Ju.D Lao has been making fruitcakes since 1975
Ju.D Lao has been making fruitcakes since the mid-1970s. It’s a strange pursuit when you consider that she never liked the Christmas pastry as a kid growing up in the 1960s. Filled with brandy and dates and packed with nuts, fruitcakes of her childhood were inedible as far as she was concerned. But a trip to Europe after graduating from college in the 1970s changed that.
“I had a taste of fruitcake a la mode there,” she said during a chat with Entrepreneur Philippines in her kitchen in Quezon City. “I started asking ‘What is this? Ang sarap naman.’ When they said it was fruitcake, I was so surprised and I was like, “'Ha? Edible pala ang fruitcake.’”
Lao experimented with baking her own version of the fruitcake as soon as she returned to the country. When she felt she perfected the recipe, she started giving it out to family and friends, who loved it so much they kept coming back for more. She was more than willing to keep handing them out for free, but she eventually realized that it was costing a lot. That’s when she decided to start selling her fruitcakes.
It was 1975 and Lao offered her fruitcakes initially to relatives and friends for Php50 a piece. But her brother said that if she really wanted to be successful, she would have to extend her client base. But it turned out that her version of the Christmas staple was so good, word quickly spread, and she’s been toiling away at her kitchen during the holiday season baking her special fruitcake ever since.
Over 40 years later, Lao is still at it, still with the same recipe, still baking out of her QC kitchen, although her basic fruitcake now costs Php1,200. She now also has a few additional items in her merchandise list. In the 1980s, she started selling fruitcake cookies which she called Chewy Chewkies—essentially alcohol-free fruitcake in cookie form.
“Kids love them because there’s no brandy,” she said.
In the 1990s, Lao expanded her fruitcake line to include Ju.D Gold (fruitcake with apricots and red cranberries, and honey instead of molasses), Ju.D Blue (infused with Blue Mountain coffee sourced from Japan) and Ju.D Coffee Prune Cake.
Ju.D's original recipe fruitcake is her bestseller and costs Php1,200
“We also have ginger cookies, but, I don’t know, for Filipinos, when they hear ginger, ayaw na nila,” she said. “But ginger cookies are very good.”
Lao, whose family’s main source of income is a printing business, still maintains the fruitcake-baking gig on the side. Customers call up a number to place their order and come to her home to pick it up. Last year, she made use of GrabExpress to deliver customer orders.
“It helped a lot because some people were getting discouraged to come here because of the traffic,” she said. “I remember one year there was this old man and he walked all the way to Green Meadows because there’s no public transportation going here.”
While she doesn’t really keep track of her earnings year-to-year, Lao said it varies.
“When the economy is good, we make a lot, but when it’s bad…”, she makes a sad face. “When Yolanda hit, I was in Tacloban (helping out with relief operations) so we only sold what we had in hand. There were also years of constant blackouts—patay kami talaga!”
Through the years, people have asked her to expand the business and maybe open a small store, but Lao has resisted the idea.
“It’s impossible,” she said. “If you open a store, every month you have to pay rent, you have to pay the salary of your sales girl, electricity, water. It’s just too much work and you can’t sustain it. We are not like Goldilocks or Red Ribbon.”
Ju.D Lao often employs additional staff to help her bake the fruitcakes during the Christmas season
In the past, Lao only sold her fruitcake during Christmas, but since 2016, they have been available year-round to accommodate more and more customers. Still, most of her products are produced only during the holiday season. Her business is still technically a mom-and-pop operation so, apart from special orders made way in advance, Lao says she can’t afford to keep production going throughout the rest of the year.
Peak season starts during the first week of December and lasts until just a few days before Christmas. During this time, Lao employs part-time workers that have included neighbors’ helpers, out-of-school youth and even parents of students who are in financial need but cannot take on regular jobs.
Lao, who started making fruitcake when she was 21 years old and is now in her early 60s, says she intends to keep making fruitcake as long as she is able. She says she enjoys the process and considers it a form of therapy.
“Every time I’m doing the fruitcakes, I’m happy, “she said. “Whatever you’re cooking, you should be happy. If you’re masungit, you bring the bad energy to your food.”
For orders and inquiries, call (02) 633-1188 or (02) 633-0260. Ju.D Lao’s fruitcake business is located at 50 Greenmeadows Ave., Quezon City.
Paul John Caña is the managing editor of Entrepreneur PH