More Than Just Cupcakes: A Look at M Bakery’s Secrets to Success

In this exclusive interview with the franchise owners themselves, we ask everything there is to know about M Bakery and its delicious offerings.

There’s an art in choosing which international brand to bring in. Some choose to franchise brands for the hype, while others go for originality—something that can’t be found here in the Philippines. But others? They choose a brand that is familiar enough to cause hype, but not too familiar that it easily becomes overshadowed.

The latter is exactly the thought process that Stewart Ong and Chef Candy Lu went with. As Managing Partners of Phil Jacobe Ventures Inc, the duo is responsible for bringing New York cupcake shop M Bakery to the Philippines.

Established in August of 1996, M Bakery started the cupcake craze in the US and around the world. In fact, the bakery has made a name for itself due to its pop culture reference—particularly that 30-seconder between Carrie Bradshaw and Miranda Hobbes in “Sex and the City” that inspired a cupcake named after her.

But more than that, what sets the store apart is its signature cupcake swirl (which is trademarked, according to Erick Larios, the director of franchise operations). What’s more, M Bakery is credited for introducing its one-of-a-kind version of banana pudding. No wonder the arrival of this store in the Philippines was strongly anticipated by dessert enthusiasts and the cupcake shop’s fans!

To know more about M Bakery, and what the store has planned for the coming years, we talked to the franchisers themselves in this exclusive interview.

Stewart Ong
Chef Candy Lu

What drew you to venture into the F&B industry?

Chef Candy: As a trained chef, I set up my own restaurant in Cagayan de Oro City called Candy’s Café. We offer intercontinental comfort food and pastries, so I’ve been in the F&B industry for almost 2 decades now.

Stew: I worked at an FMCG multinational company after college. Got into early retirement from corporate last 2011 to be an entrepreneur as a distributor of food and beverage products in South Luzon. Having a background in distributing food and being a foodie myself, getting into the F&B industry was a natural progression.

For Stewart Ong and Chef Candy Lu, entering the F&B industry was like second nature to them, given that both franchisers are avid foodies themselves

Can you tell us why you chose to bring M Bakery to the Philippines?

Stew: I’ve always been a fan of Magnolia Bakery in New York. The first time I tried their banana pudding, I got hooked—practically eating one tub every day that I was in New York. The banana pudding was just like a gateway drug. Once I tried their other products, like cupcakes and cheesecakes, I became an avid fan.

I thought this brand and their product offering was something that would appeal [to] and resonate well with the Philippine market, especially since we Filipinos have a sweet tooth. And we love our desserts. A meal isn’t complete without desserts; a birthday is not complete without a cake. So, we thought opening a bakery specializing in premium baked goodies is something that people here would appreciate and love.

Chef Candy: M Bakery also has something new to offer to the market. Aside from their cupcakes—credited to have started the global cupcake craze a few years ago—we have our world-famous banana pudding, which people line up for in New York. We also have other unique desserts, like our icebox cakes, [and] blueberry jamboree, that you can’t get anywhere else in Manila.

We’re also proud of the fact that all our products are handmade and prepared right in our store, and not from a commissary. We have strictly adhered to the same philosophy of our NY bakeries: “baked from scratch on the premises, in small batches throughout the day” just like how you would do it at home. This ensures that all our products are freshly baked daily.

The Blueberry Jamboree is an M Bakery exclusive that you can find anywhere else!

How is the M Bakery here in the Philippines different compared to the one abroad? What about their similarities?

Stew: It’s the same. One of our non-negotiables in setting up M Bakery here is to make sure that our customers would have the same brand experience as with the stores in New York—from the quality of the products, to the customer service, and to the entire bakery ambiance and feel.

A lot [of] times, when other foreign brands come here, you would hear feedback from customers that the products taste different from the original stores abroad. We don’t want that to happen with M Bakery.

So it’s been a very strict and conscious effort to make sure our products taste exactly the same—from our banana pudding to our cupcakes and cookies. This means strictly adhering to the recipes, never compromising on any of our ingredients—no matter the cost—and going to the extent of importing ingredients that aren’t available here.

From cookies to pudding, cupcakes, and more, M Bakery offers a diverse selection of desserts

Chef Candy: As for the difference, we created local products—exclusive only to the Philippine market. Throughout the years, we’ve introduced products using local ingredients that our customers love. Since people love our banana pudding, we thought of putting a local nostalgic twist to this by introducing Chocnut Banana Pudding—made with Chocnut crumbs and Chocnut butter.

