cakes and pastries in PH

From pandemic to price hike: How one La Union home baker keeps the desserts coming

Amanda T. Lago
From pandemic to price hike: How one La Union home baker keeps the desserts coming
In the beginning – and up to now – her business thrives on La Union Surftown’s strong sense of community

MANILA, Philippines – It’s a sleepy Sunday afternoon, and Kaye Lavin is in her kitchen, baking. The kitchen in question takes up the entire first floor of her two-bedroom apartment in San Fernando, La Union. 

What was meant to be a living space in the apartment’s layout is occupied by a sizeable electric oven, a mixer, a workstation, and a cooling rack. A shelf housing blocks of chocolate, sugar, flour, and milk leads to the actual kitchen, and behind that, past a back door, there is a view of the beach.

On this particular Sunday, Kaye is making double chocolate chip cookies to fulfill orders from her dessert business, Kayekeyks. Her laptop is in the middle of her workstation, playing music. A glass of cold coffee is on the table next to her. At some point she takes a break when her neighbor pops in and asks if she has any desserts available – which of course, she does.

PREPPING. Kaye Lavin chops single-origin chocolate into chunks before adding them into cookie batter. Amanda Lago/ Rappler

Kaye does everything by hand – from shaving down the blocks of single-origin chocolate, to measuring and shaping the cookies, to washing her tools and equipment in preparation for the next batch. 

All in all, she’s taking on a two- or even three-person job, but Kaye seems to have the whole process down to an art. After all, she’s been at it for two years now.

In fact, Kaye’s interest in the food business goes way back to when she was a little girl. She recalls how her mother, also a home baker, would make cassava cakes, and she would accompany her to the palengke to sell them (though, Kaye confesses, she would usually just end up eating what they were selling).

PRE-BAKING RITUAL. Kaye makes sure that before baking, she’s had her coffee. Amanda Lago/ Rappler

She moved to La Union from Manila in 2018, to work at a chocolate shop that’s since been replaced by a burger joint. She left the job in April 2020, and took gigs at establishments all over San Juan, La Union’s Surftown. 

“I would take on work as front of house, cashier, barista, but it didn’t feel enough,” she tells Rappler.

No oven needed

It was while freelancing that she thought of selling her own desserts – never mind that she only had a flimsy mixing bowl and spoon and didn’t even have an oven.

For Kaye, the lack of equipment was an opportunity to get creative.

“Since I didn’t have an oven yet, I explored the world of chilled cheesecakes and churned out some interesting flavors such as strawberry balsamic, duhat, a chocolate cheesecake with a cereal crust,” she shares.

Alongside cheesecakes, she also made sinandayan – a snack that she grew up eating, made of banana, kamote, or squash with sugar, coconut milk, and flour.

These no-oven-needed recipes became Kaye’s first products, and on August 5, 2020, she was able to hold her first pop-up in Surftown, selling coffee and desserts to her friends and neighbors.

SIMPLE START. Kaye shows the small mixing bowl that she started with in the early days of the pandemic. Amanda Lago/ Rappler

In the beginning – and up to now – her business thrived on La Union Surftown’s strong sense of community. 

“In La Union, people have to see you to buy from you,” she says, sharing how she sells out much faster when she is selling in person.

“In the early days of the lockdown, it really felt like a side hustle,” she shares. “I’d bring desserts with me to work so people can pick up there or I would be ready with something to offer when someone asks for desserts.”

“I was lucky to be working with people who supported me and allowed me to sell desserts in their establishments!” she says.

BREAK. Kaye takes a break from baking to serve her neighbor a tray of her cereal milk tres leches. Amanda Lago/ Rappler

From a “side hustle,” baking has now become her main gig – so much so that she’s upgraded from her rice cooker and flimsy mixing bowl to a proper stand mixer and an oven that can bake several batches of cookies at a time.

These days, she sells her goods via social media, and through some of Surftown’s most popular coffee shops and restaurants: Funky Quarters and Clean Beach along San Juan’s tourist strip, Irugi Coffee in Ili Norte, and Alon Coffee in Bauang.

Her menu has changed – thanks to her equipment, there’s a lot more she can do. There’s no more sinandayan, but there are still the cheesecakes, and now cookies (chocolate chip and double chocolate chip), brownies (plain and cornflake caramel), cereal milk tres leches, milyonaryo bars, chocolate cake, and peanut butter crunch cake. 

ON THE MENU. Kaye’s products include chocolate cake. Courtesy of Kaye Lavin.
New challenges

As she measures out cookie dough and lays it out on a baking sheet, Kaye talks about how steeply the price of sugar has gone up in the past year – and especially in the past few weeks. 

From P49 a kilo in 2021, it went up to P70 a kilo on June 9 of this year, and P84 a kilo a little over a week later. Other ingredients have also gone through a price hike.

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Still, Kaye refuses to cut corners when it comes to her recipes.

“I’ve considered using margarine but it feels like I’m cheating,” she says.

For Kaye, it seems that the price hike is par for the course for a home baker like her – just one of several challenges she has to deal with as her business grows.

“[They’re] all good challenges, so that’s exciting!” she says.

Aside from keeping up with rising prices, she is also working on developing new products and, after two years, searching for an assistant to help her out in the kitchen.

Neutral space

Until she finds an assistant, Kaye is handling things on her own – everything from baking, to clean-up, to packing and delivering orders – often by tricycle.

Again, while it’s a lot of work, she handles everything smoothly, with a rhythm and routine two years in the making.

PORTIONS. Cookie batter is carefully weighed and measured out before chilling and baking. Amanda Lago/ Rappler
CHILL. Cookie batter goes into the refrigerator to chill before baking. Amanda Lago/ Rappler
FINISHED PRODUCT. Chocolate chip cookies are a staple on Kaye’s menu. Courtesy of Kaye Lavin

“I find that baking is so emotional,” she says as she mixes a new batch of cookie dough. 

She talks about the movie The Ramen Girl, where Brittany Murphy plays a woman who moves to Japan and learns how to make ramen, in the process discovering that whatever emotions she is feeling while cooking is passed on to the people who eat her food. 

“That really stuck with me, that your mood transfers to the food,” Kaye shares. “So when I’m baking I have to be in at least a neutral mood.”

Before even starting, she makes sure that she’s had her coffee because “kailangan gising na gising (I need to be very awake).” After coffee, she lists her schedule, and cleans her workspace before finally starting. 

In spite of everything, Kaye finds that she is always able to move into that much-needed neutral space when it’s time to bake. (This writer has sampled Kaye’s baked goods on many occasions, and so far, there has been no evidence of a bad mood.)

“I put on a cute playlist or a podcast to help with that too,” she shares. “But when I am not able to do this, I take time to breathe to help me get into that space.”

CLEAN-UP. So far, Kaye is a one-woman team, doing everything from prepping to cleaning up on her own. Amanda Lago/ Rappler

Also in spite of everything, Kaye looks to the future with eagerness. She doesn’t quite know yet what’s going to happen with her business, but she’s toying with the idea of opening a space or consigning products someday. In the nearer future, there are new desserts.

“The next chapters are always exciting!” she says. –

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Amanda T. Lago

After avoiding long-term jobs in favor of travelling the world, Amanda finally learned to commit when she joined Rappler in July 2017. As a lifestyle and entertainment reporter, she writes about music, culture, and the occasional showbiz drama. She also hosts Rappler Live Jam, where she sometimes tries her best not to fan-girl on camera.