MANILA — As the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered thousands of food establishments across the country, online selling sprouted — particularly home-based bakeries — with several entrepreneurs keeping in mind the spirit of bayanihan to help fellow Filipinos through the difficult time.
One of those entrepreneurs is Chef Rudolf “RV” Manabat, known for his popular baking tutorial vlogs across social media platforms.
Commanding almost 2 million combined followers from his online pages, the chef from Biñan, Laguna, shows who is the real kitchen boss.
Manabat has also been credited by netizens as their inspiration for trodding the world of online selling, particularly because of the chef’s free recipes and cohesive step-by-step tutorial which he said was “backed by science.”
“I am very happy for them, to see people surviving and very happy, very fulfilled because they started online businesses or nakapag-bake sila, before hindi sila marunong sa kusina (when previously they don't know how to be in the kitchen)” he told ABS-CBN News in an interview mid-March.
Helping Filipinos affected by the pandemic was also the goal behind his free recipes online, he said.
“Why would I charge for something na puwede mo namang ibigay nang libre sa mga tao? And especially during these trying times, bakit pa kailangan mong maningil. [I am doing this] out of compassion and humanitarian [reasons],” the chef explained, thankful that his restaurant in Biñan is still running and is doing well despite the health emergency.
(Why would I charge for something that you can give for free? Why do you have to charge for it during these times?)
Sharmaine Nahine, who manages online bakery South Whisk PH, echoed Manabat. She said their pastry shop, which they put up at the start of the lockdown last year, was also meant to help Filipinos hit hard by the health crisis who “almost have none.”
Nahine during Christmas last year also helped feed some 70 homeless people in Cavite and Manila with the help of their online shop. Most of those they helped greeted the holiday season with limited or no food at all.
She said she got the funding for the initiative by selling “dream cakes”— the popular tin-can layered cakes which cost P400 each. From each sale, P100 was set aside for the food packs.
But Nahine wanted to do more, she said, that is why she plans to open a physical store under South Whisk PH by the end of the year.
“Masarap siya sa pakiramdam. Fulfilling siya lalo maka-help sa mga walang-wala this pandemic. I’m planning this every birthday ko po and Christmas and soon plan ko itayo 'yung café,” she said.
(I like the feeling of helping. It is very fulfilling most especially if it is meant to help the people who have none during the pandemic.)
The 26-year-old added that baking has helped her cope with the lockdowns, even if what they earn from the business was just enough to meet their needs.
“Nakatulong naman siya mentally. Malaking bagay siya. In terms sa expenses okay naman bawi-bawi lang.”
(It helped me mentally. It is a big thing. In terms of expenses, I can always earn it.)
More than 500,000 have registered new business names from March 2020 to January 2021, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said in January. Retail via internet or online selling led this list at 87,223, followed by retail selling in sari-sari stores at 68,241.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, in a separate statement, said newly-registered businesses increased to 900,000 in 2020 alone. He hailed this as the highest growth rate since 2010 in terms of business registration, according to state media.
Some officials, on the other hand, said figures may be higher, as some online businesses have yet to register with the agency.
SAFETY NET FOR UNCERTAIN TIMES
Some of those who established online bakeshops said this was their way of finding additional income because of the uncertainty brought by the pandemic. Turning their hobby into a profession, they said, provides comfort.
Pauline Faye Tria, an ABS-CBN employee, said the network’s shutdown led to “huge pay cuts” on her end, but launching “Fakebakerist," which specializes on personalized cakes, provided a safety net.
Tria said her business came unexpectedly, as she was just trying to brush up on her baking skills while finding a hobby during quarantine. She said her family members and friends enjoyed what she baked, with some urging her to sell it.
“I was simply looking for a source of amusement during my time in quarantine… The response was also very overwhelming, I did not expect to receive such an immense amount of support from my friends and even strangers,” she told ABS-CBN News.
Popular treats from her shop include her strawberry shortcake - her specialty - and customized cakes that even Vice President Leni Robredo has tried.
