Chicago’s Filipino Boom Continues With a New Bakery Near Seafood City

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J and L Photography/Umaga Bakehouse

Umaga Bakehouse will bring empanadas, pandesal and more to the Northwest Side

Bakers and spouses Robert and Kissel Fagaragan say they can predict the future — at least when it comes to local hospitality.

The owners of Umaga Bakehouse, a new bakery specializing in Filipino baked goods, the Fagaragans feel confident that the country’s distinctive baking tradition will dominate the next phase of Chicago’s Filipino American restaurant boom. They’ll open the bakery on Friday, April 12 at 4703 W. Foster Avenue across from Seafood City, the pan Asian supermarket with a robust selection of Filipino goods. The bakery’s name means “morning” in Tagalog.

At nearly 4,000 square feet, Umaga is touted as one of the largest Filipino bakeries in the U.S. Local designer Aida Napoles of AGN Design (also behind the design at West Town’s Diego and Mag Mile’s The Evie) who’s opted for warm earth tones with modern touches like bronze tile. To capitalize on natural morning light, Umaga is equipped with floor-to-ceiling windows, and the team commissioned a custom-milled s-shaped wooden table to serve as both a display centerpiece and provide seating for 10.

“I feel like the Filipino bakery is up next in the Chicago scene,” says Kissel Fagaragan. She’s watched with excitement as locals have embraced hits like Michelin-starred Kasama, Boonie’s Filipino Restaurant, and Bayan Ko. “It’s been very motivating [to see] that Filipino dishes are starting to get popular. But I feel like Filipino bread is still a secret, so we want to bring that full force.”

The Fagaragans feel strongly about honoring the techniques and traditions of Filipino baking while placing these baked goods in a contemporary space that’s appealing to both novices and experts — “the Filipino bakery reimagined,” Kissel Fagaragan says.

That means customers can count on staples like hot pandesal, a yeast-raised roll that’s ubiquitous in the Philippines, and fluffy ensaymada, a popular brioche pastry based on a Mallorcan treat of the same name. The Filipino version is distinctive from the original, evolving over 300 years of Spanish colonization. The couple put a lot of effort into perfecting Umaga’s ensaymada and say they’re finally happy with a version they can call their own — one that’s “soft, moist, not too crazy sweet.”

Those seeking a sugar rush will have plenty of options including sans rival, a layer cake of buttercream, meringue, and chopped cashews; and pan de coco, a sweet roll stuffed with coconut and molasses. The couple also promises plenty of ube-infused delicacies, plus halo-halo and a collection of savory pastries like longanisa rolls, menudo buns, and crispy Ilocos empanadas.

The couple’s commitment to a legacy of Filipino baking has roots that go deeper than cultural heritage — both spent their childhoods working (and playing) in their respective family bakeries. Born on the West Coast, Kissel Fagaragan vividly recalls Kissel’s Bakery, the small bakeshop her parents owned in Lancaster, California. “That was my playground, [and] that’s where I saw the hard work that they did,” she says. “It definitely gave me a work ethic early on and the passion to do this.”

Kyle smiles and rolls dough.
The Fagaragan’s four-year-old daughter Kyle joins her parents in Umaga’s kitchen.

Her husband, Robert Fagaragan, a native of the Philippines’ Ilocos Norte Province, also recalls learning to make bread alongside his father in the small bakery he ran out of their home. He remembers getting up in the wee hours with his dad and riding his bike through the neighborhood hawking fresh-baked bread. After emigrating to the U.S. at 17, he would eventually find a job as a cleaner in a bakery in Sacramento, California — a move that would prove fortuitous, as that’s where he met his wife and reconnected with the joy baking brought to his childhood.

The couple took a leap of faith and moved to Chicago in 2018 to pursue new job opportunities. They fell in love with the city and are particularly excited about Umaga’s prime vantage point amid the Northwest Side Filipino community. They hope its proximity will draw shoppers from Seafood City (and away from Filipino powerhouse Jollibee). The morning commuters from the nearby Edens Expressway also present another potential source of customers.

But most of all, however, they’re delighted to be creating new baking memories with a new generation: their 4-year-old daughter Kyle.

“She’s very hands-on and loves to work with Play-Doh, so with dough, she’s even more excited,” says Kissel Fagaragan. “But as much as we’d love for her to take over [Umaga Bakehouse] one day, we’re happy with whatever she wants to do — as long as she’s happy.”

Umaga Bakehouse, 4703 W. Foster Avenue, Scheduled to open Friday, April 12.

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