It started with a craving.
Three months after getting married and coming home to Manila, TV host and actress LJ Moreno-Alapag was pining for a sweet treat she discovered in California. “Every time we would meet with our wedding planner, it was at this cake shop that served cake lollipops. I was so intrigued by it—how they made it perfectly round and coated in chocolate—and when I ordered a red velvet-flavored one, I instantly got hooked,” recalled Moreno-Alapag. “I kept on searching online for a supplier here, but there was none. So I thought of making it on my own,” she added.
After several successful kitchen experiments, Moreno-Alapag felt confident enough to give away her “lollicakes”—bite-sized, doughnut hole-like cakes on lollipop sticks—to her friends and family. When good feedback and orders started coming in, a light bulb moment came. “Even if I didn’t plan to turn this into a business, I decided to try to make it work since no one else was offering the product in the local market,” she said. “And since that was in November, I figured it was the best time to give a food business a go.”
Word-of-mouth spread quickly and by December that year, Moreno-Alapag’s customer base grew much bigger than what she expected. “I got overwhelmed by the inquiries! The days leading up to Christmas, I barely got sleep anymore. I would finish baking at 11 pm, then wake up at 4 am to bake again,” she said with a laugh. “I really do everything—baking, answering emails and phone calls, sometimes even delivery.”
Learning the ropes
Encouraged by her husband, basketball star Jimmy Alapag, she formally launched The Lollicake Factory in January 2011 with an initial investment of P10,000 ($213.11). This was also when she started joining the Mercato weekend market and taking classes with pastry chef Heny Sison.
“I didn’t have any background or formal training in baking, and I didn’t want to accept more requests for custom cakes without really knowing how to make them,” she explained. “It was only after finishing my cake decorating and essentials of pastry arts classes that I added more products to the lineup.”
This was not the first time Moreno-Alapag went back to school. In 2003, she left show business to earn her degree in education. “I think a lot of actors will agree with me, showbiz isn’t always going to be there. That’s why I pursued my studies full time,” she shared.
“Even when I started acting at 16, my mindset was focused on finishing school and eventually putting up my own business. I always believed that an education and a business will give me the freedom to decide what [showbiz] projects to take on, and the choice of what to spend my time on.”
Carving her niche
Four years into her first business venture, Moreno-Alapag believes a big part of The Lollicake Factory’s success is anchored on being the first to introduce a new product to the market. She said this has allowed her baked treats to stand out in the metro’s already crowded food scene.
“When the cake lollipop craze started, other bakeshops did it as well. In reality, anyone can search online how to make it—even I got my idea from a bakeshop in the US. What sets our product apart is our recipe—we pay close attention to quality—and customers value that we started this in Manila,” she shared.
From initially offering only three flavors of lollicakes, they now have 10 varieties of their signature product, as well as a line of cupcakes, and soft icing, fondant, and photo cakes—all customizable.
The 1-woman business has expanded into a team of bakers and cake decorators, plus a staff that focuses on sales and franchises. This young business also counts a shop and commissary in Pasig City, four franchisee-owned, and one co-owned store in different parts of Luzon, and international orders as its achievements.
Family comes first
And as the brand continues to grow with Moreno-Alapag at the helm—while juggling her showbiz gigs and taking care of her young family—she said one thing keeps her grounded. “Knowing my priorities is important—mine is my family. So even before I make any decision to expand the business, I have to make sure it won’t affect my time with my family or my other work commitments,” she explained.
This means weekends are strictly no-working days for the hands-on mom. Once a week, she and her husband also make it a point to go out on dates. She said these have taught her to delegate tasks to her staff and manage her time better.
“It can be tempting to just focus all your time on the business because that’s where the money comes from. But it shouldn’t be all about the money,” she said. “My husband is good at reminding me when to slow down, and that has kept me from extending myself beyond what I can handle.”
Anna is the managing editor of Yummy magazine. Follow her on Twitter, @annafelipev.
This article was originally published in the October 2015 issue of Entrepreneur Philippines magazine.