Thirty-year-old Max Gana belongs to the third generation who now manages Merced Bakehouse, a 48-year-old bakeshop known for their cakes and pastries.
His grandmother, Dr. Milagros Daez Sevilla, started Merced Bakehouse in 1972, and the bakeshop has since become a brand synonymous with cakes and other bread delicacies.
Its main branch along EDSA in West Triangle, Quezon City, has become a landmark and a go-to place for anyone wanting to enjoy a slice of cake or pastry, or purchase their favorite cake to celebrate an occasion.
With his brother Benjie, Max now oversees the transition of the bakeshop to become attuned to digital times, where customers are always online through their mobile devices.
The COVID-19 pandemic has hastened the transition of many restaurants to adopt digital tools to reach more customers who are restricted to go out because of lockdown measures. And Merced Bakehouse is among the thousands which already put in place their online presence.
“The driving force for making Merced Bakehouse accessible online was the desire to augment our sales in these uncertain times. I think this change would’ve been inevitable, especially as leadership transitioned to my brother and I, but the COVID-19 crisis accelerated our need to install these improvements. This is, as they say, the “New Normal”, and it would be foolhardy to expect the business to survive off our old routines,” Max said.
“As we specialize in more old-fashioned Filipino baked goods, a lot of our regular customers skew older, so I wasn’t sure initially if pushing for online sales would be received well. However, it appears that yes, there is strong demand for the convenience of the internet even in older generations. We’ve had a lot of our loyal patrons call and say they’ll have their anak or apo order for them online.”
Max describes their products today as “quality food and baked goods that the man on the street can enjoy at reasonable prices.” And although the company tapped into digital tools, the well-loved bakeshop have stayed true to old-fashioned ways of doing things, like staying true to tried and tested recipes and making freshly baked goods at all times.
Max said the bakeshop also implemented health and safety measures for staff members, store patrons and delivery partners as required by the government.
Some of the measures are cashless payment options, body temperature scans, proper ventilation, waiting chairs that are one meter apart for take-out customers. The bakeshop’s conference and dine-in are still currently closed.
Named after Max’s great grandmother Mercedes Daez, the bakeshop was the second business put up by Max’s grandmother, who ventured on her own after working 20 years in the pharmaceutical industry. She first started Merced Drugstore.
Max said his grandmother knew nothing about pastries other than she enjoyed eating them. She took advice from businesses near her drugstore and eventually hired a couple of bakers for the bakeshop.
When Max’s mother came into the picture, she modernized the operations and marketing of the bakehouse. She introduced new cake designs and new products, as well as automated more of the processes in the bakeshop. Soon, a website that features a catalog of cake designs was put up.
Merced Bakeshop used to have old-fashioned diner booth seats and painted with Merced’s green color, remembers Max. But the store burned down.
“Back then, my favorite pastry in the shop was the Pineapple Bake Tart, and that hasn’t changed as I’ve grown older. I now also have a soft spot for Bitso-Bitso, which was a convenient quick breakfast for me when I started working there. Tough to beat hot Bitso in the morning,” Max said.
Growing up in a family-run bakeshop, Max had a choice whether to work in the family business or pursue other careers as getting into the restaurant business wasn’t particularly a viable path. “It’s the industry that isn’t an easy one to survive in,” according to Max. His mother would often joke that “the best advice for aspiring restaurateurs is not to open a restaurant at all.”
He took BS in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of the Philippines and worked as a researcher at his alma mater. However, he became “disillusioned with the prospects of a scientific career in the Philippines.” So he might as well go back to doing something he loves. And that is baking.
“I started off by training at the back of the shop with our long-tenured maestros, and began to develop the nuances and habits of a professional. With the support of my parents and my grandmother, I was able to nurture this seed of competence with a formal education at Le Cordon Bleu-Tokyo. However, graduating from there only made me realize how far I had to go before I could even begin to think of myself as a chef.”
When he returned to the Philippines, Max worked as a line cook, apprenticing under industry veteran Chef Buddy Trinidad of Park Avenue Desserts.
Armed with knowledge and experience in pastry making, he went back to Merced Bakehouse and took over production and development at the bakeshop. He modernized some of the bakeshop’s protocols, while his brother Benjie organized the accounting systems.
With their expansive bakeshop operations training, Max and his brother, who are considered as digital natives, were more than prepared to run the bakeshop when their mother decided to step down.
“Naturally, being children of the internet age, expanding Merced’s reach online was the first thing on our agenda,” said Max.
To make the bakeshop have an online presence and marketing reach, Max tapped the expertise of his girlfriend Ayen dela Torre, who for years has been operating a successful online business “Where To Next.”
“We’re still fine-tuning our systems and procedures, but even now, the early response to this move, to our newly expanded exposure, has been fantastic. So many stories have been shared with us, of people reminded of Merced, our food, and the happy memories they had with our bakehouse. It’s been a pleasant side-effect of pushing our business into the digital space.”
Max said the bakeshop getting into digital also ensures jobs are kept in the business, particularly during these trying times.
“The fact that we have staff who have been working for us for longer than I’ve been alive, pushes me to do my best every day. You don’t want to let down these people who’ve essentially become family as well. If the business succeeds, everyone can be taken care of.”
Merced Bakeshop is located at 869 EDSA, Brgy. West Triangle, Diliman, Quezon City. The bake shop is open for pick-up/takeout only, from 9 to 5 p.m. For orders online, you can click the link here.