Slangin’ Siopao in Silverlake; Boss Andrea De Guzman
By Karena Apollonya Ebora Higgins
United Bread & Pastry has been anchored in the same spot off of Sunset for over 27 years, and although the De Guzman Family has watched their Silverlake neighborhood go through changes, their traditional Filipino baked goods remain old skool. I had a chance to chat with Andrea De Guzman aka Tita. She dropped knowledge, including her unique approach to marketing, how the fear of getting busted was a good thing and why bigger is not always better.
Where are you originally from?
Was it your dream to come to the US?
Yes, when you are young you want to explore. America is the number one place. I was petitioned as a caregiver by my aunt who was paralyzed. I came to the United States in 1978 with $10 in my pocket and a job waiting for me. I worked the next day. I took care of my aunt and then went to school for medical assistant training. Because she could manage with her wheelchair, I ended up working at Good Samaritan Hospital. I became a citizen in 1985.
That’s a big deal, how did you feel about becoming a citizen?
I actually cried because I love my country. I love the Philippines, so when I took the oath, I felt like I betrayed my country. I’m very patriotic, but I had to choose, but in my heart, I’m always Filipino.
How did you start the bakery business?
The idea was my husband’s.We met through family friends and married in 1979. His family has a bakery in the Philippines (De Guzman Bakery), so he knew how to bake. We started making food in our apartment. I made pancit (glass noodles with meat and vegetables) and lumpia(deep fried egg rolls with ground pork). He made assorted hopia (pastry filled with sweet bean) and siopao (steamed buns filled with meat). Those were the best sellers at the time. We had lots of customers and orders from my work at Good Sam. I was like a bag lady bringing all the orders to work.
Why did you make the leap from cooking out of your apartment to an actual storefront?
I was scared that someone would report us. Besides that, we had been saving our money and we already had a customer base from selling at the hospital and to family and friends.
Even though the neighborhood was bad, it was what we could afford. We decided to rent this small building off of Sunset and Griffith Park Blvd. We live up the hill and the price was reasonable. It used to be a house, but it was burned in a fire. The original owners made an office. I talked to them about building a bakery. They were ok with the idea. We opened in 1985.
Our first major equipment purchase was the 80 quart mixer. It was expensive and I paid monthly.
Did you have any competition at the time? How did you market Filipino food?
I’m not scared of competition. I love competition. It makes me work harder. Betsy’s and Bemba’s were the other bakeries then. Bemba is my sister-in-law and Betsy’s were my friends. I think they retired. Sometimes I go shop at other bakeries. I look around for new ideas and things to learn.
When I worked at the hospital and brought food, I had all different kinds of customers. When I decided to open my store, I didn’t put the word Filipino in the name of my business because I wanted all kinds of people to come here. That’s why I picked the name United.
What’s planned for the future?
We’ll stay here. I’m still strong. In the bakery business, if you don’t know how to work hard, you wont survive. I wake up at 5am and of course I’m here. I take a nap in the middle of the day, but I stay here until the evening. I try to rest. I didn’t expand because I wanted to enjoy life. If I expanded, I might not be able to enjoy. Like my friends, they are sick. I want to be rich, but I want to enjoy. I’ve traveled to the Middle East, Israel, Jordan, Poland and Russia, but I try to go back to the Philippines every year.
Whats your favorite pork dish? Pork Adobo of course.
Whats your favorite beer? I drink red wine.