How Quezon City’s first bakery got a new lease on life

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Kamuning Bakery
Kamuning Bakery [via Facebook]

How can venerable old businesses survive and remain viable?

Pugon-baking (wood-fired oven carefully made of bricks), artisanal Kamuning Bakery opened in late 1939 as the first bakery in the newly established Quezon City upon the invitation of newspaper tycoon and President Manuel L. Quezon’s adviser Don Alejandro Roces.

Today, it has outlived many other bakeries of our metropolis, despite still continuing its old-style processes and antique facilities.

This bakery is still the same as when I was a child some 62 years ago. It definitely brought back memories as I grew up in the area of the now Tomas Morato Avenue. One thing I could attest is the sustainability of high quality products through the years.

The bakery excelled in creating diverse traditional breads like Pan de Suelo, pandesal and pan de coco with its two “pugon” or wood-fire brick ovens, as well as biscuits like galletas, bodigos, ugoy-ugoy, lubid-lubid, biscocho, otap and others.

A bakery as a living museum

Kamuning Bakery’s founders were Atty. Leticia “Letty” Bonifacio Javier (whose parents Miguel and Jovita operated pre-war Manila’s renowned Los Baños Bakery in Singalong) and her husband Marcelo Javier Sr.

Its new owner since December 2013 is award-winning writer, history buff, college teacher and self-made realty entrepreneur Wilson Lee Flores.

“The history of a society isn’t only found in history books or museums, but in the way we prepare and eat our foods. Kamuning Bakery is like a living museum,” he said.

The 76-year-old Joaquin “Joaqui” Roces, Jr. recounted that his grandfather Don Alejandro, his father and the late “Manila Times” publisher and activist Joaquin “Chino” Roces and he became like many multi-generational “suki” or loyal customers of Kamuning Bakery due to consistent good quality of the pastries.

Old timers recall customers from all walks of life ranging from presidents, intellectuals, writers, showbiz celebrities, educators, and entrepreneurs to public school students.

The founder’s daughter, 75-year-old Beth Javier Africa, said the most famous customer was the late President Corazon “Cory” C. Aquino, whose favorite was the bakery’s all-time bestseller Pan de Suelo (a registered trademark of Kamuning Bakery) and which is also known as Putok Pandesal. She recalled that Cory was humble and down-to-earth.

Many long-time customers of Kamuning Bakery have fond childhood memories of Kamuning Bakery, such as the country’s first woman Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno who said in her 2014 speech during Quezon City’s 75th anniversary at Araneta Coliseum that she used to walk from Quezon City High School to Kamuning Bakery to buy her favorites: hot pandesal, pan de coco and Spanish breads.

Former Philippine Ports Authority general manager Captain Maximo Dumlao said that he was grade 3 in 1946 when he first bought breads at Kamuning Bakery.

International banker and Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) Chairman Rolando Gosiengfiao said that as an 8-year-old in 1958 he used to buy the bakery’s pandesal and resold them. Salesladies even called him “Boy Taba” or “Fat Boy”.

Long-time customer 80-year-old Paz Bantugan also recounted she also used to buy pandesal as a 7-year-old and resold them to others.

Now reviving and innovating

For over three generations, Kamuning Bakery’s location has always been at the corner of Judge Jimenez Street and K-1st Street beside a huge Narra tree and across the street from the former Kamuning movie theater (now Our People of Grace School). This is the theater I always go to watch those Fernando Poe and Joseph Estrada’s stunt movies.

Kamuning Bakery was named after Barangay Kamuning (originally Barrio Obrero). The area used to be planted with many flowering kamuning trees, while nearby Tomas Morato Avenue formerly Sampaloc Avenue (planted on both sides with sampaloc or tamarind trees).

Founder Atty. Letty Bonifacio Javier’s father, husband and a brother-in-law were military officers who fought the Japanese invaders of World War II, killed during the 1945 Battle of Manila. Letty raised three small kids on her own by continuing her family’s time-honored baking tradition with passion, integrity and excellence.

To make the heritage business viable, Flores overhauled its efficiency, rehabilitated its facilities, and used social media to promote this iconic business beyond its old geographic market.

He added free Wi-Fi; POS cashier system and a credit card facility. A new pugon chicken and pugon pizza restaurant is also opening soon on the other side of the bakery where the old owners had leased to a printing shop before.

One of the changes to Kamuning Bakery is its philanthropic mission as a profit-oriented social enterprise. Instead of hosting a 75th anniversary in December 2014, Flores said the bakery shall donate to 75 socio-civic causes, orphanages, homes for the aged, public schools and others up to December 2015.

Despite the rise of bakery chains, groceries with gas or electric ovens and industrial bakeries or multinational giants, the artisanal Kamuning Bakery still continues to serve its loyal clientele and niche market.

Its restored café now complements pugon-baked artisanal breads and pastries with Third wave or artisanal coffee drinks, all-day breakfast choices of rice meals, pastas, sandwiches and others. There is even an art gallery and a library!

Kamuning Bakery makes artisanal breads, cookies and cakes based on recipes and practices passed on from generation to generation and using “pugon” or wood-fired brick oven. The new owner has added modern breads, cookies and many modern cakes.

When asked about his future plans, Flores said: “Whatever our future plans in the near term or long term, I and our team want to still retain the authentic old panaderia feel and essence which have made Kamuning Bakery unique for over three generations. Kamuning Bakery is more than just a bakery. It is a cherished and well-preserved tradition. It is history made alive with quality products and sincere service.”

(Armando Bartolome is a business mentor to numerous micro entrepreneurs who are now themselves big names in the industry. This article was first published on “The Business Mentor”of ABS-CBN News.com)

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