By Jim Bea Sampaga
Known for its rich violet-purple color, ube is a purple yam commonly used in Filipino desserts. Ube Halaya, a purple yam pudding, is a staple in every Filipino dessert and it’s especially used to top off a cold refreshing glass of Halo-halo.
Ube-flavored ice cream has been a trend for a few years now. Foodies rave about the ice cream’s unique bright violet-purple color and velvety taste. Most people associate ube with ice cream but Filipino-Americans Joy and Jeremy Jataas knew that ube is so much more capable than your typical ice cream. Although there weren’t many varieties of ube desserts in the market, the pair thought it would be great to mix their favorite dessert cheesecake with ube.
“The first several tries were absolute failures, but I had a motivation to perfect it because it was something that we somehow craved, but could not find anywhere,” said Joy, who was juggling perfecting her ube cheesecake while working and pregnant with her second child.
But in the spring of 2015, Joy finally perfected her signature ube cheesecake. Filled with excitement, Joy and Jeremy immediately shared the dessert with their friends and family who were so impressed they began ordering Joy’s ube cheesecake to bring to their own gatherings.
“We found ourselves taking orders from friends, co-workers, and even friends of friends [that] we put ourselves out on Instagram,” said Joy.
In 2015, the Jataases started UBAE in their home where they bake and pack orders for their customers. With the pronunciation of ube (oo-beh) similar to the babe slang term “bae,” it’s no wonder that UBAE is so catchy. But that’s not all, the business name is actually an acronym.
“It clicked in Jeremy’s head—UBAE: Ube Before Anything Else,” Joy explained. “The name UBAE described exactly what our business produced, which were ube-based products.”
UBAE eventually started delivering orders door-to-door, meeting customers in parking lots and joining street food events like the monthly Eat The Street event in Kaka’ako. In 2017, UBAE opened its brick-and-mortar store at City Square Shopping Center in Honolulu.
Aside from Joy’s signature ube cheesecake, UBAE also offers ube cheesecake tarts, ube crinkle cookies, ube soft-serve, ube chiffon cake, ube roll cake, ube mamon and flanbae—an ube chiffon cake topped with a creamy layer of leche flan.
When asked about her favorite UBAE product, Joy expressed her love for her signature ube cheesecake. “It was the product that started our ube-run business, and I have so many sentimental ties to it,” she shared. “From the struggle of perfecting the recipe, to the rewarding moments of watching your customers try the ube cheesecake for the first time—that feeling of satisfaction and gratification is something I always cherish.”
In recent years, the ube craze has been one of the most well-known food trends out there. In 2017, UBAE was featured in a video by Insider, an online media company based in New York. According to Joy, they were in the process of moving into their store when they were approached by Insider.
The Insider video titled “Ube cheesecakes” featuring UBAE was posted on Facebook in 2017 and has garnered over 2.4 million views. For Joy, it’s an opportunity that she will always be grateful for.
“A childhood friend later tagged me in the video posted by Insider on Facebook, and I was so overwhelmed with the views, likes, and comments, that I cried,” Joy shared. “It was a very emotional time for me because I felt like our hard work was coming into fruition for the world to see.”
Along with Insider, several media outlets such as Inquirer.net, Balitang America, the Star-Advertiser, Frolic Hawaii, Spoon Hawaii, Hawai’i Magazine, KHON2 and Hawai’i News Now have featured UBAE in their platforms. UBAE was also voted as Hawai’i’s Best Ube 2019, awarded by the Star-Advertiser.
Last month, Joy received the 2020 Young Filipino Entrepreneur of the Year from the Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii (FCCH). The judges for the award are: Andrea Caymo, Vice Consul at the Philippine Consulate General in Honolulu; Brandon Dela Cruz, former President of FCCH; Kyle Okamura, Chair of Hawaii Chamber of Commerce; Tiffany Salvador, President of Filipino Junior Chamber of Commerce; and Raymond Sebastian, FCCH Director.
According to Joy, she never expected to be recognized for such a prestigious award. “I am now, more than ever, so inspired to make a difference in the community and help other young leaders come up in the business world. Although I’m still fairly new to entrepreneurship, I am happy to help in any way I can,” she shared.
With the ube gaining popularity in the past few years, UBAE can be considered one of the bakeries that pioneered the ube food trend. “One of the reasons we started this business is because we felt there was a lack of ube desserts, especially in Hawai’i where we have a big community of Filipinos,” said Joy, who utilized social media as a marketing tool to reach more customers and signed up to many events as food vendors.
For Joy, what UBAE does with ube is only a small part of the wonderful world of Filipino cuisine. She hopes that UBAE represents Filipino people and culture. “We hope that the vibrant purple color of ube brings people curiosity and encourages them to try it, and eventually opens doors for them to try other Filipino food,” she added.
Staying rooted in Filipino culture doesn’t only stop at food. As Filipino-Americans, Joy and Jeremy make sure that their two children, seven-year-old Aria and four-year-old Reign, are actively learning their Filipino heritage. Joy shared that her children are learning Tagalog from her parents, YouTube videos, books and flashcards.
“In fact, Aria just ended her first grade dance project with an introduction to dancing tinikling,” she added. “Many Filipino’s are hard-working, resilient people, and we hope to keep modeling those traits and pass them on to our children. We teach them to stay rooted, and be proud of their culture and who they are.”
UBAE has also partnered with 7-Eleven and KTA Superstores to reach more customers in the State of Hawaii. They also offer shipping for Mainland U.S. customers.
Grateful for the opportunities they received as a small business, Joy hopes that someday they can open UBAE locations nationally and internationally.
“Now that we have our foot in the door and have tested the waters a bit, we are ready and hopeful for more wholesale accounts,” Joy added.
“To this day, we are proud to be the only bakeshop in Hawai’i whose products are solely ube-based. I mean, we are Ube Before Anything Else.”
UBAE is an ube-centered bakeshop located in City Square Shopping Center at 1284 Kalani Street, Honolulu. Follow them on Instagram (@ubae_hawaii) and Facebook (UBAE). Head over to ubaehawaii.com to learn more.