddenly over, and I was put into this brand new environment that really put me into shock. During this healing journey, I found refuge in meditation and learning how to stay present with myself. Cooking became a form of meditation for me because it was a set time where I only had to focus on the food I was preparing and cooking. I didn’t have to think of anything else in the moment other than creating a yummy and beautiful dish for me to eat.

I found every single part of the cooking process comforting and relaxing (even washing the dishes sometimes). The more comfortable I got with cooking, the more confident I felt to experiment with flavor and presentation. I always wanted my meals to look pretty and taste even better. Then after all that hard labor, you’re able to sit with yourself and enjoy what you made. I started to understand the importance of food and nourishment through cooking, that there was more to connect with it. Cooking gives me a blank canvas where I am able to use spices and sauces to amplify a basic dish. It allows me to use all 5 of my senses; I can see what I’m making, hear the sounds of chopping and sizzling, smell the fragrant aromas, feel the different textures of the ingredients I’m using, and most importantly taste through the process and the final product.

Interior design is a fairly new practice for me but I’ve watched interior design shows and YouTubers since I was young. It’s so fun to see the big and small ways you can completely change a living space. There are so many elements that can elevate a room, whether it be the colors, the furniture, the feng shui, the accents, the lighting. I wouldn’t even say I’m good at interior designing yet, I think what I’m good at is styling a room, but I’ve been able to practice in my own rooms since I moved away from San Diego. I think creating a safe space for me was vital in order to feel comfortable after moving. I created a color palette and tried to design my room as cohesive and as cheap as possible. I think I’m just a budget-friendly girl in any aspect because similar to thrifting, you can elevate the look and feel of a room without buying expensive ass stuff. 

In my own space currently, I wanted it to be both whimsical and serene, colorful but also calm. I create a color palette, I’m super into lavender and pastels at the moment, so I try to include little accents of those colors in my room but make sure it’s not overpowering so that I can still feel that sense of serenity. I am a collector (borderline hoarder) of random things that I think are pretty, so I try to put those on display in an intentional way to sort of deflect all the clutter I’ve hoarded over the years.

This year was my first time trying to paint a mural for my wall and it was such a fun and inspiring process. I visualized, picked the colors, drew out a sketch, and put the vision to life on my wall. It was so rewarding. I make sure to add little details everywhere in my space because I think life is all about the little details. I can’t wait to own my own space because everything I do currently in my spaces are renter-friendly, but as soon as I have full reigns, I am making it the most magical space to be in. As of now, I will continue to find small, thrifty ways to elevate my space. I’ve also been offering my services or have been asked for advice for room design from friends, so eventually I would love to create income from this passion of mine. I am excited to see how much I will be able to accomplish the more I dive into this passion of mine. 

Event planning has been something I’ve done since high school, usually for the organizations I was a part of. I helped plan my junior prom and senior ball when I was in ASB, along with the many other events I’ve had to plan. I’ve planned my own cotillion. I created bonding events in both the Filipino org and sorority I was in at SDSU. I also had a big themed birthday party every year since I turned 21. I think what I love about event planning is that it’s an opportunity to create a unique experience that brings people together. Now that I am not in any orgs that require me to create events, I mostly plan parties for special events with my friends. I am for sure one of the main party planners in my friend groups. 

My birthday usually gives me the most control so I really go all out for my birthdays. For my 21st birthday, I had a huge birthday bash that had over like 70 people come through in which I managed a Facebook event for, provided drinks, created a huge banner, and got absolutely shit faced. For my 22nd, I wanted something more wholesome so I did a paint & sip at my house – I provided a bunch of card stock paper, paints, brushes, alcohol, good music, and it was a freakin vibe. For my 23rd, I created games, bought my own piñata, had a copious amount of alcohol (as always), and watched the sunset. For my 24th, my first birthday in quarantine, I wanted to go camping but didn’t have the chance, so I made a camping theme at home where I make shifted am aesthetic tent, created a nature scavenger hunt around my apartment complex, had the bombest food, painted, danced with bubbles. For my 25th, I did a Met Gala theme at the most luxurious Airbnb I’ve stayed at so far; I encouraged all my friends to come with the fits and we dressed up, hyped each other up, made a beautiful dinner as if we were really at the Met Gala. And this year for my 26th, I did a groovy day in Golden Gate Park.

