If there’s one thing that could get many Filipinos through tough times—whether it’s heartbreak or a health crisis—it’s satisfying their sweet tooth. In Baguio, one of the most popular sweet treats during the past year or so is the strawberry shortcake from Vizco’s Restaurant and Bakeshop. It’s always been a seller, but it really proved its worth during this pandemic.
Baguio-born Jackie Dizon, founder of Vizco’s, tells us that sales of their strawberry shortcake shot up during the enhanced community quarantine last year. They temporarily closed their stores in March 2020 and were back in business the following month. “Since most people cannot go out, ito na lang ang nagpapasaya sa kanila, kaya sobrang dami naming order at that time,” she says.
The cakes have served as revenue stream for many entrepreneurs all over Luzon—they have over 30 resellers—amid these financially challenging times. If #vizcosstrawberryshortcake trended on social media and made a lot of good press lately, Jackie says it’s primarily because their resellers have been very aggressive in their social media promotions.
Sales via indoor dining dipped tremendously but because of their resellers, Vizco’s never had to lay off any of their almost 100 employees. The 40-year old entrepreneur is very thankful for this blessing. “We kept them all throughout the pandemic,” she tells ANCX.
There was a time Vizco’s was just another name in Baguio. It’s actually the shortened version of Jackie’s maiden name Vizcocho. “When we shortened it to Vizco’s, it sounded Italian and it’s catchy,” she says.
Jackie, who spent most her life in the City of Pines, developed all the recipes for Vizco’s. She finished a Management degree at Saint Louis University in 2002 before she decided to take up Culinary Arts at the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde in Manila. Since there were only a few restaurants in Baguio in the early 2000s, she thought of pursuing a culinary arts career. “I was hoping to offer something that could also be Baguio’s pride, like Good Shepherd’s Ube Jam,” she says.
Before she put up Vizco’s, she had zero knowledge in cooking and baking. And while their family loves good food, both her parents weren’t into cooking.
After graduating from Benilde, Jackie’s original plan was to gain more culinary experience—get hired in a restaurant or a hotel in Manila or abroad. But her parents, who runs a bookstore in Session Road, found out there was a vacant space in the city’s prime business location. It was an opportunity too good to pass up. So, fresh out of culinary school and without any business experience, Jackie decided to open a small restaurant in 2004.
The spot was only one-fourth the size of what Vizco’s is today at Session Road. Jackie started by offering a few Italian-American dishes: pizza, pasta, rice dishes, breakfast items, and salads. Six months after, she started developing her cakes and pastries line.
On the map
Jackie started with eight different kinds of cakes, enough to attract the passersby at their Session Road shop. One of them is the strawberry shortcake. “Personally, I really like strawberries—favorite fruit ko siya and dessert as a kid,” Jackie shares. And since strawberries are widely grown in the province of Benguet, she thought of developing a strawberry shortcake recipe that could put the City of Pines on the country’s culinary map.
The taste and look of Vizco’s strawberry shortcake have evolved thru the years, says Jackie. One of the things patrons love about it is its moist quality. How it became the soft chiffon that their patrons love today is actually a result of an accident. “May nasobrahang ingredient kaya sya lumambot,” Jackie shares, laughing. “Mabuti na lang nagkamali.”
Over time, she continuously improved the recipe. “Siguro more than 10 times ko syang minodify,” she says. “Siyempre you have different suppliers, some of those that we import nawawala ang brand sa market, so we had to adjust based on what was available.”
Very crucial, naturally, is the quality of the strawberries themselves. They have to look irresistible. “Now it has been raining for almost a month, so it’s hard to get strawberries in its right ripeness and size,” Jackie offers. “Nasisira yung ibang strawberries kasi not all farmers have green houses. Most of the strawberries are [color] white right now.”
Vizco’s sources their strawberries not from La Trinidad—or the Strawberry Capital of the Philippines—but from Atok, which is four to six hours away from La Trinidad. “Mas pa-zigzag ang road doon kaysa sa Marcos Highway and Kennon Road, so mahirap talaga ang pag-transport ng strawberries.”
Their patrons love the fact that the Vizco’s strawberry shortcake is “very light and not too sweet.” Also, Vizco’s doesn’t skimp on the strawberry fillings and toppings. They make their own glaze to enhance the taste of the strawberries and to keep them fresh looking.
Their cakes are moderately priced—a small cake (6 inches) is P580 while a medium one is P900. Prices naturally go up when these are sold in Manila so resellers could cover their overhead expenses (transportation, rent, employees). The ingredients they use are always of premium and fresh quality, assures Jackie. “Every day talagang bago [ang mga cakes namin]. Hindi namin isine-sale [ang luma],” she says.
Word of mouth
Contrary to what others may think, their cash register did not get busy right away. “It took us four years to achieve [this status]. We started selling pakonti konti lang.” Their main patrons initially were mostly Koreans. There were a lot of them in the city before. The popularity grew by word of mouth.
Before the pandemic, they were selling up to 300 cakes during weekdays and more during weekends. Currently, they sell only about a quarter of that. “Luckily we have resellers who distribute our products to different places in Luzon. That helped sustain our company,” she says.
Jackie has introduced other strawberry themed desserts—tarts and macarons. For those who aren’t so fond of strawberries, Vizco’s also has cheesecakes, mango and ube cakes, which are also light and not too sweet. They also have breads like ensaymada.
Jackie says they had initially planned to expand in 2020 but the pandemic pushed back their plans. They’re planning to open two branches in Metro Manila (at SM Annex North Edsa and SM Megamall Building A) this September but Jackie says she’s still playing it by ear. The construction of the said stores are currently ongoing, however.
Vizco’s has been around for 17 years and while the strawberry shortcakes are getting them through these most uncertain times, the most important element to their sweet success, says Jackie, are the people who make, sell and deliver those cakes. “Employees first. Kami’ng businessmen okey lang na hindi masyadong kumita ngayong pandemic,” she says. “Basta ma-sustain lang ang business at masuportahan pa din ang employees namin. Pag inalagaan mo ang employees, aalagan din nila ang company.”
Photos courtesy of Jackie Dizon