Between having her first baby at 23 and her fifth child at 32, Mary Grace Dimacali didn’t have much time to nurture a career. She admits to feeling a “bit of angst” back when her batchmates from college started taking up their masters and climbing the corporate ladder. Nevertheless, she felt that being present for her children was worth the sacrifice.
Her husband, Hector, was a good provider, but she needed a creative outlet for herself. “It was about being able to make something with your own hands,” she explains. So, when her eldest turned five, she started selling fruitcake for the Christmas season. “It allowed me to be an entrepreneur during the –ber months,” she says.
From there, she moved on to cinnamon buns and other baked goodies, eventually finding one particular product that clicked with her customers. “I wanted to make something that Filipinos love—that was the ensaymada.”
Though her recipe for the buttery, feather-light pastries, dusted with a generous helping of quezo de bola, was a winner, Dimacali was also tireless in pushing her wares. “I like to sell. I brought these products door-to-door in our village.”
From knocking on neighbors’ doors, Dimacali moved on to bazaars in 1994. Long lines for her ensaymada rolls and a roster of repeat customers encouraged her to open her first kiosk, in Glorietta mall, in 2001.
Putting up her dream café
Dimacali’s dream, however, was to manage her own café; she wanted the perfect setting for people to enjoy her comfort food. Five years later, she opened the first full-service Café Mary Grace in Serendra. Her son, Gabriel, by then newly graduated from college, found the spot, and became the first of her children to join the business.
Neighbors, bazaar buddies, and a posh new clientele were drawn to the café, to the comfort and familiarity of oven-fresh ensaymada with a chaser of hot tsokolate. What differentiated the café was the brand’s homey, personal touch that Mary Grace was able to retain despite its growth.
“Little did I know [the bazaar regulars] were my evangelizers. While we were developing a loyal clientele, I was also building an emotional connection with people, so that when the first café opened, bang! They knew that Mary Grace was not just a name—they knew that person. They know her voice. They know her commitment to deliver with quality and bring it to your doorstep. So the café became a success,” she says.
Today, Mary Grace has nine cafés and 10 kiosks across Metro Manila. Customers still gamely scribble compliments on slips of paper tucked under the glass covers on the tables: “I think Mary Grace took a piece of my heart. Or maybe I gave it willingly,” says one. “Mary Grace has been a part of our lives. I love you to the moon and back!” says another.
In the meantime, Dimacali looks back on her journey and beams, “I bloomed where I was, as mom foremost of all. Who would think that something good would spring from humble beginnings at home, in a little kitchen?”
This article was originally published in the May 2014 issue of Entrepreneur magazine. To subscribe, click here.
Main photo by Jason Quibilan; other photos from Café Mary Grace's FB account