The Inspiration Behind Café Mary Grace

Serendipity or the ability to make valuable discoveries by accident is at play in certain areas of our lives, and this proves true in the birth of Café Mary Grace, a cozy café in Ayala’s Serendra complex in Bonifacio Global City which is home to a wide range of luscious baked breads and cakes as well as mouth-watering chocolate drinks and other beverages and dishes.

Café Mary Grace is a dream business of Mary Grace Dimacali, who was fueled by her childhood fascination of seeing dough rise in the oven and a love for baking that was the first in her family. From its first branch in Serendra that opened in 2006, Café Mary Grace has another branch in Trinoma Mall in Quezon City and other branches in Shangri-La and in the Rockwell Business Center. There are also Mary Grace kiosks selling over-the-counter baked items in Glorietta 4, Alabang Town Center, The Power Plant Mall, The Podium, Shangri-La Plaza, Robinson’s Place, Robinson’s Galleria, RCBC Plaza, SM Mall of Asia, SM The Block in North EDSA, and in The Shops in Greenhills.

Hand-written notes from delighted diners
On top of its excellent customer service and cozy home-inspired ambiance, Café Mary Grace has gained popularity for its heavenly ensaymada and chocolate combo. The dining tables inside and outside Café Mary Grace are filled with handwritten notes from various customers who couldn’t help but write down how delighted and satisfied they are by Café Mary Grace’s food and service. One of the notes reads: “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.”

Mary Grace’s ensaymadas and cheese rolls come in classic and grilled selections, and there are also Ensaymadas with a Twist that come in Three Cheese, Laguna Cheese, Banana Chocolate, Caramel & Toasted Cashews and Cinnamon Apple flavors. Mary Grace hot chocolates also come in variations of Valencia Hot Chocolate, Mint Hot Chocolate, White Hot Chocolate with Toasted Cashew, Mary Grace Hot Chocolate, Tsoknut Tsokolate, Mexicana Tsokolate, and Traditional Tsokolate.

Café Mary Grace is also famous for its homemade iced teas that come in Apple and Cinnamon Honey, Peppermint and Fruits, Hibiscus, and Sangria flavors. The café also serves hearty sandwiches with homemade potato chips and garlic mayo dip. Its flavorful pastas come in generous servings with a slice of bread toasted with garlic and extra virgin olive oil. There are fresh salads and savory appetizers like Mushroom Pate, Cheddar Cheese with Tomatoes & Capers, Grilled Kesong Puti, Onion Dip with Native Cab-Cab, among others.

Mary Grace cakes
Café Mary Grace also boasts of its cake selections that are baked to mouth-watering goodness, such as the Chocolate Cake, Sansrival, Classic Cheesecake, Mango Bene Cake, Almond Mousse Cake, Applie Pie, Tiramisu, Rum Butter Cake, Classic Fruitcake, Brandy Walnut Prune Cake, Carrot Cupcake, Vanilla Cupcake, and Chocolate Cupcake.

Below is an excerpt from this writer's interview with Mary Grace herself where she shares her baking fascination and how serendipity has given birth to the business of her dreams.

What motivated you to start this kind of business?
It has always been my dream to open a café. I think everything has to come to fruition according to God’s time. I remember way back I wanted to open a bakeshop also, but I got pregnant and I decided to just stay home and take care of the kids. This was in 1988. I did bazaars then and started taking orders from home and delivering. This Café Mary Grace is really a dream come true for me. This opened in October 2006. It has always been by dream to bake ensaymadas, to serve ensaymadas fresh from the oven. Here, people can enjoy the ensaymada with our chocolate or a cup of coffee.

When did you start really getting into business, even before you opened Café Mary Grace?
Way back in 1983, because I really started out with fruitcakes. It was in 1994 that I ventured into the ensaymadas and the cheeserolls. Then it was in 2001 that I opened my first kiosk in Glorietta 4.

Mary Grace Dimacali
When did you first discover your love for baking?
I think ever since I was small. I’m the first baker in the family but my mom is a good cook and my grandmother was of some Spanish descent. I remember, one of our immigrant relatives from Spain started to make hamon somewhere in the Ilocos region. So my grandmother is a good cook and my mom, although she did not follow that path, really had the taste. As for my love for baking, as a little girl, I always had this fascination watching the dough grow in the oven. It’s amazing seeing how bread is done. It’s sheer fascination!

