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Cult Favorite Filipino Dessert Pop-Up Opens First Storefront in Union City

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a tray of ube-flavored cannolis with pistachio crumbs
As a pop-up, Macs By Icky went viral with their variety of Filipino-forward desserts, like ube cannoli. (Courtesy of Victoria Sablan)

If any food craze has grown since the start of the pandemic, it’s the deliciously colorful injection of everyone’s favorite Filipino ingredient: ube. In recent years, the yam has made its purply splash in sourdough bread, lemonade, tres leches cake, cookies, grilled cheese sandwiches and good old-fashioned American holiday pies.

As writer Jessica Reyes put it in a recent Paste article, “Ube isn’t exactly the newest food trend anymore, but it’s getting more popular by the year.”

Among local foodmakers serving the sweet treat, Macs By Icky’s creativity has stood out. The modest Union City pop-up has set trends with out-of-pocket desserts like its ube cannoli, ube muddy mix and — its biggest viral creation — the ube choco taco.

Now, the shop’s Filipino purveyors have been rewarded for their culinary ingenuity and community amplification with their first brick and mortar: Macs By Icky Cafe. The  new storefront will have its grand opening in Union City on Saturday, Jan. 13, after a limited test run at the end of December.

Three ice cream tacos in assorted flavors.
Macs by Icky is known for its Bay Area take on the famous Klondike’s Choco Taco. The frozen treats are available in several flavors — including, most strikingly, a version that features crushed pistachios and ube ice cream (right). (Courtesy of Macs by Icky)

Macs By Icky began as a home kitchen project when Victoria Sablan casually made a batch of ube-infused treats to give to her pharmacy staff during National Nurses Week. After an explosion of requests for more, she launched the business as a side hustle with her husband, Frank, in 2019.

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“We couldn’t keep up with the demand at first. People [would] hunt us down at pop-up events,” Sablan says. Eventually, her passion grew into a regular pop-up series at Union City’s Birdhaus dubbed “UC The Vibes.”

The menu at the new cafe will feature many of the sugary items that initially put Macs By Icky on the map, including the aforementioned choco tacos. But the Sablans are also adding new desserts, beverages and even savory bites to the mix. New items include calamansi iced tea, cinnamon sugar croissant waffles, ube-vanilla swirl soft serve, dragon fruit lemonade, espresso drinks and tocino Spam sliders.

a breakfast sandwich with melting cheese displayed on a table
For the first time, Macs By Icky will be serving breakfast sandwiches and other savory items. (Courtesy of Victoria Sablan)

Of course, traditional Filipino favorites like halo-halo and pandasal will be copiously supplied as well. And for hypebeasts who enjoy being well fed, there will be a commemorative merch drop from Who Cares? Supply Co. (the prótegés of Bay Area Filipino streetwear savant, Mike Liwang) on opening day.

The cafe is poetically located inside the Loyola Building, a historic building for local Filipinos that formerly housed Paddy’s Coffee Shop, which Sablan frequented as a teenager. The Sablans first pursued the space on a whim in September of 2023, after being encouraged by friends. The couple didn’t anticipate starting the New Year with a new storefront, but when one thing led to another, they found themselves signing a lease on the same exact day as their dating anniversary.

At a time when restaurants and small businesses seem to be struggling more than ever, it’s an encouraging sign to see Macs By Icky — a homegrown, DIY operation in an overlooked East Bay suburb — taking a major step forward.

a young Filipino couple stands in their newly opened cafe
Victoria Sablan and her husband, Frank, celebrate their opening of Macs By Icky Cafe in Union City. (Courtesy of Victoria Sablan)

Perhaps the only thing sweeter than ube right now is the Sablans’ commitment to giving their hometown something to be proud of. They’ve already received tremendous community support throughout their announcement and soft opening, and they’re grateful for the love they’ve gotten from their diaspora and beyond.

“It feels right because it’s what we know, what we grew up around,” Sablan says. “We are grateful for the community that stands behind us. [The Loyola Building] is truly a gem in Union City. It’s a historic Filipino building in our city and we wanted to keep that history going.”

Macs By Icky Cafe (3900 Smith St., Union City) will host its grand opening on Sat., Jan. 13, from noon to 5 p.m. RSVP here.

KQED Live’s “Desserts and DJs” event on Wednesday, Feb. 14, will feature Macs By Icky, as well as other Filipino food makers and DJs. Tickets here.

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