Meet Our Muse: Luanne Ronquillo

Meet our muse Luanne Ronquillo, the creative genius behind Ruru Baked — a Toronto staple. She shared with us ways in which she grows her business, her life and most importantly her community. 

Hi Luanne! Could you please introduce yourself to our MARY YOUNG community?

My name is Luanne Ronquillo and I am the founder and pastry chef behind Ruru Baked. We make custard based ice creams and baked goods in Toronto and people seem to really love it — so that's super cool.

Yes. I, I feel like I heard about it nonstop, from the minute you launched,it felt like you’ve been the hottest ice cream in Toronto, which is saying a lot, because I feel like people in Toronto are really crazy about ice cream.

I started Ruru Baked back in 2017. I was in a rough place and had low self-esteem at the time. One of my friends pushed me to make ice cream because we would watch the food network together and she would always ask me if I can make everything [laughs]. So I ended up making a batch of ice cream and it was really fun. And then I thought maybe I could finally use my pastry chef background since I had been working in corporate for so long. It was a huge boost having people telling me how good it was. At the time I thought, I’ve never really done anything like this for myself so maybe now is the time to try it. I started doing it slowly and another good friend of mine let me use her apartment to do all of the production out of, so that was great.

Wow. That's a nice friend.

Yeah, she's awesome. Ever since I've known her, she's been pushing me to work for myself and do something on my own. And this really made me feel good. 

Four or five years ago, everything was so corporate. I was working nine to six every day, on call. Everything was very money driven because I was in sales and it just wasn't that fun. And the clientele we were dealing with was very high maintenance and demanding. So making ice cream and baked goods and making people happy through something so small was very rewarding.

How was it during the lockdowns?

At first, I took a step back from the agency that I was at and took on Ruru Baked full time. But then things were so up in the air and no one knew how things were going, what was safe. Like, am I gonna put my supply chain at risk if I'm working and seeing them and, is it better for me to just shut down?

So then I shut down and didn't do anything for a month and a half. And then I started working on my own, going to the grocery store, getting my own supplies. So I wouldn't have to really see anybody. And we’d keep everything safe and clean and with as little interaction as possible, I’d sell pints out the door of the shop.

Yea I was 8 months pregnant around that time, and your ice-cream was a definite highlight for me. I’m embarrassed to tell you just how many pints of Black Sesame I consumed during that time.

[Laughs] I'm glad we could be there for you during your pregnancy.

You know what, there were very few things going right at that time. And that was a solid core memory. And it sounds like you were adaptable and positive throughout the craziness.

You have to be, I think. It's like what Bob Iger, former Disney CEO said, “Innovate or die.” If you don't adapt and change to the needs of whatever's happening, then your business just won't survive.

But on that note, I’m really bad at balancing burnout. I could be at the shop for like 12, 14 hours and not be tired. I’ll feel it the next morning, but then I'm ready to go again — but then I'll get sick and exhausted. I do have things that sort of balance it all out. I try to make sure that I get my exercise in every morning. I try to eat as healthy as possible although that can be really hard when you're working in a fast paced environment, but we're getting better at it at the shop by trying to have food that's healthy and available and quick to make, like salads and grilled chicken or whatever. But yeah, that's still a practice for me.

Do you feel like that's like the nature of the business or just like who you are as a person?

I think it’s who I am as a person and semi the nature of the business. I mean we have a fairly large team, nine of us and six for front of house; but the summertime… it's our busiest time of the year. But obviously people wanna have fun during the summer. So a lot of people ask for time off and if no one can cover them, I'm so bad about saying no, because I'm also thinking, you should have fun in the summer. So if you want the day off, I'm gonna give it to you, and maybe be the one covering the shift. And that could mean I do back of house from eight till four, and then I cover them from five till 10: 30. So it's like a mixture of the business and a mixture of just me not being able to say no and enjoying working. And really I'm also like, this is my business. If I want it to succeed, I have to do these things sometimes and sacrifice my time sometimes.

Right. But it sounds like you're also pretty good at making sure your employees are living fairly balanced work lives.

Yeah. I think I do it more for them than I do for me.

Well the business is your baby basically.

Exactly. Yeah. So I gotta be there for it. And that includes the team who nourish the business.

This month we’re looking at connections and I notice you seem to go out of your way to connect to the community you’re in. 

