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The Bay Area’s Famous ‘Pinay Pie Lady’ Gears Up for One Last Christmas Bake Sale

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Overhead view of slices of custard pie on white plates, with gifts wrapped in green wrapping paper in the background.
Sweet Condesa's bibingka pie is inspired by a kind of coconut rice cake that's traditionally eaten for Christmas in the Philippines. (Courtesy of Rezel Kealoha)

For hundreds of Bay Area Filipinos, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without holiday pie — and not just any pie, but one of Sweet Condesa’s Filipino-inspired pies, which come in nostalgic seasonal flavors like bibingka and queso de bola.

Owner Melody Lorenzo, the Bay Area’s self-styled “Pinay Pie Lady,” says the end-of-year holidays have always been Sweet Condesa’s busiest time. But this Christmas season will also be bittersweet: It’ll be the Filipino dessert shop’s last-ever holiday pie sale before it transitions from being a bakery business into more of a consulting agency next summer.

In other words, this might be the last year you’ll be able to secure an ube pie for your holiday table, short of having to bake one yourself.

Sweet Condesa’s graham-cracker-crust custard pies have enjoyed cult favorite status in the Bay ever since the pandemic turned Lorenzo’s baking side hustle into a full-time business. But the past year has been particularly difficult, Lorenzo explains. She’d moved Sweet Condesa from Oakland to the old Tselogs location in San Francisco’s Mission District with the idea of setting up an in-person storefront — but then city inspectors wound up nixing that plan. To make up for that loss, Lorenzo redoubled her efforts on the events and wedding catering side of her business. But it has been slow going.

A Filipina woman seated on a staircase poses for a portrait. The text on the front of her pink sweatshirt reads, "100% Pinay".
Melody Lorenzo has been running Sweet Condesa as a full-time business since the start of the pandemic. (Courtesy of Hillary Jeanne Photography)

“I don’t know if it’s because of inflation, but [business] is not the same compared to the past,” she says. “Sales are down.”

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And so, after having spent the last three years of the pandemic grinding away to keep the bakery afloat, Lorenzo says she’s going to reboot the business when her lease runs out at the end of July. Instead of selling baked goods herself, she wants to step outside the kitchen and turn Sweet Condesa into a resource for other aspiring small business owners, especially folks of color. Part of that will take the form of consulting and mentorship. She’d like to help other bakers who are new to the industry draft their business plans and navigate the permitting process. She’ll assist with recipe development and conduct baking and dessert decorating workshops. Eventually, she’d like to write a cookbook.

“Sweet Condesa isn’t going anywhere,” Lorenzo says. “It’s just sad that there’s not going to be holiday pies.”

A graham cracker crust pie topped with black glutinous rice, shredded coconut and sesame seeds.
The puto bumbong pie comes topped with shredded coconut, sesame seeds and muscovado sugar. (Courtesy of Rezel Kealoha)

For her final big “Pasko,” or Christmas, dessert drop, Lorenzo has brought back all of her signature holiday pies, which draw inspiration from the items you would find at any traditional Filipino Christmas feast. There’s the bibingka pie, inspired by the steaming-hot coconut rice cakes that vendors in the Philippines sell after Christmas mass. There’s a savory-sweet pie that features queso de bola, a cheese that Filipinos traditionally eat for Christmas, and another one that incorporates the flavors of the purple steamed rice cakes known as puto bumbong. Sweet Condesa’s year-round classics will also be available — the tangy-sweet calamansi pie (the highlight of my family’s socially distanced Thanksgiving 2020) and, of course, the neon-purple ube pie. All of the pies have a cold custard base and a graham cracker crust.

This year, Lorenzo is also selling of mixed baker’s dozen of Pasko cookies, including a gingerbread-adjacent cookie that includes pieces of dried Philippine mango, a cookie inspired by Filipino hot chocolate and an “ube pie” cookie — a happy accident that Lorenzo created when she had to repurpose a less-than-aesthetic batch of pies.

A plate of Christmas cookies surround by presents and other holiday-related decorative paraphernalia.
Lorenzo’s Christmas cookies incorporate Filipino ingredients such as dried mango and ube. (Courtesy of Sweet Condesa)

As Sweet Condesa’s post-bakery life nears, longtime customers will have to take solace in the fact that they’ll still have access to Lorenzo’s desserts for about eight more months. Even after the holiday pie sale ends, customers will still be able to order pies and other sweet treats online, for pickup and home delivery, twice a month. The desserts are also available three days a week at Abanico Coffee Roasters in the Mission. And Lorenzo will continue to do events catering and occasional afternoon tea pop-ups over that same time period, before she closes the books on this chapter of her business.

“I still want to do a lot of weddings,” she says.

Sweet Condesa’s Christmas pre-sale is open for online ordering from now through Dec. 19. Pickup at the bakery’s Mission District headquarters (518 S. Van Ness, San Francisco) will take place on Friday, Dec. 22 and Saturday, Dec. 23. Limited home delivery is available for Dec. 21–22.

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