“This is especially a fun thing to do, as I never really make the same cake twice. Each customer has his or her own vision in mind, and I help them turn it into a reality. Making customized cakes is a very fulfilling experience for me as I get to take part in the special events of my customer’s lives,” said Tria.
The young entrepreneur described baking as “therapeutic” despite the year-long lockdown, as she gets to do one of the things she enjoys and “put smiles” on her customers’ faces.
“Aside from being an additional source of income, it greatly helped my mental health. Baking is surprisingly very therapeutic for me; it gave me a sense of purpose and new-found motivation.”
Her sentiments were also echoed by Dominic Dimapawi and Genielyn Soriano, who ventured into online dessert selling just recently to help with their finances.
The duo, who sells Korean-inspired box desserts, said putting up Ponchito's posed some difficulties because they are juggling it with their full-time jobs, but the results were worth it. Their P2,000 capital more than doubled a week after their launch, they said, a reason why they want to reach a wider client base.
“We are trying to, in our own small circles, we are trying to make an ecosystem of happiness. Just a way to like, not in a profit-oriented way, but more on like, we are doing something that we all mutually like,” said Dimapawi.
Aside from these, the duo also tapped two of their friends as business partners to help with the logistics, somehow providing them a source of income as COVID-19 persists.
“Logistic-wise nagulat din ako (I was also shocked) sa amount of support and how it got out, I was just expecting na a couple of friends muna... but it reached somewhere din talaga. It got overwhelming in the amounts of requests,” their partner Anne Cresdelaine narrated.
Cresdelaine added that one of the challenges their business faced is the mismatch of schedules and working remotely, but she said they are trying to fix this.
They said that they plan to keep their desserts budget friendly, for a price range of P150 to P200 per dessert box without sacrificing the quality of ingredients they use.
“Surprising someone with a product while also helping the owners of the business na you are supporting small businesses and making your friends happy at the same time or cheering up your friends at the same time,” Soriano said.
‘HOME-BASED BUSINESSES SHOULD STAY MOTIVATED, HAPPY’
Unemployed adult Filipinos ballooned to 4.2 million in February, the Philippine Statistics Authority said, as the country recently suffered its worst economic contraction since the end of World War 2.
Many Filipinos have had difficulty finding jobs at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, that is why some also turned to online selling for additional income until they get employed.
One of them was Katrina Gonzales, who admitted that it was hard to help her family without a stable source of income while under quarantine.
The 23-year-old said that she no longer wanted to depend on her parents for her needs, as her father’s printing business also bore the brunt of the health crisis.
This led her to establish “Batter Up PH,” an online pastry shop.
“I want to provide for my family more than enough for our needs and additional [expenses]… That's why at the time when I didn't have a full-time job and Batter Up was my sole focus on… I was able to provide or contribute kahit kaunti man lang, basta may something na maibibigay sa pamilya ko (even a little bit, as long as I am able to give something to my family),” said Gonzales, who recently got employed.
After getting employed, she had to adjust her delivery and orders for her home-based business, which has also been difficult. She said there were times her customers wanted to order several products to be delivered the same day.
“May times na mahirap i-balance lalo na kapag you're so swamped up with work. Tapos sumakto na maraming orders… That's the difficulty of having a full-time job now and having this online business. I have to find this certain time. I just have to learn to balance it out,” she explained.
(There were times that it is hard to balance most especially if you are swamped with work and then you will have orders.)
Chef Manabat agreed with Gonzales, noting that home bakers should learn how to balance the realities most especially once they get into the food business.
“You have to stay happy and you have to stay motivated because it is a hard venture… It requires a lot of commitment. 'Pag sinimulan mo, kailangan tatapusin mo, at ipagpapatuloy mo... I also eat challenges for breakfast,” he said.
“Actually, 'pag nahirapan ka, that's only the beginning. It is a difficult journey. Every day is difficult when you are in the food business and you have to consider that. I-embrace mo 'yun as part of your daily lifestyle.”
(If you start it, finish it. When you encounter difficulties, that is just the beginning. Embrace it as a part of your lifestyle.)