(First of two parts)

IF ILIGAN City has Cheding peanuts, Cebu City has otap, Iloilo City has pinasugbo, Bacolod City has piyaya, Baguio City has strawberry jam, what does Cagayan de Oro City have as its popular pasalubong product?

Vjandep Pastel!

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Yes, the Vjandep Pastel of Camiguin has become a favorite pasalubong delicacy the city offers. It is now a by-word among visitors in Cagayan de Oro City. At Lumbia Airport’s departure area for example, one could see leaving passengers lugging boxes of pastel for families and friends. The same sight is true in ports and in bus terminals.

Pastel is a Spanish term for cake. It originated from Camiguin Island, the smallest and favorite tourist spot in Northern Mindanao. Pastel is a native delicacy passed on by the Bollozos family from Camiguin.

For decades, pastel is a traditional delicacy served during special occasions, especially during fiesta. It has been like that for many years, until one member of the family cooked it up as a business venture.

Eleanor Jose, a descendant of the Bollozos family, has seen the potential of pastel as a business venture.

From what was left of her husband’s P120 Christmas bonus, she set off for business in Camiguin, using the traditional half-drum make-shift oven and produced three boxes (with a dozen pieces per box) pastel.

That was in 1990, the birth of Vjandep (Pastel of Camiguin).

The initial production led to more orders and inspired Ellen to go on. She was full of hopes and dreams. And her grand vision was fully supported by her husband, Lt. Col. Virgilio Jose.

The acronym Vjandep stands for Virgilio Jose and Elena Popera.

The overwhelming customer acceptance encouraged Ellen to move forward. Through the financial assistance from the Department of Trade and Industry’s Tulong sa Tao Loan, pastel production increased. The Spanish Assistance for Integrated Livelihood (Sail) also came in and extended a P100,000 financial assistance. As production expanded, Lt. Col. Jose decided to retire from military service to focus on the family business.

Simultaneous with the increased production were trainings on business entrepreneurship conducted by the Technical Education for Skills and Development Authority (Tesda). The Department of Science and Technology (DOST)-Industrial Technology Development Institute (ITDI) also came to train Vjandep’s employees on Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and assisted the company in the development and improvement of the packaging and labeling systems to conform to the international standards.

Through DOST’s Small Enterprises Technology Upgrading Program (SETUP), Vjandep wrapped up a P920,000 financial assistance for the acquisition of a set of mechanized production equipment that included a three-kg dough capacity bun rounder/divider, a spiral mixer and two units pastel filling cooker/mixer.

The assistance hastened the operation, automated and free from the touch of human hands. The dough divider and filling equipment can be loaded with a maximum limit of 10 kg dough. It automatically divides the dough and fill it with the desired flavor. The mechanized operations resulted to less number of people to be hired, less contamination and assured uniform standard, both in quality and quantity.

The DOST continues to give technical assistance, trainings and consultancy services to Vjandep. Aside from GMP, other training areas extended were on Environmental Management Services (EMS), Manufacturing Productivity for Export (MPEX) and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP).

Today, the daily production averages 1,450 dozens on lean months (January, February and half of June to August) while on peak season like holidays and other special occasions and when there is an influx of tourists, the daily average production reaches 2,175 to 2,610 dozens. The current market prize per dozen (regular box) is P115 that comes in various flavors like durian, nangka, ube and mongo, giving customers a choice.

Vjandep has a total of 165 employees -- 145 regular staff and 25 part-time workers who are from Cagayan de Oro City, Bohol, Cotabato, Surigao, Bukidnon, Manila, Agusan, Cebu, Bicol and Zamboanga. They are all treated as members of the family and are provided with free meals and lodging.

Presently, Vjandep has three branches. The original branch in Mambajao, Camiguin has expanded to Cagayan de Oro City and construction of its main branch in Barangay Bulua is on-going and will be completed soon.

(To be continued)