Mary Grace Cafe: Out of the comfort zone to keep business afloat

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PHOTO FROM MARY GRACE

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Before the pandemic, Mary Grace Café gave mallgoers “the taste of home away from home”. But now, the warm place that is synonymous with homemade ensaymada faces its biggest challenge — “How do you bring the cafe to the customer’s home?”

“Can you even bring the cafe to the home?”, Chiara Dimacali-Hugo added, recalling the time when her entrepreneurial family brainstormed ideas to keep the business afloat and their workers employed amid the lockdown measures. The company had to embrace e-commerce almost overnight, which included setting up a website and partnering with delivery apps.

“We’re learning as we go along. Because we were asking ourselves, ‘will people really order from a website’? Are Filipinos such forward planners that they can plan three days ahead for the cake they would order for the weekend?”

PHOTO FROM MARY GRACE

One of the five children of mom entrepreneur Mary Grace Dimacali, Chiara handles the marketing of the so-called haven of the Titas of Manila. And she’s not the only family member who pitches in to upkeep the family business. Her brothers Adrian and Gabriel handle business development, store expansions, legal and HR, while Raphael looks after finance. Her sister Marian is in charge of the commissary and bakery, and brother-in-law Carlo takes care of purchasing, logistics, IT, and engineering. Then, there’s their dad, Hector, the chairman, who used to work in the corporate world as their mom established and grew the business.

Chiara reminisces about the time when her mom first started selling fruitcakes door-to-door pastries and fruitcakes in their village just as a hobby, when the then housewife’s blood, sweat, and tears went into perfecting their signature ensaymada, and when she successfully sold all her baked goods at her first bazaar, thanks to her quick thinking brother Gabby’s suggestion to offer free samples to passers-by. Apart from taking a culinary bread-making and baking course she took in the U.S., her mother also upskilled at the Asian Institute of Management so she could expand the simple kiosk underneath Glorietta cinemas to the well-loved chain of cafés we know today.

Ironically, during this second year of the pandemic, Mary Grace Café has opened its 44th café in Greenhills Promenade and its 35th kiosk in Waltermart North Edsa. If things go well, she said, they will open a few more stores and another café in Tagaytay by the end of the year.

PHOTO FROM MARY GRACE

They decided to continue with their expansion plans in consideration of their employees and as a way to help them retain their jobs. However, she admits that the expansion continues to be a delicate balancing act. “Because of all of these ECQs, MECQ, all the Qs, we all had to sort of think twice about where to open and when. We have cafes lined up for the rest of the year but we actually don’t know if we can open, if you know what I mean?,” she said.

This year, they opened more kiosks because these are much accessible to walk-in customers. “You don’t have to sit down. You just grab and go,” she said. As for choosing locations, they are focusing on curbside areas where the café can open its doors and adopt an alfresco theme. For the same reason, they are on the lookout for areas outside Metro Manila locations which can accommodate bigger outdoor set-ups.

As part of the Shop Small movement, an initiative of American Express and BDO to help local businesses especially those affected by the pandemic, Mary Grace Café customers with BDO-issued American Express® Cards can enjoy 5x Rewards for purchases made until August 31, 2021. Points earned can be used to redeem a reward of choice from a selection of gift certificates, gadgets, appliances, air miles, and more.

PHOTO FROM MARY GRACE

Amid all of these strategies, Chiara admits that they are still learning as they go along like every restaurateur in the F&B industry. Going digital, doing deliveries, and exploring new ways to reach customers wherever they are have also helped their family business. “It’s working. It’s challenging. But it’s working,” she said.

Shop Small is a movement founded by American Express to ignite passion for small and local businesses, call attention to the valuable contributions they make to their communities and the economy, and encourage shoppers to support them.

Learn more at americanexpress.com.ph/shopsmall.