Mary Grace Café’s story is not only about its bestselling ensaymadas, cheese rolls and other pastry and meal favorites. Theirs is an inspiring journey of resilience and of how a stay-at-home mom turned her culinary passion into a chain of cafés that have been well-loved and embraced by many.
Being a mother and a homemaker is a full-time job which Mary Grace Dimacali, the mom and moving spirit behind this successful string of cafes, unquestionably took head on. She was a stay-at-home mom whose priority was centered on taking good care of her five children but later proved that with a ‘can do’ attitude, nothing is actually impossible.
Dimacali didn’t need to earn as they are well provided for by her husband, however she needed an avenue to express her passion and fascination for baking to somehow balance her life. As a child, Mary Grace had a keen interest in baking and especially loved seeing dough rise and transform into something new and different! She carried this fascination on to motherhood and began taking small steps by experimenting in the kitchen and surprising her kids with personally decorated cakes on their birthdays. She also tried her hand in other baked goods such as fruitcakes and sold them to relatives and friends during Christmas time. Stemming from the pleasure of seeing people enjoy her homemade creations, she decided to take a 12-month baking course in the US. Upon her return to Manila, filled with additional knowledge and confidence, she then worked on her own recipe of a local delicacy – the Ensaymada – and joined her first Christmas bazaar in 1994 to introduce it to the public. From there she built a loyal clientele who sought her Ensaymadas (and later on her Cheeserolls) in every bazaar she was in. When that became a hit, Mary Grace went on to pursue a masters in Entrepreneurship program at the AIM to further boost her credentials and knowledge about the business side of things, including operations, marketing, finance, and HR. She immediately introduced her first few oven fresh Ensaymada and Cheese rolls to her neighbors upon her return, until she officially launched them in 2001. After participating in countless bazaars and with a growing desire of allowing people to bring home a little bit of Christmas all year round, she finally opened her first little kiosk in Glorietta 4. There, she touched base with friends and new foodie clients who evangelized about her products and spread the good word about it.
The fact is, by simply using her name as her brand identity, she had unknowingly created associations of sheer sincerity and warmth with her baked goodies. People would instantly connect the baked goods to a real person with the most heartfelt intent of sharing her homemade quality goodies (made from only honest-to-goodness premium ingredients) that have—since the opening of her first café located in Serendra in 2006—become a source of comfort to many. Now, aside from the famous freshly-baked Ensaymadas and Cheeserolls, her cafés also offer cakes and other desserts, breakfast staples, pastas, sandwiches, and homemade beverages.
One of the key challenges for any F&B business is maintaining consistency. Yet, Mary Grace Café has managed to continue delivering the same brand of authentic food and service over the years, all the while putting a premium on quality. This is something that Mary Grace prides herself upon and upkeeps by personally overseeing the kitchen daily and the construction and decoration of each and every new cafe. And even with the pandemic, all their stores are accepting orders for delivery or pick up, thanks to Mary Grace’s Dimacali’s and the café’s “can do” spirit.
Over the years, and several kiosks and cafes later, Mary Grace Cafes still truly exemplifies the “goodness of home” essence where consistently fresh-from-the-oven pastries and hearty meals are served to warm the heart and soul. Every visit to their café, and every bite of their famous baked goodies have made everyone a treasured part of Mary Grace’s own family and home. People who have sat down and eaten felt instantly at home in their quaint cafes which are embellished with country-home decors, crocheted doilies, quotes on pots and pans, books, and their signature dining tables with meaningful handwritten notes. One of the more famous notes read: “Once upon a time there was bread and life was good, then came Café Mary Grace’s ensaymada and chocolate and life has never been better.” These notes are from various customers of all ages who express their delight about Café Mary Grace’s food and service; many also testify for the warmth the café exudes, making every gathering with family and “tita” friends a little more memorable, as they share meals and exchange stories of their own incredible personal journeys.
Mary Grace’s story is not unique. Most moms and homemakers have similar childhood passions, which they have rediscovered just lately, even during this life-changing lockdown. What sets Mary Grace and her business apart is an indomitable “can do” spirit coupled with grit and determination to make it come true. Yes, motherhood is challenging but it never took away Mary Grace’s aspiration of having her own café. In fact, in one interview, she believes that prioritizing her children first has allowed her to somehow develop her craft in the kitchen, before she embraced it as a calling.
Having this “can do” attitude has served Dimacali well, to stay afloat even during tough times. In fact, some Mary Grace Café branches have a quaint “Women’s Can-Do Corner”, where she allows women, especially homemakers with big dreams, to uphold their ‘can-do’ abilities. She taps into the hidden creativity of women to join her rallying cry of putting out their passion and sell handmade knick-knacks, accessories, and become budding entrepreneurs themselves. Her goal is to help inspire women like her to bring out their resourcefulness and skills—from the hidden corners of their homes for the world to see—like she did.
BDO and American Express brought the Shop Small movement in the Philippines in support of homegrown businesses like Mary Grace Café, especially during these difficult times. Shop Small is a global movement founded by American Express to rally consumers and shoppers to actively support local businesses first. To encourage this significant advocacy, customers can get up to 5x Rewards for purchases made at participating Shop Small merchants using BDO-issued American Express Cards until June 30, 2021. Points earned can be used to redeem a reward of choice from a selection of gift certificates, gadgets, appliance, air miles and more.
BDO and American Express does not only acknowledge but more so celebrate homespun businesses as an integral part of the community as they continue to offer premium quality goods and services to their clients and customers despite the daily challenges. With the relentless support of Filipino consumers, these local businesses will eventually be back on its feet because, indeed, every spend can help make a difference.
Article and Photo originally posted by Inquirer last June 24, 2021, 10:52am.