It took $20 for Maria Leyesa to see her future.
Leyesa had been working as an occupational therapist for three years when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Her Instagram account, Foodologie (the study of food), at the time was dedicated to highlighting restaurants and food she had made for fun. But working three different jobs didn’t give her a lot of time to be active on the account.
When the world shut down, she decided—like many others—to learn how to bake.
“I’ve always had a huge sweet tooth,” Leyesa said. “At the time we didn’t really know when things would re-open, or if, and I was worrying, like, ‘What if these places close? I need to learn how to bake.'”
She documented her journey baking one chocolate chip cookie a day (and sometimes more than one a day on weekends) on her Instagram account, a tangible marker of her improving skills. Leyesa was baking so much that she shattered her oven door from overuse and was giving away tons of baked goods to her friends, family and co-workers.
They expected her to start selling them, but Leyesa didn’t feel she had the right to.
“Call it imposter syndrome, but I didn’t feel like I had the right to sell with no baking experience,” Leyesa said.
But when a friend of a friend asked to buy a vegan, gluten-free chocolate tart in May 2020, she said yes.
Her first customer pulled up to the street of her small studio apartment, lowered her window, and paid the $20 Leyesa charged, despite the cost of materials and labor being much more. But despite the financial loss, that $20 set Leyesa on a path that led her to leasing a small, roughly 500-square-foot shop, just off Belmont Shore’s famed Second Street.
“That moment, walking back (to my apartment), looking at money—the cash spoke volumes,” Leyesa said. “I made money on something I made with my very own hands.”
Leyesa posted on her Instagram account, which had steady audience growth since she began posting her baking journey, that she would begin selling her baked goods, and people were immediately receptive.
“It’s been been constant orders since that day,” Leyesa said.
Foodologie will mainly be a cookie and brownie bakery, featuring staples like The Chocolate Chip, The Churrodoodle, Salted Toffee Chocolate and Ube Brownie. Leyesa hopes to include a rotating cookie of the month and a baked good of the week. She plans on adding a strawberry and matcha brownie to the menu.
And while the term “small business” can mean different things, Foodologie fits the bill. Leyesa runs her own social media account, which—up until signing for a physical space—served as her storefront. And, until recently, she was the only employee. She now employs three women to help her meet demand.
The decision to open a physical store was not a desire; it was a need.
“Multiple people said don’t (get a brick-and-mortar),” Leyesa said.
So, at first, she worked out of a shared kitchen space, which meant she had to pay to make and bake the orders in the kitchen by the hour, and she had partnered with local businesses, like the Hi-Lo Liquor Market, where customers could buy her baked goods in stores.
While the arrangement worked for a while, it didn’t allow her time to experiment with new recipes, and with the amount of orders she had coming in, she outgrew the kitchen and reached a plateau in the business.
The brick-and-mortar was the clear next step.
“People love eating a cookie a week old,” Leyesa said. “I can’t imagine how much they’ll love it fresh out of the oven. That became my dream.”
It was a dream that for a while didn’t seem real. Leyesa immigrated with her family from the Philippines at just 2 years old in 1993 to Glendale before eventually settling in Rancho Cucamonga. She moved with her husband, Tony, a carpenter, to Long Beach two years ago.
Filipino families, especially immigrants, tend to push their children into the medical field, Leyesa said. While she genuinely loved being an occupational therapist, the cultural pressure to pick a career that’s stable and financially secure—which the food industry is notoriously not—felt scary.
But her culture, which momentarily felt at odds with this decision to give up her previous career to pursue her business, is also a huge part of the business itself.
Her ube (a purple yam that’s sweet with a mild, but familiar vanilla, nutty taste, pronounced “ooh-beh”) brownie was created with her mom in mind, who tends to gravitate toward Filipino flavors. And the homage was a clear success; her mom began sharing the brownies with coworkers and friends, and at Leyesa’s pop-ups like the one she had at 2ND & PCH, she was excited to introduce customers to the Filipino staple—a gateway of sorts to Filipino cuisine.
Aside from the success that has allowed Leyesa to open a physical store, her online presence caught the attention of Magnolia Network’s (owned by Warner Brothers and Chip and Joanna Gaines of “Fixer Upper” fame) Silos Baking Competition.
Leyesa filmed in Texas for five days as a contestant in the competition. The episode can be watched on Max, Magnolia Network or Discovery Plus. She didn’t win, but the experience was one more marker that she is exactly where she needs to be.
Foodologie is expected to open in July.