Bishop's brother introduces ube cupcakes to Americans
VIENNA, Va. -- Tucked away in a quaint, quiet corner of Maple Avenue is a newly opened sweet shop that is introducing Americans to the tastes of popular Filipino-inspired desserts.
Manny Tagle and business partner Wilma Galang opened the Sweet City Desserts last November. It’s a curious time to be pursuing a 2-year-old dream because of the uncertain business climate and the fact that neither of them has ever run a bake shop or restaurant.
Tagle is a younger brother of Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle and a realtor by trade; Galang is a successful accountant although she has a college degree in nutrition from the Philippines.
He jokes that he takes after his father Manuel. “We both love to eat,” he said.
"I never thought of the economic crisis; just think positive and I think this is one way of going into business," Tagle told the Manila Mail.
Sweet City Desserts has found a loyal clientele in Vienna, drawn by its unique, original concoctions. “The people of Vienna are very supportive,” he enthused, admitting that the bulk of his repeat customers are non-Asians.
Their biggest hits include the Calamansi Pie, Ube Cupcake, Mango Shooter and the Sans Rival.
"It’s only now that we’re getting a response from Filipinos," Tagle said, thanks to people like community leader Mitzi Pickard who first wrote about her gastronomically gleeful experience in a blog.
"Now they’re filling up the place," he says cheerfully.
"Americans love our Calamansi Pie and Sans Rival; you won’t believe they’re the ones buying those products more than the Filipinos," Tagle declared. "I guess Americans are really adventurous; they will try anything, especially the calamansi because they like Key-Lime pie. That’s when we tell them about our native fruit, the calamansi, and they love it."
He says they buy their calamansi and mangoes from a local supplier but have to import ube powder directly from the Philippines.
A Filipino-American pastry chef, Tristan Data, helped create the fast-selling sweets and is in the process of developing more Filipino-inspired products like the ensaymada and pandesal that could soon be part of the breakfast fare in Vienna and nearby communities.
"We regularly conduct mini-surveys with our repeat customers and they like the adobo. They know the adobo and so coming from that awareness, we’ll be coming out with an adobo roll, asado roll and even a menudo roll," Tagle revealed.
Their success stems in part from a strategy of working with the community. They are active in the local business guild, bringing samples of their products to trade meetings and neighborhood gatherings. "Everywhere we go, the response has been very positive," he said.
And unlike the standard Filipino pastry, their cakes and pastries are tasty but not too sweet. They have a fine balance of tart and sweetness that make patrons, even the health-conscious, bold enough to go for seconds.
And Tagle pointed out it’s all in the "plating and presentation."
His success with Sweet City Desserts has apparently given him the confidence to venture into larger projects. Together with some investors from the Philippines, Tagle is scheduled to launch in May, a Filipino bistro in the busy Shirlington commercial district that he’s naming "7107" referring to the number of islands in the Philippines.
"We don’t have any Filipino restaurants in the area and people are curious what Filipino food is," he explained.
"Every time I have an American client in my real estate business, I can’t take them to a Filipino restaurant because there are none so I take them to a Vietnamese or Chinese," Tagle averred. "They ask me, what is Filipino food?"
"I know there’s a market. It’s just the presentation. You cook it without too much grease because people here are health conscious," he explained, "It will be typical Filipino with a twist, not too fusion."
He said chefs from the Philippines will be arriving in late April to prep the new restaurant for what Tagle hopes will be a foothold for Filipino cuisine in the nation’s capital.