Elite Bakery

The story of Elite Bakery, owned by Grace and Ken Villo, began with their grandfather, Lolo Tinong.

In Ken’s words, it was a “rags to riches” story; Lolo Tinong was outcast by others due to his Chinese-Filipino background, so he ran away to the island of Cebu in the Philippines to make a name for himself. He started off in the streets alone, but made a fateful decision to sweep the streets in front of a particular bakery. The owner of this bakery, seeing his hard work, let him work at his bakery. Little did Lolo Tinong know, he was on his way to creating three more generations of bakers.

After working for the bakery, Lolo Tinong opened his own, Lolo Tinong’s Bakery, with pan de sal being the main seller. Fast forward years into the future, and the Lolo Tinong’s Bakery chain has expanded across Cebu with more than 6 locations. During the chain’s expansion, his son (Ken and Grace’s father) decided to move to Guam in 1972 to open his own bakery: Elite Bakery.

As a kid, Ken remembered his father only letting him do menial chores, like washing the dishes. His father told him that in order to get to the top, you have to start learning from the very bottom. So, Ken washed the dishes, but when he finished, he snuck into the cake room and tried his hand at icing. Soon enough, by the time he was in 7th grade, Ken was making wedding cakes with his father.

The story shifts when Ken and Grace’s parents decided to bring Elite Bakery to America. The family first started out at Stockton in 1982, then moved to Fremont, and finally Milpitas in 1989. And at their location in Milpitas, our CEO Carla Bayot took her first bite of pan de sal and immediately fell in love.

Eventually, Grace and Ken took over, but they had to do some heavy lifting after the bakery saw a drop in its success. Their key plan was to move the bakery to Union City, a place more populated with their target audience -- Guamanians, Filipinos, and Hawaiians. In 2012, the two siblings did just that, and they have been operating Elite Bakery since. Their staff grew to be a diverse yet representative selection from the community and their native country, consisting of Filipinos in the area and family from Guam.

Now, Ken’s daughter is joining the team and subsequently the newest generation of Villo bakers. Ken has been letting his daughter help out around the bakery and try her hand in making cakes, quick breads, and other baked treats, just like Ken’s father taught him.

However, in March, Elite Bakery and other small businesses all across the country saw a new problem on their horizon -- the COVID-19 pandemic.

In dealing with the pandemic, Ken and Grace were lucky to keep most of their staff. Their solution was implementing “skeleton crews,” or allowing high-risk staff members to work alone at the shop whenever they needed a shift. That way, they can stay away from other staff but still keep their job. The bakery was also able to continue selling to Asian supermarkets, so while retail diminished, they could still keep a profit running. Along with that, Grace and Ken were able to acquire an emergency disaster loan, but Ken lamented about how the first run of loans was given to bigger companies while small businesses continued to struggle.

Even in the face of a national emergency, Elite Bakery kept going and didn’t back down. For a family business spanning three generations, this isn’t surprising. This family of bakers knew that the recipes, techniques, and delicious bread passed down from Lolo Tinong must live on. As Ken said, “We’re just continuing our family legacy of our Lolo Tinong and what he was able to accomplish.”

And Farmers Market on Wheels is happy to help them continue Lolo Tinong’s legacy. We are now selling their signature pan de sal in our marketplace!

Ken relayed some of their family techniques that make their pan de sal the best. He says that by double proofing, you’re allowing the bread to expand naturally as the yeast rises, instead of using chemical reactions like baking soda or powder to make the bread rise in the oven. In this way, the bread achieves not only a lasting spongy, fluffy texture, but it also develops more flavor. Though tedious, the end result is worth it.

So what are you waiting for? Try out Elite Bakery’s pan de sal with your next box! To Ken, the pan de sal and other breads from Elite Bakery have a special place in his heart, and he wants to bring his love for it to you.

“When I see it, smell it, taste it, it brings me back to my childhood. And when people try it, I want them to smile and feel that happiness as well,” Ken said.

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