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Tuesday, Nov 29, 2022
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Filipino Flavors Fuel Growth at Crème Caramel

Filipino-American custard-based desserts may sound like a narrow niche for a bakery, but Crème Caramel LA in Sherman Oaks has hollowed out a sustainable space by selling eye-catching sweets like ube and mango white chocolate upside down pies, ube coconut horchata and buko pandan flan. After a not-so-steady nine-year run as a retailer and wholesaler, the shop is using its platform to help other L.A.-based Filipino bakeries find their footing, including fledgling Laroolou and AngelSweets, which don’t have retail locations yet, and Ninong’s Pastries & Café, which has a shop in Northridge. Recent distribution partnerships with these bakeries mean their products will soon be sold in Crème Caramel’s flagship store in Sherman Oaks as well as its sister location, FrankieLucy Bake Shop in Silver Lake. After all, Crème Caramel founder Kristine de la Cruz knows all too well the struggle of growing a specialized independent bakery from the ground up. “We don’t have the resources a bigger company has,” de la Cruz said. “Besides the challenge of wages increasing, in addition to real estate being super expensive … there’s a lot more competition on the block and on social media.” She added that the company made it through its tumultuous early years largely by partnering with businesses that might otherwise act as competition. It landed its first wholesale partner, a barbeque joint called The Park’s Finest in L.A., when it was still selling at farmer’s markets, long before the 2013 launch of its brick-and-mortar store. It still has that account today, along with 33 others, including Filipino restaurant Oi Asian Fusion, which has locations in Canoga Park, East Hollywood and San Diego; Steampunk Coffee & Bar in Valley Village; and chain market Mendocino Farms in Sherman Oaks. “We knew wholesale was going to be a revenue stream, but we didn’t know how much it was going to save us during the lean time,” de la Cruz said. Today, wholesale accounts for about 70 percent of Crème Caramel’s revenue. de la Cruz said she’d like a more even balance between wholesale and retail, and that the business is finally ready to accommodate this shift. Until earlier this year, de la Cruz had been overextended, personally running the company’s operations, production, human resources and delivery segments at both shops with her business partner and boyfriend Sean Gilleland. The retail line of business suffered as a result. A few months ago, Crème Caramel’s partnership with the sister bakery dissolved due to strategic differences. But “it ended up working out because the new owner wanted to continue using the brand name in addition to carrying our food,” de la Cruz said. With the new owner taking over operations, she has more bandwidth to focus on growing the Sherman Oaks store. The next step, de la Cruz said, is working on getting her products into grocery stores — a leap that will further serve her mission of expanding people’s awareness of Filipino flavors and ingredients.

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