MADDELA, Quirino – Leonora’s Cakes and Pastries located in this town serves unique and flavorful offerings, along with a palpable warmth and care in its service that had customers coming back for more.
But more than just a coffee shop with good food and excellent service, Leonora’s serves as a reminder of a mother's warmth and love, and coping with the loss of a beloved family matriarch.
The business was established during a difficult phase in the life of the Gabay family, not just because of the pandemic, but also because of grief due to the passing of their beloved mother who lost her battle with cancer.
Leonora’s was started by the couple Gwyneth Gabay and Mark Louie Puda in Bolinao town, Pangasinan in 2020. But due to the condition of Gwyneth’s mother, Leonora, they eventually moved their business to Nagtipunan town, Quirino province.
The business was later named Leonora after she died.
“Sobrang painful sa amin pagkamatay ni mama, gusto namin fresh lagi alaala niya at hindi namin siya makalimutan (The death of our mom was too painful for us, that’s why we wanted her memory to be always with us so we won’t forget her),” said Gwyneth, the registered owner of Leonora’s.
Gwyneth said they wanted their customers to feel the warmth and care they have experienced from their deceased mother, through their customized cakes and pastries as well as through their unique food and drinks, and services.
“Sobrang warm ni mama na parang naipaparamdam pa rin namin (Our mother was so warm that we wanted our customers to experience it) through our coffee shop,” she added.
A Mother’s Day gift and a mother's birthday
Gwyneth narrated that when they first started the business in Nagtipunan, their first venture was baking cream puff from a Mother’s Day gift she received worth PHP1,000.
“Luckily, Louie has the equipment which he was able to acquire when he was running a school canteen in Bolinao. But when we moved to Nagtipunan, we could not carry these equipment, so we use our aunts’ ovens instead,” she said.
Aside from the cream puff, they also began accepting orders for customized cakes, which made their business boom.
“Due to the lockdown, people are not able to buy from other towns so they opted to try us. And they liked our products so much that most of our orders are repeat orders,” she said.
“But the very first cake we made in Quirino was for my mom’s birthday,” Gwyneth said longingly.
She admitted that it was not an easy journey for all of them.
“I have plans for the future like going to Canada to work and study culinary arts, and eventually move our family there. But God has other plans. At first, I was really frustrated, but little by little I came to understand that God has a purpose in all these,” Gwyneth said.
“It was mom’s request that we stay together even after her passing. We were able to take care of our mom while doing the business and like our mom, Leonora’s keeps and binds us together,” she said.
Aside from her husband, her younger sister Kyrvy Kate is helping them in running the business. Even their eldest, Wensten Lovely, and their dad, Feliciano, are involved in the business.
Besides going through the challenges of building up and making their coffee shop known, the Gabays are enjoying creating a new line of products, as well as integrating themselves in the culture and building friendships along the way.
“We are using local ingredients in our products but with international standards in taste,” said Gwyneth who used to work as a barista who competed in international competitions in the United States and London, among others.
Their unique and flavorful offerings are made with their very own smoked bacon and ham and their black garlic added to the breakfast menu, pasta, and even to coffee.
“The smoking process we use is the traditional smoking process of the Bugkalot Tribe of Quirino,” Gwyneth said.
The Gabay-Puda family acknowledged that during their grief, and as they started another chapter of their lives with their business, there were people, including their extended family members and those whom they have just met, who have been instrumental in establishing Leonora’s as a coffee shop.
One of them is Lampel Alonzo, a former overseas Filipino worker, entrepreneur, and owner of El Sur Place in Maddela.
Alonzo said their old house dated from the 1970s and used to be a hang-out area for the residents.
“I went home before the onset of the pandemic and I got bored so I wanted a place where young people and young adults could hang out and so we renovated the place,” she said.
Later on, Alonzo met the Gabay family and offered them a great deal to start a coffee shop in the place.
Gwyneth said El Sur Place is very suitable for Leonora’s as it offers a homey and cozy 90’s vibe with its vintage decors within a refurbished house made of concrete and wood paired with their world-class quality coffee and food to complete the experience.
Gwyneth said they also got the support of the local government unit (LGU) of Nagtipunan and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), which recognized their talents and skills.
“DTI supported us with online training, and seminar, and even involved us in competitions,” she said adding that she was also a product of the Kapatid Mentor Me Program of the DTI.
Team Leonora's was awarded as champion during the Panagdadaupan 2022: Agro-Industrial and Tourism Fair.
The products that landed them the award were Leonora’s Black Sandwich, Bignay Wine with Homemade Ginger Ale and Blue Ternate, Latte, Cappuccino, and the Black Garlic Mocha coffee.
A coffee-tourism project is also underway for the team together with the LGU and the DTI.
And all of these started from the warmth and care of a loving mother who became her family's guiding light. (PNA)