Dabawenyo food entreps adapt to Covid-19 pandemic

By : Rudolph Ian Alama Mindanao Today/09:32:58pm 09/06/2021


Dorothy Ibañez of BLK21.

DAVAO CITY – The Covid-19 pandemic has been a game changer to businesses. Entrepreneurs are forced to adapt to shifting demands of the business.

The strict implementation of health protocols like social distancing, changing quarantine statuses have forced enterprises to be flexible to the times.

For young business persons Melissa Zapanta and Dotty Ibañez who are hands-on in running their respective food businesses, the pandemic has forced them to innovate to keep up with the challenges.

Dotty Ibañez of BLK21

BLK 21 is a popular home cafe which offers their signature authentic Singaporan Laksa.

Also, brisk sellers are their takoyaki, chimichanga, durian pies and coffee.

Telephone inventor Alexandar Graham bell once remarked that when door closes, another one opens.

And that can be said of 32-year-old Dorothy "Dotty" Ibañez, who just this year opened home-based pop-up cafe BLK21.

Dotty worked as an international flight attendant until when the pandemic struck.

With the global downtrend on tourism which affected air travel, she had to give up her wings.

“I’ve always dreamt to have a cafe and resto of my own. I am such a foodie and with my flying career as a cabin crew, it gave me the opportunity to try and explore different delicacies from all over the world,” Dotty recalls her dream of opening up a cafe which she fulfilled when she returned to Davao.

“The ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) and staying at home gave me the chance to spend more time with my family and cook our favorite dishes. It also gave me the time to learn more about coffee and its origins—from seed to cup. And… that’s when we decided to start a pop-up cafe here in our village,” Dotty said.

The gamble paid off as people flocked to their home in Guadalupe Village, Lanang, Davao City.

The Lanang district is home to subdivisions surrounded by malls and offices of business process outsourcing (BPO) companies.

Dotty is joined by her family who helps in the kitchen, her mother Margaret bakes the much-loved Durian pies while sister-in-law Joyce makes her specialty nachos.

BLK21 coffee are made from beans sourced from coffee farms near the foot of Mt. Apo.

Dotty emphasizes the role of social media in creating awareness to her business.

She tapped her friends and clients to share their good word on the food and coffee they tried.

She religiously updates the social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram sharing the reviews of friends and clients.

And this strategy has served well as word-of-mouth spread through social media.

She finds the health protocols and the community quarantine status as a challenge as they had to strictly adhere to it.

The cafe has a limited seating capacity and to prevent overcrowding advance booking is required and no walk ins.

“We schedule their dining by timeslots. For example, there are those we schedule for 5 p.m. then another customer is scheduled for 7 p.m., those who prefer staying at home, we also offer deliveries via third party riders or they may order in advance for takeaways or pickups,” Dotty said.

Melissa Zapanta of Kaizen Davao

Kaizen Japanese Street Dining established in 2017 is a popular dining spot in the city but with the pandemic and changing quarantine status particularly when Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ) was declared over the City, they had to adjust on the fly.

For Kaizen owners Melissa, 34 and chef Dana, 47 it means transforming their workforce into a productive and streamlined team.

“We needed to cut back on our manpower recruitment and cease hiring so we can give more hours to our present workforce. We offered increase in salary increment to our tenured employees so they become motivated producing quality output in their craft,” Melissa said of their adjustments.

Melissa also fine-tuned the company for it to be flexible and adaptive

“We've maximized our operating hours to service more diners especially in late evenings, which both benefited our customers and employees. We've empowered our officers to have their strategic plan structure ready at all times in case the government will switch to several lockdown so the whole team can shift fast in case the LGU declares a certain lockdown status,” she said.

One of their innovative strategies is launching a pop-up truck, a mobile kitchen serving their specialties such as ramen and sushis.

The truck can go to places and quickly set up a mobile diner thus expanding their clientele.

Melissa said the curfews are affecting their business as their clientele would love to take a chow at their brightly lit place on late evenings.

The pop-up truck would eventually attract the market lost by the imposition of the curfew.

For entrepreneurs like them, Melissa gives these three tips – “remain calm at all times, stay healthy in mind, body and spirit to keep going and above all, never panic.”

“It's serving us well, to remain sound and sharp in our decision making both in our personal lives and in business,” Melissa says.

Zea Chua of BAD Cookie

BA Cookie is a flavor forward home-based bakery business specializing in unique flavors of cookies which counts mango float, blue cheese, bibingka among its flavors in its wide range of cookie line.

Set up by 31-year-old Zea Chua during the pandemic – “I've been baking since elementary but it was only during the pandemic when I started selling. I started by the name moodybakerdvo and started selling ube cheese cupcakes and brownies.”

Zea recalls that last year a friend inquired about cookies and it made her to research and work on in creating cookies and started with a base recipe, she later then added new flavors and realized that no one in Davao City is selling New York style cookies. “That is why Big and Delicious (BAD) Cookie was born," she said.

Since she started during the pandemic there was not really much adjustments, except for a time when baking ingredients was limited in the market as many people ventured into baking.

Zea said she went online shopping to get her supplies.

Currently, BAD Cookie has a steady following of clients wanting a taste of their big and flavorful cookies, the orders are either picked up or delivered.

Zea said entrepreneurs must have the passion and motivation to run their businesses amidst rough roads and challenges.

“What inspires me and keeps me going are the people who keeps on believing in me,” she says.

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