The new home that Estrel’s caramel cake has built | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

NAVARRO siblings (from left) Mia, Gina and Joy welcome guests to Estrel’s new home.

Estrel’s has a new home. It’s bigger, brighter and classier, designed to accommodate more orders and walk-ins.

Think of it as the new house that caramel cake has built!

The famous bakeshop, which opened in 1946 in Azcarraga (now Claro M. Recto), Manila, moved to Scout Tobias corner Scout Limbaga, Quezon City, in 2001.

It was actually the house of founder Estrella Ylagan or Tita Estrel, as she was dearly called by family and friends.

On one side of the sprawling garden, a small shop was built where people could pick up their cakes; it was inconvenient for most customers to get their cakes at the gate especially when it was raining. The shop was so small it could fit only 10 people, with another small table for taking calls and orders. Estrel’s could only accept orders. There were no extra cakes for walk-ins.

Three-story structure

Now, with the new structure and spacious area on the same lot, more and more orders can be accommodated. And walk-ins can have the pretty and light-as-air chiffon cake covered in silky caramel, adorned with clusters of impeccably shaped butter roses in pink, yellow, green and blue, any time.

The 880-sq m bungalow of Tita Estrel and the bakeshop were torn down to give way to a three-story structure dedicated to the production of caramel cake. Construction took about 15 months under the supervision of architect Gelo Mañosa.

“We felt it was time to construct, because the layout of the house wasn’t ideal for big kitchen operations anymore,” says Gina Navarro, who runs Estrel’s Bakeshop with her siblings Joy and Mia. Tita Estrel was the eldest sister of the Navarro siblings’ mom, Alice Ylagan Navarro.

Tita Estrel passed away in 1989; Alice in 2007.

Some parts of the house, like the original adobe walls that used to divide the living and dining rooms, were retained. The adobe walls now stand beautifully by the bakeshop’s main door.

Smooth operation

Gina, a chef and food stylist, closely collaborated with the architect during the construction.

“I made sure the production area is according to what I wanted it to be—simple, clean, and with a smooth work flow. No divisions, but one big, well-organized box,” she says.

The first floor has the bakeshop, the pick-up counter and the area for taking orders. Huge clear-glass windows add a sunny ambience to the room, with wood flooring that gives a homey feel.

The second floor is the production area, where the old and treasured Hobart electric mixer (used by Tita Estrel) is still in use. There’s an ample zone for baking, frosting and decorating.

The employees’ lounge and dining area is on the third floor. There’s also a small kitchen for cooking meals for the employees.

“We have a full-time cook to prepare meals for our staff,” says Joy. “The lounge is where they can relax and rest as well.”

There’s also a large function room for office meetings and gatherings.

Comfortable working area

“Another reason for the construction is for our staff,” adds Gina. “We want them to have a comfortable working area. It’s all for them because their work is very labor-intensive. The efficiency and performance of each person always depends on their work space.”

“We are one company that doesn’t rely on high-tech facilities,” says Joy. “We treasure our people. Our production is still the old method, all by hand, from folding to decorating. That’s why we take care of our people.”

All around the house, various paintings in pastel hues were done by Mia, the artist in the Navarro family.

From the initial handful of staff that Tita Estrel got to work with her, the manpower has now doubled and tripled.

“We’ve always been faithful to Tita Estrel’s ideas and kitchen methodologies—made-to-order, freshly baked from scratch every day, no preservatives and avoid producing in mass quantities. All our cake designs have Certificates of Copyright Registration. That said, treating employees well is a main ingredient in keeping loyalty.”

Gina handles the maintenance, repairs and other technical aspect of the business; Joy, the daily operations; and Mia, the systems technology.

The Navarro siblings have been very grateful for the huge success of the business anchored on only one product.

“We are just lucky,” says Gina. “It’s a tried-and-tested product. We don’t really have to have a long list of offerings other than the caramel cake. It’s always better to do a few but do it very well.”

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