We also have our calamansi cheesecake and calamansi icebox bar, which is our local version of the key lime cheesecake and icebox bar in New York. We’re proud of our ube cake and cupcake—our version of the local favorite, but with an M Bakery twist, as we put real homemade ube halaya (shipped from Bukidnon and Baguio) inside and ube meringue buttercream.

Another product our customers love is our Mango Jamboree, where we replaced peaches with fresh mangoes from Guimaras. We also have our local tsokolate tablea (with tablea from Cagayan de Oro). We’re constantly trying to innovate and create exclusive items using our local ingredients and making sure we get them from the best possible local source.

The Calamansi Icebox bar is a Manila-exclusive offering.

What are some of the challenges you faced while running a business amid a pandemic and how did you overcome it?

Stew: The most difficult was maybe the first two months of the pandemic when there were a lot of unknowns. No one knew what to do, how things will change, and when this will end. People were in a state of panic and stress. And customers were afraid to go out.

Consumer behavior changed. Eventually, we all learned to adapt to the situation. We strengthened our partnerships with food delivery services. We also developed new packaging for our cupcakes to make them more stable during delivery. So while there were few people dining in, our sales for deliveries and pick-ups increased exponentially.

The pandemic has also forced us to become more efficient. Any small mistake can result in huge costs or opportunity loss for the company. We reviewed our contingency plans—in case something like this will happen again in the future.

We also had to do some changes in our supply chain management. Until now, there are still challenges in procuring certain ingredients from here and abroad due to global supply chain issues. We had to ensure we get our forecasting right and be really good in inventory management.

We needed to strike a delicate balance between inventories and cost management, to ensure we don’t run out of stocks for certain ingredients, or have so many inventories that they end up getting expired. I think our team has been successful in learning from this and becoming even more efficient in our operations.

Chef Candy: Aside from making little changes to our operations to adapt to the current situation, we were quite lucky as customers saw our desserts as comfort food, a way to relieve their stress. People were still ordering cakes for their birthdays and special occasions. We’re happy that somehow our products have helped people cope with the stress brought about by the pandemic.

Even during the pandemic, people still found ways to celebrate milestones by ordering cakes (like this Carrot Cake) from M Bakery.

What are some lessons and tips you’d like to share with aspiring entrepreneurs?

Stew: Know your market. Get to know your customers very well. You need to make sure that customers are happy and remain happy with your products. Food fads come and go, people will always want to try the latest “in” thing. But good entrepreneurs should be able to look beyond these fads and find products or services that are more sustainable in the long term.

At the end of the day, businesses that have lasted for years and have survived economic recessions and other business challenges are those that have intimate knowledge of their market, offered quality products at great value, and have learned to adapt to the ever-changing business environment.

Chef Candy: Never compromise on quality. Customers will know once you start cutting corners, or changing ingredients to save on costs. So always strive for the highest possible quality and customers will reward you for it with their loyalty.

Quality is key and M Bakery strives to provide only the best for its customers.

What are your future plans for M Bakery?

Stew: We have recently opened our second branch in Rockwell Powerplant Mall. And we’re happy with the reception of our customers with this expansion. We’re currently preparing to open more stores in the coming months as we look to expand and cater to more people in other areas.

Chef Candy: We’re preparing for new products to launch in the coming months. We will continue to introduce new flavors for our banana pudding that will be featured every month. There are also a lot of recipes being developed both in New York and here in Manila that we will be launching soon.

Fans of the well-loved Banana Pudding of M Bakery can expect many delicious iterations of it in the coming months.

What are some ongoing promotions or bestsellers that you’d like to share with our readers?

Chef Candy: We’re also launching several new products. For our anniversary month, we will have our New S’mores Banana Pudding and Orange Soda Pudding as our featured flavors for the month.

I think people will also love our new fully loaded icebox bar—made with a chocolate double fudge brownie crust and layered with cream cheese filling and fudge icing, then finished off with whipped cream, caramel drizzle, mini chocolate chips, chopped Kitkat, and Milky Way bars.

We have also turned our bestselling banana pudding into a cookie: Banana Pudding Cookie. This cookie is packed with white chocolate chips, vanilla wafers, and our famous banana pudding mix.

M Bakery’s newest offering: an Orange Soda Pudding
Fully Loaded Icebox Pie: a limited-edition offering for Father’s Day

Photos from M Bakery

For the latest news and updates, you may follow M Bakery on Facebook (@mbakeryph) and Instagram (@mbakery_ph).

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