My mother had a baker neighbor who was a very close friend, Mrs. Liwanag. Every time I had the opportunity to be in her kitchen, I’d be so awed! When I grew up and got married, I followed my fascination. I decided to stay at home and take care of the kids. And what do you do when you have some spare time? I learned that way. I took a few lessons here and there, but it was in 1986 when my parents who were immigrants in the US told me about a course in institutional baking. This was a course for Americans who wanted to open their own bakeshop, and that was exactly what I wanted because I didn’t have any knowledge about big time equipment. I worked with a little La Germania oven and a little hand mixer. But if you opened a bakeshop, you have to deal with large quantities and bigger ovens and use bigger mixers. So there was a course offered in L.A., Pierce College, West Valley, for institutional baking. That was a one-year course.

When I came back, I was raring to go. I wanted to open a bakeshop. But I got pregnant. That was in 1988. And I returned all my equipment, I remember. And I just decided to bake again from the house, selling in the neighborhood. Every afternoon, I remember, I’d put some cupcakes and whatever baked items – tarts and cinnamon rolls, (there were no ensaymadas yet), brownies, that sort of things – in containers and my girls would take them from door to door every afternoon.  When we got orders, nakakatuwa. One time I even tried to supply canteens, but that wasn’t good because my ingredients were too expensive and the canteens could only afford how much. It took a lot of learning in the early years.

I took a course in 2001, an 18-month masters in entrepreneurship in AIM. This is to provide me know-how in growing a business, being familiar with the marketing, the operational, the financial, the HR and everything. I took a lot of studying for the business angle because my business was initially grown on instinct. You know how we Filipinos are, we are natural businessmen, but I really needed to study the business aspect of growing something like this.

What were the difficulties you encountered when you first started putting up this kind of business?
The secret in any café, in any restaurant, is consistency. If a customer comes in to eat a pasta, yesterday, today and tomorrow it should be the same service-wise, quality-wise. Consistency is the main thing you tackle here. I came here everyday to oversee. I have managers now, but in the early months I would really be here to make tutok. I even remember cleaning the kitchen floors because I wanted to teach them how to maintain the cleanliness by going down on my feet and scrubbing the floors away at three o’clock in the morning!

Did you just simply name the café after you?
It is my name, but I want to tell you a little story about Mary Grace. When I was looking for a name to give the business, it was taking me sometime until I said “My God, it’s Mary Grace!” Because without planning it, the word grace has five letters and I realized after all my five kids were born – it’s really serendipity! – each letter stood for the initial of each of them. I didn’t plan that. G is for Gabriel, he’s the one helping me now in the business. R is for Raphael, A for Adrian, C is for Clara, and E is for Ernestine. And I didn’t plan that!

I really do think that everything happens in God’s own time. I think the fact that family, tending to the children has first allowed me to develop a little craft in the kitchen, it became my calling. I don’t think something like this would have been born if I wasn’t a mother first.

What were the nicest things people told you about this café?
My friends text me and say “My God, it’s like a break from the hurried pace out there!” If you notice there are letters under the table, and there are crocheted doilies, sayings in the pots, books on the walls… I wish I had more walls so I could have more books! People would slip notes under the glass top of the table. They like to say that there’s a lot of personal touch, of the home. I think it reflects the owner. If you look at the logo, there’s a girl holding a bowl and there’s the word Mary Grace on top. I really wanted this to be tribute to the Blessed Mother and to all mothers for that matter. It’s my logo. It’s created by my pamangkin who is in advertising. I told him I wanted a woman holding a bowl in the center and crowning her. She’s bent down, and I think that means a lot of humility. And she’s holding a bowl because she wants to make bread for the family. I really wanted that to represent women who would eventually be mothers, who would embrace their motherhood.

Did you ever expect your business to grow like this?

I never dreamt of becoming a household name. It just comes one step at a time. I never dreamt this would come, too. I just wanted to have a café. But for it to bear fruit the way it has, it’s just wonderful.
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