Aside from its beautiful nature spots, hot spring resorts and buko pie, the town of Los Baños in the province of Laguna is known for its homegrown brand of chocolate cake.
For decades, Mer-Nel’s Cake House has captivated the taste buds of consumers and has become the small town’s favorite pastry house. Through word of mouth, Mer-Nel’s famous chocolate cake was patronized even by non-locals. In fact, many would visit Los Baños just to get a taste of the popular cake.
Merle and Nelson Balicao, the couple behind Mer-Nel’s Cake House, started out in the food industry not as entrepreneurs but as bakers in the University of the Philippines Los Baños student union cafeteria in 1971.
Not only was Merle able to provide for her mother and siblings, the experience enabled Merle to hone her skills in baking and decorating cakes.
“Whatever they told us to do, we did. So I baked, decorated cakes, delivered food and served them. We did all that,” Merle told Philippine Star.
In order to earn additional income, Merle would cook and sell baked goods while keeping her full-time job. Since Merle had experience in selling Avon, Tupperware, Philkraft, land and even calamansi, selling was not that challenging for her.
When the bakers finally tied the knot in 1977 and were soon blessed with three children, the couple took turns in taking care of their kids. However, Merle’s full-time job and part-time business soon took a toll on her family life.
Merle recounted: “I hardly saw my kids awake. When I left in the morning, they were asleep. When I came home at night, they were asleep. If ever I was home during the day, they were at school. By that time, Nelson had fulltime work as baker at the International Rice Research Institute. So I prayed to God to just let me have three cake orders a day.”
This prompted Merle to quit her job and go full time on their bakery business in the 1980s. According to her, God gave them so much more since then.
When the couple felt that their business was steadily growing, they decided to expand their operations and open a three-storey events venue along the highway of the town. These days, Mer-Nel’s sells nearly 600 cakes a day and has branched out in different towns in Laguna.
Merle divulged that hard work and living a simple lifestyle helped them achieve what they have today.
“Our lunch and dinner are usually the same. We don’t waste food. We don’t waste anything. We squeeze toothpaste tubes and shampoo sachets down to the last drop,” Merle said.