We had the good fortune of connecting with Kristine de la Cruz and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kristine, looking back, what do you think was the most difficult decision you’ve had to make?
The most difficult decision we’ve ever had to make was when we decided to sell our second location. While it was not a mirror of our brand, we were directly attached to it since it showcased our products and had begun with a great start because of our desserts. The business was a joint venture and while we had delays in opening and had underestimated the starting budget due to construction set backs, we had a phenomenal first year of business that had blown our original projections out of the water. Despite this successful start, there were a number of things that led to our eventual selling of the business 2 years later. One, we were in the hole because of our late opening, so we had eaten into our starting budget. Two, while the overwhelming sales was fantastic, in reality, we were not prepared to logistically keep up with the pace and at the time we had overstaffed and paid more for supplies (increased COGs). Two of the main costs you keep controlled to maintain a profit. But it was a good problem to have and we eventually would have figured it out, but the final clincher was immediately after our first year in business. Our landlord had started construction on our building without notice. We had to deal with scaffolding around the building making our shop look closed, closure of our parking lot that is a prime advantage in the neighborhood for any retail store, and for six months we effectively lost any lead we made in the first year. Our sales went down by 50%. This on its own would have made any new business fail, but we kept going as best as we could. Construction on the building was completed and sales came back, but the damage had already been made and it was hard to gain momentum. Had this been our sole business, I think we would have stuck it through, but since we were managing not only this shop, but our original business as well, we, along with our partner at the time, had decided to sell the business. It was a difficult decision because we had investors that we had to answer to and to go back to them and say we are going to close, was the most difficult thing I have done in our 10 years of business. In retrospect, while that was the toughest year of our lives, personally and in business, it inadvertently prepared us for doing business during Covid-19. We’re surviving and thriving as best as we can during these times, knowing that if we keep grinding and focus on our service, we will pull through.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Crème Caramel LA began in 2010 as a farmers market booth selling our custards using my family’s recipe of “Leche Flan” as our mother custard. Our “French Body, Filipino Soul” custards finally had a home in 2013 when we opened up our retail shop in Sherman Oaks. We’re proud to be celebrating 10 years in business (and 7 in our retail shop) when this fickle industry could have spit us out in the first year. My partner, Sean, and I work hard, literally every day to get the shop where it is today. Even when it was the hardest and it felt like we should just give up, the other person would rally and keep us going. In addition, we have been fortunate to have the best staff on our team. If it weren’t for the bakers that have worked with us the years and the front of house staff that are the face of our shop, we would have quit years ago. Our main focus is service. Service to the community, our staff, and customers. We know not everyone will like our food, but we hope that at the very least we treat each customer to the best service that we can give.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Los Angeles has THE BEST Filipino-American restaurants/bakeries in the nation. From first generation restaurants that are closer to cuisine from the Philippines to second generation that opens up the influence of the two cultures of both USA and the Philippines that influenced most of the newer restaurants, you can eat somewhere new each day and enjoy exciting food and flavors. Restaurants: The Park’s Finest, Oi Asian Fusion, HiFi Kitchen, Spoon & Pork, Maam Sir, Lasa, Petit Peso, L.A. Rose Cafe, Big Boi Tatang’s of North Hollywood, Max’s of Manila Jerry’s Grill, The Oinkster, Lobsterdamus, Bebot, Taste of the Pacific, Manopo Drinks, Kindness & Mischief Coffee, Genever Bar, Barkada Desserts Crème Caramel LA, FrankieLucy Bakeshop, Ninong’s Pastries, Cafe 86 B Sweet Wanderlust, Treat Yo Self Bakery, Laroolou Keyks Hopia Like It And there are so much more!!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
When we’ve felt the most stress and emotionally and physically drained running our business, it’s easy to feel like you’re on an island alone. That’s why the times I’ve had the opportunity to gather with other business owners and commiserate over our shared experiences had been valuable and rewarding knowing that we are not alone feeling this way. There are three groups that had helped me in this regard over the years, 10,000 Small Business Cohort 13 from Goldman Sachs, Small Business Majority, and Entrepinayship. A special shout out to Entrepinayship, led by Anna Marie Cruz that brings together Filipinx-American entrepreneurs to help lift each other up, as well as aspiring business owners, and support each other through workshops, mentors, and resources.
Yelp: Crème Caramel LA
Credit: Creme Caramel LA