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Three Moments and three chocolate heart-shaped cakes. Once there was a husband who brought three small heart-shaped chocolate cakes with icing-decorated words: I LOVE YOU as his peace offering for his wife. Then, there was a child who bought a chocolate cake with matching loving message for her mother that touched the latter's heart and led to patching up their indifferences. And a suitor handed a cake to the 'apple of his eyes' and later got the hand of her ladylove in marriage. With a simple gesture of chocolate heart-shaped cake, lives have been touched, hearts have been moved through a Laguna-based pastry business.

MerNel's Cake House: The Business that Dough and Love Started!

In 1969, at a Food Service housed in University of the Philippines-Los Baños (UPLB), Merle, a caterer and cake decorator met Nelson, the shop's baker and driver.

Both were dating with different partners back then. However, the nature of their work paved the way for that 'spark' between them.

"We would always go together since I am the caterer, he's the baker and driver. He often drove me to our clients and he was there to carry the stuff from the van for deliveries. It was how our relationship started," Merle said, smiling while reminiscing.

Merle and Nelson were both 18.

It was a love story that was baked overtime with a dough. Both were blessed with three children.

A Trial, a Blessing in Disguise.

Merle's father died in 1971 and she became the family's breadwinner. Since she needed money to fend for her widowed mother and eight siblings, she decided to have a sideline; so she started a small business.

With only eight hundred pesos [from what her father left them] as her starting investment, she bought a second-hand oven and a mixer. Her experience in baking came in handy. Her business started to pick up and earned her orders of banana and chiffon cakes from her circle of friends and relatives. During these times, Nelson assisted her in running her mini-venture.

"Then we got married in 1977," Merle further narrated her romance story with Nelson as she became the proud Mrs. Nelson Balicao at 26.

On that same year, Nelson resigned in UPLB's food and service and transferred to International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) as a baker.
"I can remember when I prayed for three orders of cakes a day and God answered my prayer! He then gave me a hundredfold! From 3 to 30 to 300 orders!" she said with excitement.

The Big Break.

One Valentine's day in 1980, when the Association of Secretaries in IRRI ordered heart-shaped chocolate cakes, made her small venture a phenomenal success! Through their heart-shaped cakes, it became their trademark and thus, named their business MerNel's Cake House, which was coined after Merle and his husband's first names.

Today, their heart-shaped cakes are their bestsellers. Mostly, 80% of their sales are accounted for their chocolate cakes, according to Mrs. Balicao.

Through referrals, relatives and friends—MerNel's grew and has three shops in Los Baños: in Lopez Avenue, Olivarez Plaza and South Supermarket. They also built Mernel's Food House, which offers catering services.

Mernel's Love Potion.

In fact, she described their business as 'God-given'. Mrs. Balicao shared that 'love' is the best potion in all their pastries and cakes. She added, in any business especially in the food industry, one should put his or her whole heart into it. To her, MerNel's cakes and pastries reflect the abundance of love that Nelson and her possess.

What is notable about the chocolate cakes—it helped to inspire and mend everyday misunderstandings of their customers, who patronized the said pastries.

Aside from heart-shaped chocolate cake, cake lovers can find varied assortments of cake and pastries. Customers can also customize their cake designs.

As of this writing, there are more than a hundred who expressed their interest in franchising MerNel's. However, the Balicao couple still want to strengthen the foundation of their love-inspired cake house venture before getting into franchising.

To know more about MerNel's, visit www.mernelscakehouse.com.


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