Ana Lorenzana De Ocampo on becoming a food industry success

Meet one of the female leaders behind Wildflour Café + Bakery, the beloved food spot serving truly sumptuous bakes and eats leaving Filipino diners wanting more

A food adventure in Bonifacio Global City (BGC) is never complete without a stop at Wildflour Café + Bakery. This quaint cafe-restaurant is adored by many that, even if other food spots continue to populate its area, nothing would compete with what it offers—a warm ambiance with superb culinary creations to match. This year marks its decade-long commitment to feeding Filipino diners nothing but the best artisanal eats. And if they’re still hungry for more, trust that new dishes and other food collabs will hit its menu to surprise everyone’s tastebuds.

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Ana Lorenzana De Ocampo

But the journey to where Wildflour Café + Bakery is now was not easy. Starting off with only 10 employees, it challenged itself to break into the highly-competitive food scene of Manila. Leading it to success is the brand’s co-founder and president Ana Lorenzana De Ocampo. Much like other food establishments, Wildflour Café + Bakery's foundation is based on a dream and a familial passion.

“My family sparked my passion for food. On my mom's side, I was blessed to have been raised by strong women—my grandmother and my mother— whose love language was food, and I spent the summers of my childhood working in my grandmother's bakery,” Ana says. “On my dad's side, our family was the manufacturer of Lorins Pati. Being surrounded by food my whole life inspired me to pursue degrees in Hotel & Restaurant Administration from UP Diliman and a culinary Le Grande Diploma from Le Cordon Bleu London.”

In an interview with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, Ana takes us through the humble beginnings of Wildflour Café + Bakery, from the challenges they continue to overcome and making their mark in many locations in the capital and her recipe to becoming a success in the food industry.

Can you tell us the story of Wildflour? What was your initial goal when you established it?

My sister Margie and I, even before pursuing our culinary degrees, had always dreamt of one day opening our own simple café-bakery: a nice homey spot with an all-day brunch menu serving homemade pastries, cakes, sandwiches, and coffee. While we were busy with our own endeavors (I was in corporate and Margie was a chef in L.A.), we finally decided to take the plunge and put in the work to actualize the concept for what would eventually be Wildflour, and what began as a fantasy or a hobby ended up growing beyond our wildest dreams into one of the busiest food groups in Manila.

Wildflour Café + Bakery in BGC

What were the challenges you encountered leading the café-bakery?

It definitely hasn't been an easy journey,  especially at the start, as envisioning putting up a café-bakery is one thing, but actually making it happen in the highly competitive Manila food scene is a different matter altogether. Finding a good location when you're a new player is extremely difficult, as all the malls I approached initially turned us down. Thankfully, a location I found ended up taking a chance on us, which to this day is the home of our oldest and flagship branch.

Construction and actually executing the vision is always difficult, as I and a ragtag team of carpenters painstakingly worked to put up our very first restaurant with little experience and multiple delays and setbacks. Through hard work, perseverance, and nonstop prayers, we eventually opened Wildflour Café + Bakery in July 2012, but being a new standalone establishment outside of the malls in then-up-and-coming BGC, we didn't receive much foot traffic on the first few days. Thankfully, a switch flipped due to great word-of-mouth and publications starting to feature us, and we have been busy ever since.

Through the years, Wildflour has only grown beyond this vision of a single corner café-bakery, to now being a multi-location, multi-brand enterprise with about 1,000 employees, pandemic notwithstanding. The more your F&B business expands, the more kinds and increased complexity of different challenges arise, from learning how to operate at scale efficiently, to being able to maintain the quality, consistency, and relevance so many years later and at the size we now operate to having to constantly outpace copycats that try to emulate your success and steal your thunder, or even other businesses that take shortcuts and pirate the talent you worked so hard to train.

As the company’s president, I have had to stand firm and lead the business through so many shifting tides and hurdles, which is definitely not easy to do for more than 10 years and counting. But I am fortunate enough to have a great team around me that has made it possible to make it through any challenge we face even stronger.

Do you believe that the food industry is a scene dominated by men? If yes, did that affect you in any way in building Wildflour?

Yes, given the physical rigor, long hours, and intensity involved with the kitchen, the food industry is very much male-dominated. While I was fortunate enough not to experience much pushback for being one of the earliest women entrepreneurs in the local food scene, this may not have been the same for others. My sister and I definitely had in the back of our minds that it would be important for us as we undertook this venture to champion more women being able to own and operate their own food businesses, and hopefully, our efforts have helped in paving the way for others like us to be brave enough to do so as well.

Wildflour Café + Bakery team supporting local farmers and entrepreneurs

What do you think female chefs or entrepreneurs contribute to leading a food business?

I believe female chefs or entrepreneurs have the attention to detail and personal touch that our male counterparts may not (though there are definitely exceptions as well), translating to more fully realized products and services. It is more difficult to describe than to see it in action, but there is a different sense of presence and meticulousness that I’ve observed from our female chefs, and I’m very proud to have some of the very best working on our team.

For you, what makes Wildflour a standout among other cafés or restaurants?

What makes Wildflour standout is that it’s ever-evolving– starting from one all-day menu with a few pastries and dishes to what it is today wherein we have full-fledged breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks, pastries, coffee, desserts, ice cream, events, and so much more, all while still maintaining that comfortable, homey neighborhood vibe that we started with. We dynamically adapt with the times and are not afraid to take risks to allow the business and the brand to grow into what it needs to be, while also making it a point that we don’t cut corners and we don’t compromise quality at every step of the process from sourcing to production to service. We go a step further in our dedication to quality in how we advocate supporting local suppliers, being one of the strongest and most vocal proponents of the farm-to-table movement, wherein our direct, mutually beneficial relationships with a stable supply of top-grade and the freshest produce, meats, seafood, and others that can be procured within the Philippines. This holistic commitment and painstakingly striving to be the best we can be for each and every guest day-in and day-out keeps us on our toes and ahead of the curve, and has translated to our longevity even a decade later.

Ana with her Wildflour Café + Bakery team

What are the lessons you want to share with budding female chefs or entrepreneurs who want to make it big in the industry?

It definitely won’t be easy, but it will be fulfilling if you take that leap of faith. Make sure to always remember what inspired your love for food in the first place and use that to fuel your practice and business especially when things get hard. Only through hard work, perseverance, and dedication will you really be able to make it in such a difficult and competitive industry, so be prepared to put in 100% each and every day to make this dream a reality. And lastly, constant prayer and surrendering yourself to God’s will spells a big difference, as aligning your intention and vision with His works wonders.

To know more about Wildflour Café + Bakery, visit its officialwebsite or @wildflourmanilaon Instagram.

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