I think with the society we’re living in, especially being in poverty to the lower-middle class in the US, we are literally programmed to be exploited for our labor, mindless machines who spend their days worrying about paying their bills on time and achieving the ‘American Dream’ of success. They make it very easy to fall into a mundane state of life, an endless cycle of working until you can retire. I think exploring your creativity and passions is revenge against this system. Art in all forms molds the human experience. It allows us to connect with one another, express our individuality, and explore the humanness that we should all be given the space to find for ourselves.

Above all, feeding into my creativity invokes inspiration, sparks my joy, makes me feel whole. It’s refreshing that lately, I’ve been reminded of how creativity can exist in so many different forms. It’s an ever-evolving learning and experimental process. I feel so much more inclined to continue creating just about anything because I wasn’t encouraged to focus on that growing up; I’ve only been encouraged to do everything in my power to find a good career that will make me enough money to live comfortably. The same way our country believes in the freedom of speech, I wish it would encourage freedom of expression. For an individualistic country, the majority of the US sure hates it when you express your individuality. They don’t want us to open our minds because they’re afraid we’re gonna realize that we’re being used as puppets, to be lifeless cogs in their machine. Those who have been able to open their minds understand the flaws in the system, and we fight against it by truly being our whole, free selves.

So to that I say: dye your hair any color you want, get tattoos whether they have meaning or not, write a poem that doesn’t rhyme, color outside of the lines, learn how to do something even if you’re not ‘good’ at it, step out of the boxes we’ve been forced into since we were brought into this world. I love creativity because it says FUCK THE RULES. Do what makes you happy in this one life. Keep the fire in your soul ignited and continue discovering what you’re capable of. Cultivate your human experience without guilt or shame as long as you’re doing it in love. 

I enjoy living an unconventional life. I have trouble envisioning what or where I will be in 5-10 years because I feel like my soul can truly take me anywhere. I am constantly trying to understand the meaning of existence, trying to find every way I can to live a life of purpose. The idea of being tied to one expectation or timeline of life makes me want to rebel against anyone who tries to place that sort of control on my own life choices. My plan is to keep elevating myself every year, picking myself back up faster every time I encounter obstacles. Even though there are always going to be vicious cycles and limiting beliefs that are lurking in the shadows, I believe it’s all about embracing all that life has to teach you. 

For me personally, it’s important to be creative in different areas because discovering my interests and passions will only come from exploring what my options are. I also get bored easily, so having all these different areas that I can dabble in makes me feel like there’s always something new I can try, or maybe something I can revisit if I haven’t practiced in a certain area in awhile. I am a complex, multi-faceted being and I find pleasure in having my interests mirror that. I’m also learning how empowering it is. I always said that I wish I was a dancer or a singer or an artist so that I could master one realm of creativity, but I’m understanding that I may not be a master at one thing, but I am good at a plethora of things. And that makes me feel proud of myself, as opposed to how I used to feel ashamed of it. Plus life is SHORT! Do whatever tf you feel like, as long as it’s safe and done with love. We seriously only have one life to live and I am not about to die living with any regrets.

I feel like there’s so much pressure to be ‘good’ at something and if you’re not ‘good’ at it, then people wonder why you’re even doing it. Fuck all of that noise. What’s considered ‘good’ is so subjective, what we should really be focused on doing is being authentic. I’ve spent so long thinking that I was talentless, that my hobbies are small and meaningless. Now as I rediscover my love for those ‘little hobbies,’ I am being reminded that they are actually little fires of passion that ignite my soul. They encourage me to tap into my authenticity, vulnerability, and humanity. And if you can figure out a way to intertwine your passions with your success, then that’s a win in my book.” -Dez

Joanna: The Baking Lawyer

This is story 5 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

Joanna may be a lawyer by profession, but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t get down in the kitchen. For the most part, she’s a self-taught baker who enjoys making baked goods for all the people around her. Baking is Joanna’s happy place. When she first meets people, she tells them that she bakes and they’ll usually reply with, “Oh, me too!” But Joanna makes it a point to clarify no, she “baaaaakesss.” She humbly admits that her baking skills are not quite up to par with professionals, but her improved skills throughout the years has put her baked goods well passed just good enough to eat. In other words, Joanna is not your regular-shmegular “I bake for fun” out of the store bought box baker.

