This shows how fortitude in the time of pandemic can mean realizing a cherished dream
If you’re a foodie living in San Francisco and the Bay Area, the chances are high that you’d be aware of two popular hashtags on social media: #BayAreaFilipinoPies and #PinayPieLady. Here is the story behind those hashtags, Melody Lorenzo and Sweet Condesa, her Filipino-inspired pastry business.
Migrating to the West Coast in 2002, Melody first worked in the hospitality industry as a front desk agent and night auditor. In 2006, she applied and was accepted in a government job, as an office technician. Rising through the ranks, she joined a three-day baking workshop in 2008 and was smitten, discovering her love and innate creativity for baking. So while baking on the side for friends and family, she maintained her full-time government job, while dreaming of one day setting up her own pastry business.
Fast forward a decade later and in 2017, while raising two boys, she kept telling her boys she’d start that dream business when she retires; and her eldest asked why start that when you’re old. Realizing there was wisdom there, she set up her own part-time business as a wedding dessert caterer, with Filipino-inspired sweets as the mainstay of her offerings. For three years, it was just her, a one-woman operation, sometimes taking on bookings for up to 400 guests.
Taking that proverbial giant leap and buoyed by the good feedback she was eliciting, she turned in her resignation from this secure government job in February 2020, only to have COVID-19 strike in the US the following month. From March to May, weddings that she was booked for were all postponed. And a more timid soul may have ran back to the government position that offered job security, and a pension plan.
But undeterred, in May, Melody went to the local farmers market to check out if she could sell her products, and the organizers loved them. Barely keeping her head above water with the fluctuating sales generated by these local markets, July saw a new stumbling block, thanks to the wildfire season that spread over California.
It was really in November, with her Thanksgiving menu, that things picked up. She pitched to Eater SF, and an article came out, and her pies sold out in eight hours. Long lines at her next farmers market that weekend meant the word had got out. She caught the notice of ABC7, and with this back-to-back media coverage, Sweet Condesa was the new rage, people traveling one to two hours just to get their #BayAreaFilipinoPies, and to check out the #PinayPieLady.
As Melody is always ready to say, her Sweet Condesa is reimagined Filipino desserts, her sharing our culture via food, and hopefully educating Americans about different flavors and ingredients—and of course, being a kick of nostalgia for the transplanted and second to third-generation Pinoys of the Bay Area. Serving as an inspiration to women of color, Melody stands for diversity in representation in the food industry at the entrepreneurial level.
She’s happy there are Filipino chefs making waves in the US culinary scene, and she’s proud to be making her own kind of mark at her end of the spectrum. Especially at a time when Asians are being discriminated against in the US, hers is a story that warms our collective hearts—knowing that staying true to her Filipino roots has spelled success, and that in this time of COVID-19, there are still stories that demonstrate how determination and facing adversity head-on, can lead to a sweet, happy ending.
Photos by Hillary Jeanne Photography, Rezel Kealoha, and Studio Son.