Every time you open up Instagram, it seems like dozens of small food businesses have found their way to the platform. This has certainly proved to be a fruitful strategy - the social media app showcases some of the most talented cooks and their delectable creations, luring us to scroll through delicious eats in search of our next bite. Yet, some of the oldest and most successful brands remain offline and continue to attract a committed and growing clientele by relying on word-of-mouth alone. How do they compete? How do they cultivate such a strong brand?
For Maricel Lerma-Cunanan, the matriarch behind the eponymous Cunanan Bakery, these strategies are the least of her concerns. “I have no intention to compete with anyone and I do not worry about competition” she reveals, noting that even she hasn’t the slightest clue about how Cunanan grew to such prominence in the phone books and group chats of gourmand lolas and titas. Upon rounding up some of the metro's best ensaymada, we found little to no trace of the brand online, mentioned only in a few articles - no Instagram profile, no Facebook page, nothing. At one point we were unsure if the bakery was even open.
This sentiment is palpable throughout the bakery’s branding, or lack thereof - its signature light ensaymadas are wrapped in nothing but regular wax paper, packaged in bare white boxes. Similarly, the creamy yet delicate chicken liver pâté is presented in a plain white ceramic dish, and their inconceivably moist date and walnut bars (a highly addictive must-try) are tucked within elegant boxes that bear nothing but its product name. However, these decisions embody Maricel’s unwavering desire to sustain an air of intimacy between her bakery and her customers, and just the right amount of mystery.
Read on to learn more about Maricel’s unexpected journey as a baker and how her unmarked ensaymadas grew to be one of the city’s most remarkable.