Henri Oftana, Guam Bakery general manager, talks about the plans to expand the bakery’s operations in Dededo on March 31.His family’s business plans to increase its operations in an effort to capture some of the revenue expected to be created by the impending military buildup.
My father has always had the mindset that you do what you need to do to get it done
For nearly four decades, the Guam Bakery has been a mainstay in the community’s baking industry by offering a variety of Filipino breads and pastries in local supermarkets and fast-food restaurants. The bakery’s legacy began with owner Tim Oftana, who at one time was a poultry farmer and licensed chemical engineer, when he moved his wife and four children away from the turmoil of martial law during Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos’ regime in the 1970s.
“In the Philippines,… life was easy and life was good, but during the martial law there was some uncertainty about our future,” he said. Looking for stability in life, he was encouraged by family members to start a bakery—a business that ran in the family—in Guam, which only had two bakeries at the time.
“I didn’t think it was going to be difficult for me because I had a degree in chemical engineering, and if I was able to make it that far then I could make it work for the sake of my family,” he said.
But being new to Guam and relatively unknown within the industry, Tim Oftana found it difficult to introduce his products to new customers.
“We had to go door to door around neighborhoods to tell them about our new bakery,” he said.
Tim Oftana’s son, Henri, who is now general manager of the bakery, remembers when his family moved from the Philippines as a middleincome family, then downsizing to a one-bedroom trailer home on Guam.
“My father has always had the mindset that you do what you need to do to get it done,” Henri Oftana said.
For instance, his father had the goal to be a college graduate and enrolled into a chemical engineering program, not because the subject interested him deeply, but merely because his sister-in-law had recently finished the course and had all the required books and course study, Henri Oftana said.
After a few years as a startup bakery, Tim Oftana had established the business with a small following, but it wasn’t until contractor Black Construction approached the business to provide food for its construction workers that the bakery had its first taste of the wholesale business.
Since then, Guam Bakery has evolved from a retail bakery to a wholesaler that provides bread products to some of the island’s biggest fastfood restaurants, such as McDonald’s and Wendy’s. Guam Bakery also has other locations in Cebu, Philippines and California.
Now the bakery has positioned itself in the forefront of the military buildup by expanding its operations to a new location that offers a much larger production area and new equipment to meet the demands of the wholesale bakery business.
As the buildup picks up speed, the company will complete the construction of an 8,000-square-foot bakery within a year to compliment its current Dededo location.
The new location will provide a second-floor office area, a warehouse and baking area that meets government and private sector regulations.
different agencies that regulate us, and that’s where the military comes in, so hopefully
we get to the point where we can get inspected and they’ll approve us,” said Henri Oftana. “Because of this new floor plan, we will have a better workflow, bigger warehouse and a controlled environment so it’s not too hot.”
In the past, the company has supplied visiting military ships with an amount of products
that equals the bakery’s one-day batch of production and still meets the needs of local customers.
When the military buildup comes in, their needs are going to be more. There is just no way I’m going to be able to produce more with what we have, there’s no conceivable way I’ll be able to supply that with my current situation. So it’s perfect that five to six years ago we started talking about expanding.
To start the expansion, the bakery received help from local vendors and businesses with which the company has had long-standing relationships.
“They’ve all offered their help and it was at that point we decided to do this. We needed to expand, we needed to grow and we needed to move forward,” Henri Oftana said. “If we didn’t do this, we were going to end up spinning in the dust and wondering what happened.”
Guam Bakery’s lasting presence on the island is a testament to its ability to adapt from its early days as a retail bakery to its expansion into wholesale and cake design, which is a recent service spearheaded by Henri Oftana’s sister, Christine Rosario.
Henri Oftana attributes the success of his company to a few choice bits of wisdom from his father who has lived with a particular mindset to provide for his family, do what he needs to get it done and to be a man of his word.
These lessons have been passed down the family’s lineage to Henri Oftana and his four sisters, who, except one, work in the bakery business.
When Tim Oftana first arrived on Guam, the goal was to provide for the family, but many years later the patriarch stands to serve the community as well, Henri Oftana said.
“The consensus I get from our customers is that we are able to take care of them at a moment’s notice, and I think it has a lot to do with us being a family-oriented business,” he said.
As a wholesaler, the bakery assists other local bakeries that can’t supply their own customers.
It gets to the point where they ask for our help and we step in and help them out. Because volume is what we do and the family is what helps bring it together.
In the past, others have helped the business pull through the difficult years, he said.
“So there’s no reason for us not to help them out,” he added.
In addition to family members,the bakery employs some 40 workers from the Micronesia region and the Philippines.
Once the business expands to its other location, Henri Oftana anticipates bringing more people into the company.
With the military buildup, and as more competition is expected to rise across the board, the Guam Bakery will focus on improving its service to customers, he said.
In the island’s current economic situation, customers are constantly demanding cheaper prices for the same quality of bread and pastries, which has posed a challenge for the bakery.
“Depending on what it is, we will always try to meet you half way, but I’m not going to give it to you for free,” Henri Oftana said. “I got to pay someone to do these things, but we will always try to serve you better and we will always try to give you the best product and cost for it.”
by Shaun Bevan, The Pacific Marketplace, Guam Pacific Daily News, May 2011