When we can, we will. We do a lot of research to ensure that we’re supporting the right causes as well. So right now we're doing a program where we just finished ice cream school with The Kickback and The Patchwork Collective where we taught six young women how to make ice cream. And then they came up with their own flavor and we're actually gonna be serving it this weekend. And then all the proceeds go back to the Kickback who do a lot of youth programming around the city and we do something with them every year. Last year we did a Filipino independence day thing and the proceeds went to two Filipino independent businesses in Toronto. But we always try to do something, like Adidas reached out to us to do an event and to sell pints and they were so generous. Usually we sell our pins for $12. And so what they said was they will discount each pint by $2. So they're only 10 bucks. So the customer only pays $10 and then they will donate $2 of each pint sale to a charity. And then we got to pick the charity. So it was cool. They gave our customers a deal, still paid us the $2, and then we donated everything.

That’s amazing, but why do this? Why donate?

Uh, I just feel greedy if I don't

Wow, what. 

Okay, if I'm making all this money, of course, like business wise, I'm doing the proper things. Like I'm saving money in the business so that we can reinvest in things and grow the money and you know, we have an emergency fund and whatnot, but then whenever we get a lot of money, my first instinct is always like give my people raises if we can and donate money. And I think it's just… like I'm not a capitalist. My goal isn't to be a millionaire, my goal was to just have freedom for myself when starting this business, which counterintuitively, when you're an entrepreneur it's not really that; time is not part of the freedom. It's just freedom of being able to make your own choices and decisions around you and not having to funnel it through someone else.

Exactly. And you're a creative. So that's a big part of it, I'm sure.

For sure. And I hate listening to other people tell me what to do. So that was the freedom part for me. But the money part, as long as I can live a very comfortable life, I have an idea of like the goal income that I wanna make, then I don't need much more beyond that. So if there is extra money, I either save it or I'll give it and that just makes me feel a little bit better.

That is a very good way to live your life.

And I'm not saying like, everyone needs to be donating money all the time, but you know, just be nice to the people around you and be active in whatever way you can help.

And what about for you? How do you indulge in self-care?

I love skincare. I have a lot of products, like not as many as, as most people do I'm sure. But I always make sure to double cleanse at night, the oil and the water based cleanser. And then I will usually —I used to do the 12-step and then it was too much — so I reduced it down to four steps. But always a toner, always a serum and then a moisturizer and sunscreen.

I also love taking hot showers at night. And this isn't probably great advice because I'm addicted to my phone, but I have one of those shower, phone holders. And I put my phone in and put on a K-Drama and take a scalding hot shower. 

Why have I never thought of this?

I don’t have a bathtub but I just need it at night to decompress and water is so soothing for me. What else…Honestly, a big thing for me lately has been learning how to talk to myself nicely.

Why has that changed? Or why have you decided to introduce that?

I think because with negative self-talk when you say, “I am this, I am that”, you will start to believe it. I used to have acne and I'd be so stressed and telling myself this all the time. And I would have anxiety about going out to certain things because like I had a zit on my face or if I was filming something for press or doing a photoshoot, I would be super self conscious. And I went on Accutane and that helped a lot. But even with my body, I have a really nice body, but I would constantly tell myself that my legs were fat or if I would get bloated even a little bit from eating pizza or bread, I'd say to my husband, oh, I'm fat. So I'm trying to practice getting better at just being like, I'm not fat. I just ate this thing that made me bloated. And if I just know how to eat so that I don't get bloated over the next few days, then I'll feel good about myself. And so now I just take a little bit more accountability for my choices. If I wanna eat pizza or whatever, cuz it's so delicious or if I wanna have pasta three days in a row, that’s fine, I know what the consequences are gonna be. I'm not gonna make myself feel guilty about it anymore. 

That’s a beautiful thing to learn. What do you think brought about that shift?

I think age, for sure. I work around a lot of young women and I'm like a godmother to two young women. And I think that it's good to just set a good example because I see so many young women around me struggling with this sort of thing too. And it's cyclical. The last thing I wanna do is be like, yeah, I feel fat too. We're all great. We're all beautiful people. And I don’t have to be another person feeding into that negative self-talk. 

Your confidence is so inspiring. When it comes to body positivity, what makes you feel good about yourself and the skin you're in?

I think that for me, when I know I'm actually taking care of myself, like exercising for instance. And when I say doing something active, sometimes it's five minutes of yoga, which could be like a child's pose and a squat. I'm not necessarily working out. I'm just stretching my body out so that it feels good for my day. I think as long as I'm being active and I know that I'm doing something for myself, it makes me feel good about the skin that I'm in and the body that I have. My work itself is really laborious, so lots of heavy lifting and using your arms and scooping and filling pints and chopping things. And I'm standing for ever. Like eight to 10 hours a day. Right now, I completely accept the body I’m in — and I feel really good about myself when I make sure that I'm doing things that make me feel like my body is gonna last me for a really long time.

Luanne is wearing the Cainan Tank, Mayes Bra and Moana Hip Bikini in Grey. 

Photography by Hanna Kim-Yoo

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