One who knows Marce Ochia can note his activist past.
“Widen,” “deepen,” “tools of analysis,” are words that hark back to his days as a student activist, a dreamer whose father’s proletariat background in the predominantly Bisaya city of San Carlos made it “class instinctive” for him to become an activist in his teens.
In one of those many moments in the port city as a child, Marce recalls his father taking him to the merkado where he would usually ask him to buy Spanish bread, one of the many adaptations of Filipinos from, you guessed it, the Spaniards who taught us the magic of mixing flour, water and yeast.
“It is one of my food memories,” Marce says of Spanish bread, the roll that is drenched in bread crumbs then baked to a crunchy, golden brown exterior with a soft interior made moist by a butter-sugar sauce.
“Sometimes he can buy me a few rolls, sometimes not,” Marce says with a chuckle as if trying to clear a lump in his throat as he recalled how his father, a mill worker, tried to buy him Spanish rolls.
That food memory was seared in Marce’s mind: the delicious sauce oozing out of the crunchy golden roll everytime he took a bite.
That is if the Spanish bread was hot.
Fast forward many years later in Bacolod City when Marce became an activist, he would still look for Spanish roll only to find out rather uncontentedly that those in Bacolod City are mostly stiff, cold pieces of flour.
Not as delicious as the hot ones.
Marce remembered that.
Several years more passed and a personal tragedy struck.
Marce, sad and almost desperate, had to take care of his child alone.
He thought of an idea after seeing “the practical movement” of people, especially the poor ones, those who had to get up early and earn for the day.
Marce became the first to sell hot pan de sal, the poor man’s bread, at his startup bakery in Singcang Airport village.
The lines were long.
It was not only taste and texture the people were after but also temperature to warm their bellies especially in the cold mornings.
Marce, who is not an engineer by degree, decided to design his own mobile bakery.
That he did.
For the first time, a bakery on wheels started serving piping hot pan de sal at Libertad Market and several other villages here.
Marce’s BreadBite became popular and his branches grew to four, one a mobile bakery at La Salle Avenue where he started baking hot Spanish rolls.
It was a hit.
“Ang init nga Spanish rolls (the hot Spanish rolls)” was how people desribed his bakery.
Revenues rose and Marce and his partner, Jessa, began counting the dough, so to speak.
“Business was good and we were thinking of franchising already,” Marce says.
Then it hit.
When the COVID pandemic struck the Philippines and travel restrictions tightened in early 2020, BreadBite took a nose dive.
Marce’s bakers, frightened by the pandemic, decided to go home to their families.
Sales dropped as people were not allowed to go out.
From counting dough, Marce and Jessa kneaded dough to continue the operations of one outlet in Mansilingan village.
“I am a nurse but I learned how to do it,” Jessa says.
A few dedicated workers remained but the kneading, proofing and baking tasks were taken over by the couple.
The BreadBite tailspin had begun and the bakery built by hot Spanish roll was about to grow cold.
And another tragedy was unfolding for Marce.
In part two: one problem, 101 solutions