Joanna’s introduction to baking started at a young age. She remembers being in the kitchen around 6 years old, helping her aunts bake bread for the family. Her Aunt Carmen and Aunt Lilia sparked Joanna’s baking curiosity since they were always baking and would try their best to incorporate Joanna in the process. Aunt Carmen baked traditional pastries like dinner rolls, chiffon cakes, and butter cookies. Aunt Lilia was more adventurous with her baking and took it upon herself to watch the Food Network channel and bought tons of cookbooks to switch it up. Joanna has fond memories of measuring out the flour for their recipes and playing with the dough right before they popped it into the oven to bake.

Joanna was about 8-9 years old when she baked by herself for the first time. Her cousin used to make lemon cupcakes with her sister and the whole family loved them. So Joanna was inspired to try out her own lemon cupcake recipe. In the end, the cupcakes were edible and “nothing too special.” But her parents wanted to encourage her to bake more, so they hyped her up and overexaggerated how good her lemon cupcakes were. She realizes now as an adult what her parents did, but at the time being 8-9 years old and baking solo for the first time, Joanna took the compliments proudly!

For the most part, Joanna considers herself a self-taught baker. The most education she has for baking and cooking were 3 years of summer classes. She attended these classes from around 9-12 years old during the summers. Joanna’s mom put her in a lot of extracurricular activities growing up, and baking is the one hobby that stuck with her. She continued on with baking even outside of the class, and it seemed to be her leisure activity by choice. Her fondest memories growing up wouldn’t be the act of baking or cooking, but watching her family and friends eat and see what she had made for them.

“Of all of the activities that my mom put me through when I was young, mind you, I was a nerd, I had piano, violin, art classes, extra classes for random subjects over summer, baking was the one that really stuck,” Joanna shared. “It was something I would want to do even if no one asked.”

When Joanna was young, she always wanted to bake, but she also always wanted to be a lawyer. When she graduated with her bachelor’s degree, she asked her mom for advice whether she should go to culinary school or to law school. Mom’s advice was to go for the profession that is more financially secure, and the obvious answer was to pursue law school. Joanna believes her mom’s advice was due to the Filipino-Chinese culture – thinking baking and cooking is a natural hobby that does not need formal education. Especially being from Cebu, Philippines, where the market is “thrifty” compared to Manila. So, Joanna took her mom’s advice and went on to law school.

Joanna wasn’t bummed that her mom encouraged her to go to law school because she always wanted to be a lawyer anyways. She knew that her other love, baking, would always be there and it just depended on her to make time for it. When Joanna first started law school, she didn’t have much time to bake since she had to read so many cases, books, laws, and study. But she would make it a point to make time to bake for special occasions like her parents’ birthdays. She’s the kind of person that likes to plan ahead, so she would throw her future self a bone and made sure she always had ingredients ready at home so whenever she would have free time, she could bake right away. Joanna graduated from law school in 2021, prepped for the bar exam, and now, she’s officially a lawyer!

“I didn’t have to sacrifice my time for school for baking because baking wasn’t something I had to do, it was more of something I could do during my free time,” Joanna said.

To get her to where she is today, Joanna would just kept tweaking a recipe until it was to her satisfaction. She usually follows recipes from online or cookbooks. What she usually tweaks is the sugar content, since she grew up baking for diabetics, and with time, makes the recipe her own. She will try a recipe 3 times, and after the third time, if she can’t crack the code, she respectfully throws in the towel on that recipe and admits that she can’t make it. This doesn’t happen too often because Joanna already knows her niche, cookies!

Joanna’s all time favorite thing to make are cookies! Cookies are her personal favorite, and tops her love for cakes and cupcakes. She jokes that there’s something about cookies that have a special hold on her that other baked goods will never have. Joanna believes it’s due to the fact that a cookie is already complete in itself – no need for extra icing or fillings, has the perfect amount of sweetness and flavor, and there’s no beating the texture of being crispy and chewy all at the same time.

Joanna is very particular when she’s motivated to bake. She literally has to set the mood for herself for the atmosphere to be just right. She needs it to be a calm place, and doesn’t want anyone to bother her. Joanna doesn’t like when people watch her or talk to her when she’s baking, so she prefers to be alone. She truly enjoys her calm, quiet, solitary time to herself. Joanna laughs that she will play music in the background, which is the only noise that is acceptable in her kitchen! And when she’s in the zone, she’s IN THE ZONEEE. So much so that she knows her favorite part about baking is the mixing process. To Joanna, there’s nothing more satisfying than watching the batter or dough transform into another texture – wet to dry, crumby to smooth, vice versa.

