In a world where businesses come and go, one bakery has managed to stand the test of time and crisis. Estela Robles-Villareal’s Bantay Bread has been providing quality bread and pastries to her community for more than a decade, but there’s something more to this business that sets it apart.

Estela values her employees’ loyalty above profit. She believes that if her employees are taken care of, they will likewise take care of her customers and deliver high-quality products. This commitment to her employees has helped make Bantay Bread endure the harshest crisis the country has ever faced — the COVID-19 pandemic.

Delicious Debut

It was a small bakery, just starting out. Estela and her family had opened up Bantay Bread in 2009 as an additional source of income for the college education of her children studying in Metro Manila. The bakery was named after the town and its historical landmark close to the business — the Bantay Bell Tower Church.

The modest bakery sold the usual pandesal, bread loaf, and their best-selling hopia and pianono in the community. The presence of competitors motivated Bantay Bread to strive more. For Estela, it meant there was a bigger demand for the product — so she got creative. They started to diversify by selling other kinds of bread, such as crinkles, brownies, and a lot more.

The bakery soon became known for its delicious and affordable treats. To keep up with the demand, they opened two branches: one near the tourist spot in Vigan City — the Heritage Village — and another located at the National Highway that served as a pasalubong pitstop for travelers heading North.

Things were going well for Bantay Bread — so well that Estela had extra money to open a different kind of business.

This savvy entrepreneur ventured into the beauty business and opened two branches of Villareal Salon and Spa. With herpassion coupled with hard work, all her businesses operated very smoothly. The salon and spa became an instant hit, earning way more than the bakery. Everything was on the rise.

But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and everything changed.

A Crisis That Shook The Country — Including Villareal Salon and Spa

The pandemic has been a tough time for businesses all over the world. But in the Philippines, it has been especially hard. With strict lockdown measures in place, many businesses have had to close their doors indefinitely.

Bantay Bread continued its operations. Being in the food industry means it is an essential business. Hoping to help even for a bit, Estela provided free bakery products to frontliners within the municipality of Bantay.

However, her salon business was not spared from the crisis. As it was not an essential service, they were forced to close down the two branches. It was a difficult time for everyone involved.

But Ms. Villareal did not give up on her business — or her employees.

“Dahil sa mga tulong ng DTI, hindi lang lumago ang negosyo namin, nagkaroon pa ako ng pamilya sa DTI. Ganyan sila mag-alaga sa mga MSMEs.”

DTI’s Trainings Put to Good Use

Estela realized that this was the perfect time to implement all the learnings she got from joining DTI Ilocos Sur’s Kapatid Mentor Micro Enterprise (KMME) Program.

The KMME program is a government initiative that provides training and mentorship to micro and small businesses. Through this program, Estela learned how to diversify her products and services, as well as how to market her business online — skills that would come in handy during the pandemic.

Estela knew she had to do something to help her employees. With the help of her children, they strategized their business operations. The increasing demand for bakery products during the pandemic paved the way to save the employees of Villareal Salon and Spa from being jobless.

Estela expanded the operation of Bantay Bread and moved the ten employees of the salon into the bread shop’s operations.

These workers were hired as resellers and helpers in the bakery. By doing this, she was able to keep everyone employed and help them earn a living.

They ramped up their game plan and changed the packaging style into something more modern and sleek. They also started selling bread by the box instead of per piece and delivered it door to door for free.

Estela quickly realized the power of internet technology and how it could be leveraged as a marketing tool. She hired a food vlogger to help her produce engaging content that would reach a wide audience. As a result, she was able to boost her sales significantly and build a successful business.

A Commitment to Her Employees that Paid Off

For Estela Villareal, her employees are like family. So when she saw that they were struggling, she did everything she could to help them.

This commitment to her employees paid off in the end. Not only was she able to keep her business afloat, but she was also able to help her employees overcome a difficult time.

This just goes to show that when times are tough, businesses need to be there for their employees — and Estela Villareal is a prime example of that. ♦

Date of release: 23 November 2024