Running a Food Business

When you hate figures as a mass communication student, many say it’s not only normal. Some joke it’s expected. So if to follow logic, no mass communication graduate should run a business. But running a business is not merely about math. It’s also about the people you work and share a vision with.

Thankfully, I did not flunk my math subjects in college. At least that justifies a potential in running a business.

As a kid, I associated business with the halo-halo from Bading’s that my grandmother would buy for me whenever I sat beside her at the cash register. Those moments when my grandfather would bring me to Brix for my school uniforms and to Abian for my pair of Alex. Later on, I learned more about business. How it helped my grandfather put through college some of my grandmother’s nieces. How he made access to goods convenient for my grandmother’s fellow public school teachers. And how he generously provided for the people who worked for him in his rice and corn mill, the first to be established in Dumaguete.

Then came college. My mother opened a carinderia. It was to me and my brother simply a place of refuge for our growling stomachs. We operated on a skewed concept of supply and demand – we ate almost every supply that our appetites demanded. We did not realize the rigors of running a business, until my mother had a stroke. A few years earlier, my father, who was a lawyer, had the same fate.

Fully knowing how that carinderia helped put food on our table, I took over. It was a struggle. Going to the market early in the morning, ensuring sales would be enough to pay for the personnel, putting in some personal funds when what was left was not enough to buy the raw ingredients for the operations the next day, and doubling as a cook whenever the cook got sick and couldn’t report. I learned it the hard way.

 

But through it all, while the figures mattered, the motivation came more from a heart that was aware of the need to keep the business going – not only for my family but for the people in my team. It was losing. I had to be creative and capitalistic.

Every time we had acquaintance parties in college, I would be asked to cook a dish or two. I saw an opportunity in this – along with the growing exasperation of students with cafeteria food. It was simple math: I should be left with money more than what I had spent. What started with my mother’s collection of Pyrex and Tupperware eventually grew to cheap chafing dishes and utensils. With the help of friends in other student councils, I penetrated the other colleges. I was driven by sheer passion and excitement.

My most unforgettable was in 2002, while still in my third year, when I prepared packed dinner for 800 students from the College of Nursing! More than the worry about the production was the nauseating paranoia that someone might complain of food poisoning. Food had to be packed not too soon that it gets spoiled and not too late that we miss the party. It was a family affair. Someone would push the long line of styro packs from behind, for the people in front to start pouring in the viands. Another pair would seal then arrange the food packs in boxes. Remarkably, we did it – with common sense and teamwork. Thankfully, everybody survived.

Now, I manage a full-scale restaurant, Captain Ribbers, along Silliman Avenue, across the historic Silliman Hall. It specializes in ribs and is proudly the home of Dumaguete’s boodle fight. It is owned by the family of my best friend, the Uy Matiaos. When I was invited years ago to join the business, we knew that more than the service and great food, our frontline and kitchen personnel needed to feel that tug at the heart. They had to move in the same direction with us and be convinced that the success of our restaurant is much about them as it is about us.

My partners and I in Captain Ribbers know that our vision for the restaurant does not rest with us. It has to be built around the people we work with, the same people we want to benefit from its realization. More than profit – which is important – we know that running a business is equally about the heart that you put into it and the relationships you nurture and continue to make along the way.

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