Marce Ochia is no stranger to struggle.
Specifically, mass struggle.
Formerly a member of the mainstream Left, Marce was once chairperson of a militant youth group of national democrats Anakbayan (slain human rights activist Zara Alvarez was deputy-secretary during Marce’s time).
He would, along with his idealistic troupe, trudge to the streets bearing placards, dodging arrests, and shouting for an end to tyranny and the conditions that breed it.
It was a time of great political ferment, of the younger version of the Anti-Terror Bill, at the time when dictator’s daughters acknowledged a mini-version of the dictator in the Palace, a time when activists were placed on Orders of Battle, or just simply made to disappear.
Marce was an activist at the worst time to be one.
But he lived through it, and survived.
The question, however, is what to do next.
Marce, after all, has to earn.
OUT OF THE FRYING PAN
“[Putting up a business] was my alternative after I left the Left,” Marce tells DNX, adding, “I had had offers from politicians but I turned these down.”
Marce tried his hand at first selling lechon manok, but the venture was not that successful, because apart from the stiff competition, the demand was not as high during post-Christmas.
Then, an opportunity opened in 2014.
It started with pandesal.
“Marce tried baking pandesal in February 2014,” Mahal Cachila-Ochia, Marce’s wife and business partner, tells DNX.
After a week of improving the recipe, they tried to sell it in their first ever Breadbite stall, a small space in J.R. Torres Subdivision, along Dona Juliana Street.
It immediately sold out.
Mahal narrates that financial resources were limited that time, so they had to make do with whatever available materials.
“The first oven was fabricated by Marce with the help of his welder friend. Bread trays were fabricated by Marce alone,” Mahal reveals.
It was tough during the first months, with the couple the only ones manning the bakery.
“Our agreement was for me to continue working while the business was just starting,” she says.
Afternoons were usually spent on bread production, while Mahal worked the night shift as Marce was minding the shop. After her shift, Mahal would then assist her husband in the bakery.
After a month, Marce decided to hire one bakery assistant whom he trained to be a panadero.
“We only focused on the pandesal for more than a year,” Mahal says.
After a year, competition opened right across them, a bakery offering more than just pandesal.
“It was difficult for us to compete,” Mahal reveals, “But maybe it’s true what they say that sometimes, competition is healthy.”
Thanks to competition, Breadbite started introducing Spanish bread to their menu, and eventually entertained the thought of expanding through a mobile bakery.
The concept was presented by Marce’s former father-in-law, fiscal Cesar Beloria, Sr. who gave a very important advice: don’t wait for people to come to you; instead, you should make an effort to go to the people.
Marce conceptualized Breadbite’s first mobile bakeshop. Or more than a bake shop, Breadbite is a mobile bakery.
“The goal is to bake on-site and serve [it] hot. That was the start of our expansion. Our first mobile bakery was stationed at Libertad market,” Mahal reveals.
The rest, as they say, is history, as the mobile bakery starts to expand not just geographically—six branches! — but it expanded its menu too to include Spanish breads, pan de coco, binangkal.
RISING AND RISING
The pandemic has done a really effective job of slowing down business.
Breadbite was no exception.
Currently, it operates only one branch, but this one has a fully functional bakery which still offers a wider variety of breads.
“Community is still the target market, but because of this pandemic, we gained so much learnings,” Mahal says.
The pandemic was an opportunity for them to look back, take stock of things, including wrong decisions from management, risks, lack of marketing, even up to experimentation of product development.
Mahal says she looks forward to the future.
“We intend to expand some more,” she says, adding, “who knows, we might even be open for a collaboration or franchising.”