Tim M. Oftana owns five bakeries, with locations as diverse as Los Angeles, Guam and the Philippines, but he never forgets from where he came.
The 47-year-old owner of Guam Bakery in Dededo was born on the tiny island of Bantayan, north of Cebu in the Philippines, to a family of subsistence farmers who lived in a nipa hut and harvested corn with wooden plows pulled by water buffalo. “The basis of my success is always knowing where I come from,” Oftana said during a recent interview in Cebu at Tricia’s, his newest bakery. “I never forget. I always look back to where I came from, and that helps me go on.”
Making the long journey from provincial farmer’s sone to international businessman started with a simple realization, he says; “I saw the need for a higher education. I told myself I must get a good education to get away from this farm.” His older brothers and sisters received only an elementary school education before starting to labor on the farm. Oftana worked nights to put himself through Colegio de San Jose Recoletos in Cebu and earned a degree in chemical engineering, he went back to
Bantayan to work on a poultry farm. It wasnt’ until the early 1970s that he moved to Guam and opened a bakery, with those unlikely credentials.
But his wife’s family already lived on Guam, working in the clothing industry, and he saw the potential for a bakery that catered to Filipinos. “I started learning the baking business in Guam. Back then there were only two bakeries on the island, so we
saw the need of another one,” says Oftana. “It [Guam] was a different place, a lot of Quonset huts.” It was also fairly simple to start a business at the time. Oftana and his brother-in-law, Ambros Villo, who now operates Elite Bakery in Tamuning, started with $10,000 seed money and a building. “Back then it wasn’t hard to get assistance from the bank,” Oftana says. “It’s not like now that you need so much to start up.”
By 1977 Oftana had opened the Breadbasket Bakery in San Francisco, which now is owned by his sister. At about the same time he opened the Flower and Raisins bakery in downtown Cebu. It, too, since has been sold. In 1982 the Breakbasket in Sacramento, Calif., opened, followed by Golder Bakers in Los Angeles in 1987. That same year Oftana started Island Fresh Bakeshop in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, which incidentally opened with the same concept as Guam Bakery: Filipinos there had no bakery serving their specific tastes.Three months ago, Tricia’s Bakery opened in Cebu. In addition to his five bakeries, Oftana owns CMC Wholesalers, which sells baking ingredients to almost all the bakeries on Guam.
Oftana owns controlling interest in all five bakeries and handles the financial end of the businesses. Family members are involved in each of the bakeries as employees, managers and stockholders. In fact, family reasons were a prime incentive to open the new Cebu bakery, which grosses less than the other stores. “The thing is not money,” Oftana says of the Cebu bakery. “It’s how I can be of help to my relatives. Whenever there is a need, I always go back to where I came from. I came from a poor family, and I grew up with the help of relatives, so it’s my turn to help.”
The port Moresby bakery, and the Dededo and Los Angeles locations, are the most profitable in the chain. Though all of the bakeries operate in the black, the Sacramento outlet, like the Cebu store, is open for family reasons. “Sacramento is just there because my sister is there,” Oftana says. “But returns are not that great. We are looking at a community of very few Orientals, which most of our customers are.”
When not working, Oftana travels with his wife, Emily, with whom he will celebrate his 25th wedding anniversary on Oct. 29. They have five children, including his son, Henry, a 24-year-old former U.S. Marine; his oldest daughter, Elaine 22, a communications graduate at the University of California at Davis; Alice 19, and Christine, 18 who both attend Manila University; and his youngest child, Tricia, and eight-grader on Guam, for whom the new Cebu bakery is named.
Oftana also fills his spare time as president of Guam’s 6-year-old Cebu Association, which claims 65 Cebuanos families as members. The association meets monthly for a social and organizational meeting, with the fundamental purpose of providing support for members experiencing crises, such as deaths in the family. But the organization also has strictly social functions, such as plans to return to the Philippines as a group for the Cebu town fiesta in January.
Oftana also is active in the Catholic church and is a member of the Knights of Columbos on Guam.
by Floyd Whaley, Guam Business News, December 1991