Joanna is known for different signature baked goods depending on who you’re talking to. Her friends adore her cookies, while her family and other relatives go crazy for her buko pie. “Buko” in Tagalog translates to coconut, but it’s a “young coconut,” meaning it is still green and not fully matured. Currently, Joanna is only taking orders from people she knows. Her friends have recommended her to other people for special cake projects, but she hasn’t accepted those kind of commissions just yet because 2 tiered cakes are a bit too complex for her, but she hopes to one day take them on. For now, she just showcases her work mainly on Instagram stories and the occasional post on her profile. She laughs that it’s probably better that way because her tiny oven can’t handle that many commissions at a time!

There are times when baking goes according to plan, and then there are times where everything that can go wrong, goes wrong. When she was younger and things didn’t turn out the way she wanted in the kitchen, she would end up crying. Now as an adult, she gets really mad, to the point where her whole day would feel ruined. She will avoid anyone that would ask or bring up the topic of her recent kitchen disaster. But when everything goes right on a recipe, Joanna has about 10 minutes of bliss and awe. But she admits that the bliss is very short lived, because after that, she’s back to scrutinizing everything she should’ve done to make it faster, more efficient, or overanalyzing every detail, looking for a “mistake.” It’s true that the biggest critic is sometimes yourself.

The pros to Joanna being so hard on herself, is that she always finds the best process, a new technique, and learns something new that will help her in the future, especially when it comes to decorating. She gets her inspiration from Instagram, Pinterest, and really enjoyed Christina Tosi’s Chef’s Table episode on Netflix because she was the most relatable – baking, cookies, nothing too fancy, and lots of colors. Her creativity is always tested when it comes to decorating because there’s so many possibilities that one can create. So to narrow it down, Joanna always tries to go into it with a goal of what to design – preparing a picture, watching YouTube videos to see how to make those designs, and everything else that comes with prep.

“When it comes to the actual recreating of the design, it’s really something else, so many other factors you have to consider – heat in the Philippines, stability of the icing, color palette, piping skills,” Joanna shared when it comes to decorating with a plan. “So I’d really have to think on my feet when things don’t go according to plan. I would just adjust and adjust until I would actually get the hang of it.”

The Philippines’ heat makes it very challenging to decorate. Joanna describes it as a nightmare for an at home baker. There’s so many things to consider when you’re baking and decorating in a really hot area. Not only do you have to work faster because the heat of the environment, but the baker radiates their own heat as well – the warmth of their hands when they’re holding the piping bags. The heat also effects laminating dough and takes a longer time. And a big issue with the heat is how fast some ingredients spoil from being in rooms without air-conditioning.

Joanna finds decorating pies to be the most challenging to decorate. Again, the heat in the Philippines factors into the result of the products. So for pies, it can really be a guessing game of how to get it right. It’s either the dough is too cold, which makes it difficult to roll out and work with, or it’s too soft and shrinks in the oven and considered “overworked dough” which then needs to be rested. Decorating has tested Joanna’s patience in every way, and the thing that she has learned while decorating in the Philippines is to have lots of patience and versatility.

With all those challenges and road blocks, Joanna still manages to push out beautiful pieces out of her kitchen. Her favorite edible creation she has ever made was a birthday cake she made for her grandma. She made a main cake and tons of cupcakes for everyone else with flower decorations. When they were all displayed together, it looked like a garden. Joanna was so proud of what she created, especially since it was the first time she did a flower arrangement cake and cupcake duo.

One day, Joanna hopes to open her own little baking spot, but the thought of it is still intimidating to her. She knows that going down that route will be a lot of investment and competition. A big part of her wants to have a small shop at home which would lessen the costs of having a storefront and would keep the investment to equipment and labor. Realistically, Joanna knows that having a bakery by just word of mouth means that the products have to be amazing to compensate for the fact that the products are not always readily available. She doesn’t think that that’s too far fetched given that her aunt has given her the best compliment that she has ever received to date. Her aunt always tells her that her pastries taste better than a friend’s, who is a professional baker and went to culinary school.

Joanna appreciates everyone that has supported her on her baking journey. Her aunts were her first teachers and introduced her to the baking life. They would encourage her to sell muffins to their employees for snack, and she would bake every Saturday. Her parents, relatives, and friends have been her faithful customers and consumers of everything she made. One of Joanna’s cousins used to have a restaurant and would buy cookies from her every weekend so she could sell it at her shop. This encouraged Joanna to keep doing what she loved.

