There’s not just hot spring resorts, beautiful nature spots and buko pie in the town of Los Baños in the province of Laguna. It is also known for its homegrown brand of chocolate cake.
The Mer-Nel’s Cake House has captivated the taste buds of customers for decades now and even became the small town’s favorite pastry house. It is patronized even by non-locals through word of mouth. Perhaps, many people visit Los Baños just to taste the popular chocolate cake. It is Merle and Nelson Ballicao who started the food industry not as entrepreneurs but as bakers in the University of the Philippines Los Baños student union cafeteria in 1971.
The business did not only enable Merle to provide for her mother and siblings but also, Merle had the experience to hone her skills in baking and decorating cakes. “Whatever they told us to do, we did. So I baked, decorated cakes, delivered food and serve them. We did all of that,” Merle said in an interview with Philippine Star. She baked good while at the same time keeping her full-time job in order to earn extra money. Merle also experienced selling Avon, Philkraft, Tupperware, land and even calamansi, so selling was not a challenge for her. The couple finally tied a knot in 1977 and then blessed with three children that they take turns to take care of. But Merle’s full-time job and part-time business limits her time for her family that results for her to quit her job and go full time on their bakery in the 1980s.
She said that God gave them so much more since then. The couple was thankful that they felt their business was steadily growing and eventually decide to expand their operations and open a three story venue along the highway of the town. Today, the Mer-Nel’s bakery sells nearly 600 cakes a day with branches in different towns in Laguna. Merle said in an interview, “I hardly saw my kids awake. When I left in the morning, they were asleep. When I came home at night, they were asleep. If during the day, they were at school. By that time, Nelson had fulltime work as baker at the International Rice Research Institute.
So I prayed to God to just let me have three cake orders a day.” Her experience only proves that hard work pays success, but aside from that they also live a simple lifestyle that helped them achieve what they have today. Merle said, “Our lunch and dinner are usually the same. We don’t waste food. We don’t waste anything. We squeeze toothpaste tubes and shampoo sachets down the last drop”.
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