MANILA, Philippines - Instead of lady luck blessing her with a golden ticket to her own chocolate factory, Raquel Choa, a former "kasambahay", built hers from scratch.
|Raquel Choa of Ralfe Gourmet is featured on ABS-CBN's My Puhunan
"Mano-mano," Choa told Karen Davila on ABS-CBN's "My Puhunan," referring to the Filipino way of doing things with their own hands.
But everything didn't start out as sweet. Her humble beginnings resembled the bitter taste of chocolate nibs before they turn into the sweet confectionery that everyone loves.
Like Charlie Bucket from Roald Dahl's classic "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", Choa was born into poverty and was forced to sell candles and sampaguita on the streets as a child.
"Kung ano-ano lang talaga ginagawa namin basta mabuhay lang. Pag Biyernes, nagbebenta ako ng kandila. 50 centavos yung kuha and then piso ang benta," recalled Choa. "Yung sampaguita din."
At the age of 12, her grandmother took her from Cebu to Laguna to work as a kasambahay.
"Hindi naman ako natakot sa trabaho kasi akala ko yung buhay trabaho lang talaga," Choa tearfully confessed.
"Hindi ako naka-experience ng electricity sa probinsya so hindi ko alam kung anong gagawin ko sa plantsa," Choa added.
With the money she earned from working as a kasambahay, she went back to visit her parents in Cebu, who were hiding from debt collectors at their house in a squatters area.
"Hindi sila makalabas ng bahay dahil marami silang utang na kailangan bayaran," she said.
Going into chocolate biz
But like Charlie's family, it would be chocolate that would provide them refuge.
So Choa persevered, using her grandmother's recipe for tablea --those small circles of grinded cacao beans used to make chocolate drinks-- to experiment with the process of making chocolate.
She used the remaining P10,000 she had and bought a hundred kilos of cacao beans. And from then on, grinding, roasting and turning the beans into different kinds of chocolate herself, Ralfe Gourmet was born.
But a year on, Choa feared that boxes and boxes of unsold chocolate sitting inside their house, would waste away. Choa's chocolate was labeled as 'dirty chocolate' because chefs wouldn't believe the quality of processing her chocolates went through.
But today, Ralfe Gourmet uses around a thousand kilos of cacao beans every month and makes over 5,000 different kinds of chocolate that includes alfajores, tablea rice crispies, chocolate sticks, and tablea singles.
Ralfe Gourmet also supplies chocolate to various high-end local hotels, resorts and airports throughout the country.
With the success of Ralfe, Choa managed, along with her husband, to buy 33 hectares of cacao plantation at Cebu. Ralfe, today, makes around P200,000 per month.
Hidden away in Cebu, Choa's chocalate factory may not be as huge or as avant-garde as Willy Wonka's, but it is certainly more welcoming.
Visitors will find a cup of hot chocolate waiting for them as they enter Choa's humble abode turned chocolate factory rather than "Oompa-Loompas" and their sinister smiles.
Together, Choa lives with her husband, Alfred, and 8 children in their chocolate dream house, where the ceilings are painted with chocolate. The house, aside from being a chocolate factory, is also a mini-boutique restaurant.
Helping a kakanin seller
As part of My Puhunan's program of bringing together aspiring and established entrepreneurs, they took Choa to her old neighborhood in Laguna to meet Pilita Formales, a local "kakanin" seller.
Choa tearfully hugged her old friends and recalled the places she used to work as a "labandera."
When Davila asked Choa why she was crying, she answered, "hindi ko kasi aakalain na malalampasan ko ang buhay na mahirap."
Formales then shared how her mother taught her how to cook.
"Kahit walang trabaho ang asawa mo, kahit yan lang ibubuhay mo sa mga anak mo, makakaraos kayo," Formales recalled her mother's words.
Choa suggested that Formales add chocolate to her recipe and together they made a chocolate-flavored "biko."
Choa also gave boxes of processed tablea and chocolate powder to further help Formales along with a additional capital of P5,000.