Joanna laughs and says that baking has taught her how to be really good at math. She does pretty good at math and attributes it to her love of baking because of all the fractions and measurements that go into baking a simple recipe, but also the conversions if you want to make more than one batch or downsize. But of course, baking has taught her how to be patient. Joanna describes baking as a guessing game where you’re unsure if the product is good or not until the very end. Unlike cooking, you can’t really taste and flavor as you go.

Ironically, Joanna tends to shy away from making Filipino baked goods. She doesn’t know if it’s the technique or the ingredients, but she just can’t seem to get it down. There is one exception though – her buko pie! But other than her buko pie, Joanna admits that she’d rather buy Filipino baked goods because she humbly admits that her dupes can’t compete. However, she is super motivated to learn more about Japanese and French baking. She admires how Japanese baking is very complex presentation wise, but flavor wise is very subtle and complete, while French baking is very complex and full of butter!

Joanna mastered her signature baked goods with consistent practice and the drive to keep creating for leisure. Her advice to anyone out there trying to get into baking or is feeling discouraged after trying different recipes is this “It’s really a matter of practice. The first bakes are not necessarily the best unless you fall under the exception. There are moments of disappointments and tears but do not let them sway you from doing what you love.”  

Melonaire Juice

Growing up, Justine remembers going to picnics, birthday parties at the park, barbeques, and other social gatherings on warm sunny days. At these parties, there was always one item that was on the menu – her parents’ melon juice. The ice cold melon juice, with the freshly shredded cantaloupe strings, and square jellies dancing at the bottom of the cup, was the refreshing drink that she craved being in the sun all afternoon. The melon juice always quenched everyone’s thirst at these type of gatherings. She remembers her parents bringing the melon juice to her little sister’s volleyball fundraisers, and it would always be a hit. A lot of people would tell Justine’s parents to sell the melon juice and make a business out of it. They were flattered, but shied away from the idea. To this day, Justine associates all of these happy and fun memories with her parents’ famous melon juice. For as long as she can remember, making the melon juice has always been a team effort amongst her parents.

“It was like team work between my parents,” Justine said reminiscing. “It was their thing. Sometimes if my mom was at work, my dad would make it himself, but for the most part I always think of them together. And then my sister and I would… you know… enjoy the fruits of their labor,” she laughed.

When the pandemic and Shelter in Place orders hit, Justine, like many others, saw small businesses pop up from left and right. She described it as a new age – a Renaissance. She was thoroughly inspired by all the people she saw starting up their own business ventures and running with their ideas. Justine was in awe, she wondered how much courage it took these small business owners to pursue their passion projects and side hustles. She admired how brave they were to not care about the judgements of others and stepping out of their comfort zones. Justine wondered if she would ever have that kind of courage to go after a business venture for herself.

It wasn’t until her little sister started her jewelry business that Justine thought, “Maybe I can start a side hustle too.” Her little sister, without knowing it, was the push that Justine needed to dip her toe in the entrepreneur world. After all, if not during a pandemic – where she had more free time than she’s had in years – then when? COVID-19 pushed Justine to start Melonaire Juice, even though she was very anxious about the whole thing. Still, she wanted to spend her time in quarantine doing something productive, that she enjoyed, and that could make her some extra income on the side.

Justine got the idea to use her parents’ cantaloupe juice recipe since it was always a success anywhere they brought it. She remembered all the good memories that the melon juice reminded her of, and wanted to spread that same happiness to those around her. During the summer time, she asked her parents how they would feel if she used their melon juice recipe and started selling it to people outside of their circle. After all, they only shared it with family and those that turned into family, like her sister’s volleyball team. They threw that ball right back in her court and told her they would support her if she chose to do it. It was her mom that hinted closer to yes and mentioned that maybe it was a good idea because the weather was nice and still warm in the Bay Area. Justine was happy that her parents were on board with her idea, and she was excited to include them in the next steps – like designing a logo, naming the business, and how to advertise.

In fact, that was Justine’s favorite part of the process – getting it all started and deciding the aesthetics of her business. She is all about the vision, and was excited to use her creativity and bring her visions to life. Justine bounced back name ideas with her best friends and parents, and Melonaire Juice was the winner. Finally having a name for her small business made it all the more real. She teamed up with my little sister to create her logo, tweaking her ideas and tailoring them to her liking. Justine would send the progress logo photos to her parents every time she got an update. It was very important to her to keep her parents in the loop because she felt so grateful that they had her back and approved of her using their “recipe.” She wanted to do right by them and include them in the process.

