Justin and Anna Camora left their homes as separate individuals in the Philippines thousands of miles away in search of a better life when a local firm went scouting for talent.
They landed jobs in T&T, later met, fell in love and got married. But when the couple was retrenched, they were forced to explore a second career option.
Refusing to give up or head back to the Philippines, the two decided to upgrade their skills and graduated from the University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus as pastry chefs in 2014. Soon after, they began operating their registered business–Sugarpop Sweets–out of their home.
Pleasantly surprised to find the weather in T&T was similar to what they were accustomed to back home, Justin said they were also grateful to find the fruits and vegetables were familiar. A perfect fit for their food business to flourish.
Determined to succeed, Justin said they began building their brand online as they accepted orders for special bread and cakes, mainly from their Filipino friends.
He revealed, "We really sold online for almost five years before we decided to diversify our brand."
Today, Sugarpop Sweets offers an array of bread, cakes, pastries, drinks and snacks. The signature flavours in their items include ube (purple yam), pandan (almond/vanilla extract), and yema (egg yolks and condensed milk).
Disclosing how they came up with the name, Anna laughed as she admitted “Sugarpop” was her pet name for her husband.
Operating out of a popular drug store along Independence Square, the happy couple said sales had been going very well prior to COVID-19. They continue to do business though things have slowed down.
Anna said, "When the locals try our stuff and we see the smiles on their faces, it’s a relief to us as we know they like it."
Prior to the arrival of their four-year-old son, Malachi, Justin and Anna both had specific duties as he was responsible for production whilst Anna handled sales. The two are jointly responsible for promoting their business via social media.
Justin said while they sometimes have creative differences regarding flavours and textures, it is not something they would allow to get in the way of growing their business.
Justin’s day begins at 2 am as he gets up to prepare the products daily, whilst Anna’s begins a bit later at 5 am as she is responsible for packaging and transporting the goods.
Residing in Belmont currently, Justin said, "When she leaves, I have to look after the house and see about our son. When he is in school, it is a bit easier.
"Sometimes we don’t see each other as our days are divided, but we make the time because it is important." Justin said their schedules are planned around their son.
Their hope is to expand the business by getting their products on the grocery shelves in the not too distant future.
He said social media allows them to keep in touch with their families back home in the Philippines, who are very supportive and always encouraging them to strive for better.
Having embraced T&T's culture which he said was similar to theirs, he added, "When we were new here, we struggled a bit with the communication because although we knew English, Trinidadians speak quickly but we adjusted."
The couple said some of their friends were surprised to see how much they had achieved.
Anna said, "I was very glad and happy and satisfied to see how you locals treated us. You opened your arms to us and you have let us serve you a different style of foods."
She said although there is a lot of local competition, they are always prepared to change up their game plan. However, she added that while some may not appreciate their attempts, she is not daunted by this and always has a smile on her face ready to serve the next customer.
Asked what her life plan had been, Anna said, "I had thought of working here in Trinidad and returning home one day. I never expected to meet my husband here and have a family here."
Having left the Philippines for the first time when she accepted the offer to come to T&T, Anna said she was scared, but it had been her dream to travel.
Crediting their faith as the foundation upon which they operate, she added, "We found Christ together and were baptised here."
The couple has been married for the past four years.
Anna said they are eager to help others succeed.
She said they had extended an invitation to other Filipinos who want to showcase their products. "We want them to do good and be known here in Trinidad. We are happy and glad that T&T has accepted us and we want to help others also."
Currently focused on supplying desserts to local Asian restaurants, Justin and Anna thanked locals for accepting them and giving them a chance to bring a different taste to the existing cuisine.