Mary Grace is synonymous to comfort for Filipinos. The cafe and bakery feels like a home away from home, because it’s exactly that: the extension of the owners’ home. Hence, how they handle everything, from interiors, food choices, employee orientation, to customer service, is measured against a higher standard of care. This is the principle that has been guiding the establishment for 27 years now.
Marketing Director Chiara Dimacali-Hugo likens the Mary Grace story to that of a book with colorful chapters. Her fondness is palpable as she recounts the origins of the now 45-café and 47-kiosk chain. Together with Operations VP Marian Dimacali Calaquian, not only do they have a unique, personal view of the store’s beginnings, they also share a special privilege in shaping the brand’s future.
What sets them apart as narrators is aside from pride, awe and gratitude equally emanate in their tone. Not only do they get to live out the page-turner, they also get a hand in writing it.
ICYDK, “Mary Grace” is an actual person. Her name really is Mary Grace, and she’s a baker and entrepreneur. She also happens to be their mom.
Preparing The Right Ingredients: The Formative Years
The siblings’ involvement began long before they officially joined. They reminisce with Preview about Christmas breaks that were spent assembling boxes for their famed ensaymadas, and weekends spent manning bazaars with their three brothers (who are also currently onboard the venture). These formative experiences have molded them to the executives they are now. However, it’s also something that takes maturity to fully appreciate, according to Chiara.
As a teenager, Marian had stressed about how their mom would gather all 15 of their then kiosk ladies once a week at their dining table to teach them sales, practice English, and deepen product knowledge. “Imagine I’d go downstairs at 7:30 in the morning in pajamas to have breakfast, and everyone would be there!,” she chuckles. Today, she recognizes that personal attention to training is the backbone of their customer service—whether it be teaching a manageable 15 workers or their now 1700 employees.
The growth and success of Mary Grace Café does not just bank on nostalgia and comfort; it also means constantly improving to ensure only the best for the consumer. This is how then marketing head Marian ended up saying yes to something she wasn’t initially keen on: studying patisserie abroad. She wanted to enhance her understanding of bakery processes to effectively manage customer concerns, and this was the best way to do it.
Her stint in New York introduced her to different tastes and techniques that she wanted to adopt when she got back to Manila. Excited, she pitched a White Chocolate and Cherry Mousse cake to her mom. Her boss green-lighted it and added it as a seasonal special for Valentine’s 2015. It didn’t do well, because, as what the young pastry chef would learn, the Filipino palate was not yet accustomed to cherries. This incident served as a lesson in balance she still upholds to this day.
Finding that Delicious Balance: Today and Beyond
While Mary Grace is the go-to for a mother’s home cooked meal, the sisters also admit that their market is nowadays exposed to more gastronomic concepts through the internet. Their challenge is to successfully turn something familiar and comforting, into something elevated and surprising. The answer, they found, is actually quite simple: by being true to the brand’s core.
Both Chiara and Marian, in their respective Marketing and Operations roles, acknowledge that they have to first and foremost remember who they are as Mary Grace, and who the people they serve are. They recognize the prevalence of trends, and instead of blindly assimilating to them, they study up and choose only which elements, if any, to incorporate.
This attitude has led to more palatable innovations. To name a few, their aesthetic Celebration Cakes only use Marian’s extensive fondant training in delicate, hand-piped flowers; the Earl Gray infused, experimental Tres Leches Cake has the eater pour the milk instead of having it already soaked as per convention; and their most recent seasonal special, the Dark Chocolate Cheesecake uses the artisanal Auro Chocolate.
At the end of the day, change is not implemented just for the sake of change. It has to be for what will bring the most value. Because, as what the Dimacali matriarch has instilled early on—the priority is the customer. This is how the bakeshop balances traditional practices with newer techniques: by putting the client first and then letting the details align after.
Not only do they invest in Research & Development to come up with fresh flavors and ideas, they also do so to improve their existing offerings on and off the menu.
Adapting to the restrictions of the pandemic has seen them pivot their plans and strategies. They had to swiftly yet mindfully bring the café’s “goodness of home” online. We’ve seen them tap more delivery partners, cultivate a stronger social media presence, and virtually ensure customer service levels. This is to hopefully evoke the same solace sans the physical dining experience. The ‘how’ may be different, but the ‘why’ remains the same. Like a brave hero in a novel we can’t put down, we see the brand evolve and overcome trials, and we develop an attachment and want to know what will happen next.
While Mary Grace Dimacali continues to be the heart and soul of the company to this day, her heart and soul has always been her family. And luckily, that family extends to the entire Mary Grace community, from their people to their patrons. The next chapters remain unwritten, but with the aspirations shared by the sisters to forge ahead and grow the business yet again, we are sure to expect great things from this well-loved eatery. The frontiers are unknown and rousing, but with Mary Grace Café and the Dimacali family, you can rest assured that you will always find home.
For more information on their menu and locations, you may visit their official website.
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