Once Justine had her official Melonaire Juice logo, she was motivated to figure out the packaging. Packaging was very important to Justine because she knew she would have to take product photos to advertise the cantaloupe juice. Being a person with an artistic eye, she already had visions of what kind of shots she wanted to post to promote it. Justine’s goal was to have everything – from the logo, to the packaging, to the photos, to the color schemes on Instagram – be visually pleasing. The colors she used for the logo and Instagram page were purposely picked to have the viewer associate Melonaire Juice with warm weather, being a refreshing drink, being outside in the sun, and to have a tropical theme. Everything started coming together, but Justine’s doubts quickly took over her mind. On top of that, she was on a time clock, was she going to drop the melon juice while it was still summer time, or would she talk herself out of it and would have to wait until after winter passed?

The creating process was Justine’s favorite part of starting her small business. But in the back of her mind she always had doubts about what she was doing. Justine would try to distract herself by just pushing on to the next step to get her business on its feet. But when everything was complete and she had no more steps to take other than publicly announcing a pre-order date, her self-doubt was more amplified than ever. Justine describes herself as a very anxious person, and she went through every scenario possible on why people wouldn’t buy from her. She went back on forth on whether opening up Melonaire Juice was a good business move or not. It was a battle between Justine vs. Justine, and she either had to fight for her small business, or fall victim to the self-negative talk she fed herself. She had no choice but to confront each question of doubt head on, and convince herself that her melon juice was worth a shot. She wanted to make sure that her product stood out, and got discouraged with the idea that people wouldn’t give her melon juice a try because they could easily get something similar at a local taqueria. But she has never seen the Filipino version of agua fresca, especially a cantaloupe version served with the toppings her family recipe offered.

“I would ask myself: what makes me different, and what makes this product different?” Justine said replaying her train of thought at the time. She remembers all the questions she would ask herself, “Are people even going to buy it? What if only my friends buy it? Would it be able to travel word of mouth?”

Every time she had these doubts, she would circle back with her best friends, family, and boyfriend. Justine is grateful for the contribution they had in getting Melonaire Juice up and running. No one discouraged her more than herself. Her support system around her encouraged her to keep going and follow through to see where she could take Melonaire Juice. Justine’s boyfriend, Matt, was very supportive from the beginning and really pushed for Justine to sell her melon juice. Matt is African American, and Justine always wondered if people outside of the Filipino culture would think the melon juice, shredded cantaloupe, and square jellies was a weird combo, but he loved it. He also brought some of the juice for his family to try and they loved it as well. It brought Justine comfort knowing that other people that didn’t grow up on the drink enjoyed it and encouraged her to sell it to the public.

“I know ultimately I have the last word, but for the type of person I am and how anxious I can get, I can’t stress enough how grateful I am to have my loved ones support me,” Justine said humbly.

So, after a lot of back and forth, Justine decided to launch Melonaire Juice and drop a pre-order date. She began advertising her juice on social media, using the photos she previously took at a park. The photo shows the mason jar dripping with cold streaks of water, the orange tint of the juice pairing well against the blue logo. This photo screamed “refreshing,” and as the Bay Area went through a heatwave, it definitely caught people’s eye and attention. Justine’s closest friends shared her content on Instagram, helping spread the word that she was selling cantaloupe juice. Even though her friend group is pretty tight knit and they were each other’s main crew, each friend still had other friends and followers that could branch out the business. She was happy that just a simple post share on their stories could bring in friends of friends.

When Justine dropped the pre-order date, she anxiously waited to see if people would reach out and order. She admits that she set the bar very low for herself because she didn’t want to be disappointed, knowing that this would be her first go around with only her friends knowing and sharing her content. She expected things to be slow initially because everything would be by word of mouth. Justine thought that if she could sell 10 jars on her launch date, she would be very grateful. To her surprise, she exceeded that number by a great deal. Justine couldn’t believe it, and saying she was grateful for the overwhelming support she got from her friends and family was an understatement. She made her round of drop off’s that weekend, thanking everyone she knew personally, with a mask on and some distance, of course. Her orders from her first launch were mostly close friends and family, still, she knew that it could get bigger because each person posted it on their social media after receiving the juice. Little did she know, it was just a matter of time before she would get other customer traffic through her original customers.

