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The Chamorro Jawbreaker

Here’s a thing I wrote in 2015 for Island Time magazine about Tita’s Bakery and guguria:

In 1965, Mariquita “Tita” Leon Guerrero was a young wife and mother who also worked as a cashier at a local market. Although Tita and her husband Ben earned enough money to live comfortably, Tita often dreamt of ways she could earn more in order to save for their children’s education. That’s when she began making guguria using a family recipe she learned from her mother that had been passed down from her grandmother.

Guguria is a much-loved local treat that is practically an icon among Chamorro confections. Sometimes called “the Chamorro jawbreaker,” these small, hard sugar-coated cookies are made with just three ingredients: flour, sugar and coconut milk. While most Chamorro families made guguria at home for personal consumption, Tita’s Bakery was the first to bring guguria into mass production and retail sales.

Seven days a week, Tita would rise at 2:00AM to make cookies that had been ordered by family and friends. Her husband Ben helped by mixing dough and collecting fresh coconuts from the jungle. After school and on weekends, Tita’s two daughters would sell door-to-door to neighbors and office buildings. It was truly a family business and this was the family’s routine for several decades.

Since those early days, the small family bakeshop, which began in a humble 12×14-foot room, has expanded in size and production, going from 10-15 lbs of flour daily to over 250 lbs daily. In the early days, everything in the process of making guguria was done by hand. “My husband would grate the coconuts and mix the dough before we were able to afford a dough mixer. We did not take any loans for our business. We made do with what we had,” said Tita. Over the years Tita saved money and used it to purchase machines; some of the machines were even designed by her husband.

With money she made from guguria, Tita was able to send both of her daughters to college in the U.S. mainland. One of her daughters, Genny, followed in her mother’s footsteps and now operates her own bakery business called “Tita Jr.” which specializes in contemporary Guam cookies. Tita is proud to say that her bakery and residence in Santa Rita was built with guguria money. It sits next door to the original one-room bakery.

Today, Tita’s guguria is one of the most recognizable and best-selling Made on Guam products and is available islandwide, from small mom and pop and convenience stores to supermarkets and upscale shopping houses such as T-Galleria Guam. Tita’s Bakery even filled an order for guguria requested by the White House shortly after President Bill Clinton’s visit to Guam in 1998.

At age 77, Tita still wakes up early every morning to make cookies and enjoys making personal deliveries and meeting her customers. She says her passion to continue making guguria every day is driven by her love and commitment to the work. Tita says her secret to success is, “Good product, a lot of hard work and love. You have to love what you’re doing. I never wake up thinking ‘Why do I have to do this?’ No, this is my job.”

Over the years, Tita Leon Guerrero has been honored with many prestigious awards for the success of Tita’s Bakery. In 2015, Tita’s Bakery celebrated its 50th Anniversary.

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