How do you keep a business afloat during one of the most difficult times in our history while extending a helping hand to those who need help? While these are two of the toughest endeavors today, one person managed to do both at the same time.

Carmelita Rejano-Reyes, the owner of Rejano’s Bakery, did not hesitate to help those in need during the pandemic. Ka Mita, as she was known in the community, used all her resources and knowledge to keep her business afloat while providing not just job opportunities but other types of community assistance she could manage.

Rejano’s Rich and Robust Roots

Rejano’s Bakery started in 1946 when Ka Mita’s grandmother baked arrowroot cookies as a present for Marinduque’s wealthy families. These families instantly loved the baked arrowroot cookies, prompting them to develop the product and transforming it into a business with the aid of local farmers in the province.

Arrowroot cookies are bite-sized treats made from the starch of uraro rhizome, an underground tuber. These cookies offer a unique sweetness, flavor, and texture that distinguishes them from similar baked treats on the market. These gluten-free cookies make them an excellent choice for health enthusiasts.

Ka Mita’s grandparents were able to provide their family with a brighter future after starting a business that began as a small act of generosity. The company helped the owner’s nine grandchildren, including Ka Mita, finish college and establish professional careers here and abroad.

As the years passed, one of the descendants had to take over the company. This is when Ka Mita became a third-generation

entrepreneur and took over management of the family business.

Growing up, it occurred to Ka Mita that she had an innate business acumen. She had a plan in place at a young age to enhance the company’s operations. That is why she looked for methods to modernize the entire arrowroot cookie baking process when she took over the business.

She also put up the Rejano’s Bakery’s souvenir shop at Boac Hotel, which has now become a must-see tourist destination in Marinduque. Ka Mita coordinated with different entrepreneurs and manufacturers in the province to bring all of Marinduque’s best in one place. More than their trademark delectable arrowroot cookies, this one-stop shop offers a diverse selection of items that would make excellent gifts for friends and family.

How DTI Helped the Business Stay Competitive

Ka Mita recalls that during her early years of running the bakery, one of the country’s major supermarkets did not allow her arrowroot cookies to be displayed on their shelves. She considered it a challenge and went to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) for assistance.

She then participated in the Kapatid Mentor ME (KMME) program, which helps entrepreneurs grow their businesses by providing them access to a wide network of industry mentors. Through the program, Ka Mita had the opportunity to talk with other established business owners and learn from their successes and failures.

The agency also provided her with Product Label and Packaging training, which helped her improve the overall presentation

of Rejano’s products. After seeing the improvement, the same supermarket chain which initially rejected her purchased half a million worth of Rejano’s Bakery products!

But Ka Mita did not take her success for granted. To further enhance her business, she also sought the help of other government agencies, such as the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). From a production capacity of 20 kilos of arrowroot

starch per day, Rejano’s bakery can now produce up to 80 to 150 kilos daily because of the equipment supplied by the said agency. Rejano’s Bakery also received assistance through DOST’s Small Business Technology Upgrading Program (DOST-SETUP).

Furthermore, Ka Mita participated in multiple online and physical workshops and events. This includes DTI

MIMAROPA’s workshops on good manufacturing practices and food safety management, FDA’s Qualified Persons in Industry Regulatory Affairs (QPIRA) Training, the SGS Kaagapay sa Negosyo program, national trade fairs, and several local mini bazaars in Marinduque.

As of this writing, Rejano’s Bakery has a Trademark Registration with the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines.

The Modern-Day Good Samaritan Rises During the Pandemic Before the pandemic struck the archipelago, Carmelita’s arrowroot cookie shop enjoyed huge success. However, Rejano’s Bakery, just like other businesses, couldn’t dodge the pandemic’s impact. The strict community quarantine measures decreased sales and reduced market avenues due to cancellations of national and local trade fairs. The difficulty

of transporting raw materials and end products has ultimately added to her entrepreneurial worries.

However, instead of worrying about herself, the first thing that came into her mind was the people who relied on her.

Her determination and dedication to assisting the struggling arrowroot farmers in the community pushed her to find a way to keep the bakery going.

To continue their production while abiding with the strict minimum health protocols, the management implemented an alternative work rotation for the staff to minimize contact with each other. They also sold their products to different barangays in the municipality of Sta. Cruz for a low price of PhP2.00 each.

She likewise committed Rejano’s Bakery to the production of eNutribuns, a Department of Science and Technology (DOST) project, by baking 7,000 pieces of Nutribuns every two days, three times a week for two months.

Truly a modern-day Good Samaritan, Ka Mita then opened the doors of Matalaba Retreat House and Gospel Outreach Chapel, a sanctuary built from the savings she earned through the bakery, to become a quarantine facility. She even prepared packed foods for those in the isolation facility.

To help her business recover from the adverse effects of the pandemic, the DTI provided Ka Mita with a Php 400,000 loan through the P3 CARES Loan Program. With the loan, she was able to maintain production and keep her business running steadily.

Unang-una kinakailangang may puso ka, dahil kung negosyante ka nga at ikaw naman ay madamot ayaw mong tumulong, talagang wala, walang mangyayari. Kailangang bukas ang iyong puso na tumulong sa kapwa.”

Sweet Hopes for the Future

2022 marks Rejano’s Bakery’s 76th year in the business. The enterprise has been through all kinds of challenges, and the pandemic was just another obstacle in its long journey.

With the help of DTI and other government agencies, they have been able to continue production and ride the crisis out. Ka Mita has now started venturing into eCommerce through Shopee, allowing her to reach more customers on a national level.

Despite her efforts to grow Rejano’s Bakery, she hasn’t stopped supporting those around her. Until now, Ka Mita supports her employees and the farmer-suppliers by providing medicines, rice subsidies, and even financial assistance.

She also reached out to individuals outside her own enterprise by leading a seminar for business owners on special recipes they can offer tourists as an additional revenue source. As a member of Marinduque’s Provincial Tourism Council, Ka Mita helped establishments affected by the pandemic acquire the appropriate accreditation from the Department of Tourism so they could continue operating.

From having a capital of PhP200,000, Rejanos Bakery is now worth Php 3 million. They have nine full-time employees, on top of

the other part-time employees and farmers who are vital in their day-to-day operations. Ka Mita also hired a couple of People with Disabilities (PWDs) at her bakery and farm, making her business truly inclusive.

For Carmelita “Ka Mita” Rejano-Reyes, success is not only about achieving your goals but also leaving a lasting positive impact on others. Just like her arrowroot products, she wants her legacy to be one that is sweet and satisfying. We have no doubt that it will be. ♦