After her first launch, Justine eagerly prepared herself for the second drop. To her surprise, she hit a road block she never expected to come by. Justine prepared herself for the change in numbers of people buying, knowing some weeks would be better than others, she prepared herself for people being late and not picking up their order due to schedule conflicts, she even prepared her kitchen and fridge situation, knowing it would get really crowded around pick up weekends. What she didn’t prepare for was a nationwide mason jar shortage one week after her first drop. Justine was baffled – a nationwide mason jar shortage?! She didn’t even know that could be a thing. But it was, and this was her new reality. Due to COVID, everyone was buying mason jars to pickle different items, and suddenly the once ready available mason jar was a hard item to come by. Justine went to different stores across the Bay Area, searching high and low on the internet, and ultimately deciding that she would most likely have to look for another container to house her melon juice.

It was a set back that Justine was really sad about. After all, she is the aesthetic queen. She had a vision for how her product would be packaged, and the second week of orders, that all had to change. She found herself scrambling to find a good alternative. At first, she thought about telling her customers that they can bring their own mason jars for her to fill, but that idea was quickly thrown out because of COVID. Justine wanted to make sure that she was keeping herself and other customers safe. Justine ended up settling for heavy duty deli containers, because it was about the same size as a mason jar, and could still be used after the drink was done. She laughed at the idea that her customers could get a 2 in 1 deal – Melonaire Juice and free tupperware. The packaging was a small hiccup that Justine had to get around, but once she found an alternative, she was back on social media advertising her next drop. She reassured her customers that the packaging changed due to a nationwide mason jar shortage, but the melon juice was still the same great taste.

With the container situation solved, Justine continued to promote Melonaire Juice. Her small business was doing well for being new and just starting up. Justine even started to get orders from people she didn’t know personally, proving that the Instagram promoting, with the help of her friends, was working. Still, she would get so anxious when she would post on her page saying she was taking pre-orders. It was a constant high and low feeling. Justine would be anxious to announce her next drop, and would fear that nobody would order. Once she would get some orders in, she would feel relieved and could finally breathe again. But that anxious dread would always return the next drop after, a cycle that kept repeating, putting her on a rollercoaster of anxiety. Because of this, she would try to prepare herself for orders declining and fluctuating depending on the weather, so she wouldn’t get disappointed.

Another road block she encountered was the pick up situation. Meloniare Juice offered pick up and drop off options to their customers. As Melonaire Juice reached customers that Justine didn’t know personally, she got a little concerned with giving out her address to strangers. Her mom felt the same way, and didn’t want others to know where they lived. Luckily, Justine’s house is close to a well-known park, and she would do pick ups from that location if she didn’t know a customer too well. Still, she is grateful for all the customers that she has had that she didn’t know personally, it’s just a matter of privacy and making her parents feel more comfortable with the business.

With the drops that she has done, she has found a routine that works for her and her schedule. Justine takes pride in giving her customers the freshest products, so she has a very particular system that she follows to ensure her customers are getting Melonaire Juice at its best. She will head to the store a day or two before pick up day, and carefully picks out the ripest cantaloupes available. And she always comes with the intent to be on the safe side, purchasing more in case any last minute orders come in. She does all the prep work the day of pick ups, and starts about 2 hours before the first pick up is scheduled, this way, the juice isn’t sitting in the fridge over night. The night before, Justine clears out her fridge, to make sure that there is enough room for all of her orders. And the heavy duty deli containers have proved to help with the space issue since they can be stacked on top of each other. Once Justine has all of the orders done, she stores them in the fridge, but switches them to the freezer the last 15-20 minutes before pick up so they are super chilled and ready to devour on a hot day. Justine provides a plastic for so all of that shredded cantaloupe and jellies don’t go to waste.

Justine likes to prep all orders the day of and hours before pick up so the cantaloupe is at its freshest. She does this so her customers can enjoy Melonaire Juice longer. It lasts in the fridge for about 3-4 days, and some customers have even reached out saying it was still good after 5 days. Still, she recommends that the melon juice be consumed within the first 3 days to get the freshest taste. The heavy duty deli containers definitely gives Justine the luxury to give Melonaire Juice in generous servings, so it will last more than 1 sitting. Especially on warm days, it is the perfect chilled snack to come home to.

