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Business As Usual

Pastel unmistakably Camiguin specialty

- Rose de la Cruz -
Aside from the hot and cold springs and lush forest cover and the lanzones that Camiguin Island is noted for, another unmistakable sign of the island is its sweet yema pastel– now in 11 other flavors–from the Vjandep bake shop in Catarman, Camiguin.

Vjandep–acronym for the owners’ names Virgilio Jose and wife, Eleanor Popera-Jose–has become a byword among locals and even tourists to this pear-shaped island born out of fire (from volcanic eruptions in the 18th century).

Jose, a retired army soldier, started the business on Jan.8, 1990 with his wife out of the P120 Christmas bonus he received–using initially the family’s kitchen. He recalled they started with three boxes at P35 per box, which was not enough for even their relatives and neighbors. Now a box of dozen pieces costs P97 in Camiguin (P99 in Cagayan de Oro) and P150 for durian flavor and P160 for chocolate, ube, mango and macapuno.

Though pastel originated from the early Spanish settlers in the island in the 17th century and adopted by the natives–Vjandep reformulated the dough and other ingredients to what it currently is, then market-tested it in October 1993. The reformulation came after Mrs. Jose’s training at the Nikon Cake House.

Pastel was originally a Spanish term for cake although in English it is described as a soft dough coffee bun. The Bollozos of Camiguin were the first to make it a part of Camiguinon’s cuisine during special occasions.

Originally, locals were the main market of Vjandep but when tourists–both local and foreign–started frequenting the island this delicacy was soon promoted to them and by word of mouth has reached even shops in Metro Manila, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro and Davao.

The existing flavors of Vjandep pastels are: regular and special yema; ube; durian;chocolate; cheese; langka; pineapple; strawberry; macapuno, guava and mango. Except for yema, all the other flavors are produced by order basis only, Jose said.

The couple obtained loans from the Department of Trade and Industry, the Spanish Assistance Livelihood Program of the province of Camiguin and the Department of Science and Technology.

"I have four stores in Cagayan de Oro and because of the high cost of freight and high spoilage due to shipping the product by boat from Camiguin to Cagayan de Oro City, we found it more advantageous to set up a factory in Cagayan de Oro," recalled Jose.

In Camiguin, a box of six pieces cost P46 for regular yema; P77 for special yema, durian and chocolate; P60 each for other flavors. A box of dozen pieces cost P98 for regular yema; P145 for special yema; P143 for durian and chocolate and P115 for all other flavors.

The small factory and store outlet was set up in CDO on Aug.8, 1998 which catered to tourists from Davao and Manila while the original store in Camiguin caters to visitors from Butuan, Cebu and Gingoog.

In 2004, the couple found distributors of their products for the Metro Manila market starting with Market Market Mall in Fort Bonifacio and then Tiendesitas in Ortigas, Mandaluyong City. Expectedly, the prices of pastel in these outlets are higher because of freight and carrying costs and other factors, Jose said.

To think that Vjandep was capitalized at P120 only, the company is now worth P4.1 million and "we are one of the highest paying taxpayers in the province of Camiguin and Cagayan de Oro," Jose said.

In 2003, the couple obtained a P980,000 loan from the Department of Science and Technology- Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program (SET-UP which carries a ceiling of P1 million per borrower) and they paid the loan even before its expiration in three years.

The DOST helped the couple upgrade the production technology – which before used the empty evaporated cans used in the production line– to a regular aluminum mould – that they said effectively brought down their cost and improved their production efficiency. From manual mixers, the company now uses a spiral automated mixer; the former improvised empty drum for cooking is now replaced by LPG-fed ovens and manual scaling and dividing are now done by an Italian-made machine.

Even the packaging was upgraded in October 2004 – with now the picture of soft yema bread in attractive yellow and peach – and a bold brand name of the product that would easily differentiate an arriving passenger at the airport or seaport as distinctly coming from Camiguin or Cagayan de Oro.

The latest product of the company is the baked adobo siopao, with the dough as soft as pastel but has an appearance of pan de sal. The bread is filled with meat and eggs inside making it worth its price of P18 a piece. This was launched in January 2006.

"So many tried to copy our products but they did not succeed. Still, we make it our policy to develop more products each year so that our revenues are not all coming from one source," Jose said.

Vjandep is an active member of the Food Processors’ Association of Northern Mindanao, Cagayan de Oro Chamber of Commerce and of the Camiguin Chamber of Trade and Tourism. Pastel remains the ethnic product of Region 10, Jose said.

* * *

Vjandep Pastel of Camiguin

Mambajao, Camiguin

Tel : (088) 387-0049

ASSOCIATION OF NORTHERN MINDANAO

BOLLOZOS OF CAMIGUIN

CAGAYAN

CAMIGUIN

CAMIGUIN AND CAGAYAN

JOSE

METRO MANILA

ORO

VJANDEP

YEMA

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