Bay Area ube fanatics and Halloween enthusiasts rejoice: an annual baking competition returns to one of the Bay’s oldest restaurants this weekend. That’s thanks to 7 Mile House’s owner Vanessa Garcia, the eighth owner of the Brisbane shop and restaurant that was built way back in 1889 (before that, it was a toll gate). Garcia is proud of her Filipino heritage, so when she started the Ube BakeOff in 2019, it was as a way to celebrate October’s Filipino Heritage Month. Now the contest is in its third year, running from October 12 to 17, with customers flocking to the historic restaurant to sample ube treats. “Even before the ube craze we decided to hold a contest where we ask home bakers to compete,” Garcia says, “We’re just really happy we can help people with the 7 Mile audience. And the bakers are really good.”
The idea came from Garcia’s mom’s love of baking ube cheesecakes, a passion for about eight years. The four contestants this year are Ava Marie Romero with ube madelines, pop-up bakery Made by Grace with mo’ube mochi bars, custom cake baker Novela Bakes with ube kouign amann, and Sweet Pipers with ube buko pie. Now through October 17, customers can order a $16 sampler (four small portions of each) for dine-in only. The samplers are purchased from the bakers as Garcia says she doesn’t want the contestants to lose money. Customers get two voting ballots with a ranked voting option and a feedback section. “That’s important because they want to know how to get better, too,” Garcia says. The prize is a $100 gift card to 7 Mile and, more importantly, placement on 7 Mile’s menu for a month. Last year’s winner, Aleli Crutchfield’s ube tres leches cake, was so popular it never came off the menu. “My customers are worried the next champ’s item will take hers off the menu, but I say if there’s demand we’ll do both,” Garcia says.
At first, the reason for the competition was to highlight ube and Filipino culture, but Garcia says during the pandemic the goal became supporting pandemic-born businesses. Last year’s four competitors had three small businesses that started during the pandemic, and this year it's the same — all four competitors are either home cottage bakers or have a commercial kitchen set-up. “Now our mission is more than highlighting ingredients. It’s about promoting small creators to give them a leg up,” Garcia says. Crutchfield, last year’s winner, has seen a lot of money come in from the competition, Garcia says. Customers order entire cakes, and 7 Mile still buys from Crutchfield, too. Garcia estimates at least $10,000 dollars has come in from sales of the purple and white cake.
On October 20, 7 Mile will host a Great British Bake Off finale-style event at 6 p.m. with all the bakers’ family and friends there to announce the winner. If Garcia has it her way, that’s the way it’ll be for years to come — the first year only 40 samplers were made, last year it was 80, and this year it’ll be 130. “We’ll do this every year,” Garcia says “We’re about more than this food. It’s our history and our service.”