But as time pushed on and the weather started changing, an ice cold refreshing juice wasn’t in high demand anymore. Justine had planned for this, and also worried about it before launching. She knew once Daly City and the Bay Area’s notorious fog and cold weather came around, that her small business would be affected. Melon juice is associated with warm weather, outdoor gatherings, and the summer time, her predictions were true, and she saw that less people were putting in orders as the fall came around. Cantaloupes were also going out of season, and even though they are sold year round, they are at their peak of flavor from June – August. Justine was hesitant on what to do next with Melonaire Juice.

“Since it was my first time starting a business, especially as a side hustle, I was kind of just feeling things out and seeing how people reacted to it,” Justine said. “But when I noticed that the weather had an effect on sales and also knowing it’s not really melon season, I was weighing out the pros and cons to seeing if I should take a break or not. I didn’t really have a plan to sell year round. I guess ideally that’s what I would want, but I also don’t mind taking a little break.”

Still, Justine was hesitant to go on a little hiatus. She didn’t want people to forget about Melonaire Juice since she wouldn’t be promoting it and posting about it as much. She knew that going on a break would likely be the case when fall and winter came, but she didn’t have a set plan on what to do. She didn’t want to lose engagement with followers and customers if she wasn’t selling. But ultimately, Justine made the decision to take a break and open up Melonaire Juice again when the weather permitted. It also gave her more time to brainstorm more ideas for her small business.

On her hiatus, Melonaire Juice did their first catering gig at Justine’s best friend’s COVID safe baby shower. The mama-to-be really wanted melon juice at her baby shower since everyone else would be turning up with alcohol. Justine was thrilled that her best friend wanted Melonaire Juice to cater, and wanted to fulfill her best friends wants and needs since a COVID baby shower with few friends wasn’t the ideal plan for a first time mom. The melon juice was a hit at the party, and guests started to pair it with their alcohol. Many people commented that the sweet cantaloupe juice was a great chase to go with their alcoholic beverage. This discovery gave Justine more ideas on how to promote her melon juice, and opened the doors to more opportunities aside from personal individual sized packaging. Since then, Justine has been thinking of the catering route for parties, events, and other social gatherings.

Justine’s goal for Melonaire Juice is to continue to grow the business. Since discovering that the melon juice pairs well with alcohol from the COVID safe baby shower, she has been entertaining the idea of catering once COVID calms down and more parties and gatherings are taking place. She still has to figure out small things like the container which she will transport the melon juice in for parties, but she’s excited to see what Melonaire Juice will evolve into in 2021. She also wants to experiment with pop-up sales at local parks when the weather permits. Justine’s goal is to open Melonaire Juice back up at the end of February, when warmer weather is expected to make its appearance back in the Bay Area. Customers can expect to see Justine and her famous cantaloupe juice at packed parks like Dolores Park, Gellert Park, and other picnic areas.

Justine’s advice to other small business owners is to be open to the journey. She knows it’s a lot easier said than done from experience, but try not to focus on worrying too much about the outcome. She explains that starting your own business should be fun, and it’ll be something you’re proud of once you push yourself out of your comfort zone. Speaking up about your small business will help get the word around that you are selling and advertising a certain product. If those closest to you don’t know about your small business, how will others hear about it? Also, asking close friends and family to share and repost your content will really help bring in new customers.

Justine decided to start Melonaire Juice during Shelter in Place, a time where she, and many others, struggled with finding something that kept them occupied and brought them joy. COVID slowed down a lot of people’s work, and being cooped up in the house with restrictions was very gloomy. Justine always had the entrepreneurial mindset, but could never find the time to take it seriously because of her busy schedule. Suddenly, COVID gave her the opportunity to test the waters with a business venture she had given much thought to, but never thought of pursuing. She loves that she gets to pass on her family recipe that has brought her so much joy over the years. And even though she plans on having different variations and experimenting with flavors and toppings, she is content knowing that Melonaire Juice was inspired by the fun memories associated with her parents’ original melon juice.

“My work slowed down,” Justine said remembering how COVID and the Shelter in Place disrupted her life. “It gave me something else to do, focus on, put my energy into, and grow it into something I’m passionate about. And I’m excited for people to try it… Plus there’s also the emotional attachment to it, knowing it’s based off my parents’ recipe… I had the opportunity to put out a food item that brought my family together and would start conversations when they would bring it to events where there were people who weren’t familiar with this Filipino food. And also just rep the Filipino culture, I think that’s really dope.”

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 café 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.”