MANILA -- Marvin Agustin owns more than a dozen restaurants around the metro but his businesses have been undoubtedly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, as many restaurants were closed during the lockdown.
Interestingly, the actor discovered another stream of revenue that brought in good income the past two months.
“Kailangan mag-survive,” Agustin said. “I’ve been cooking and selling before, but I was initially intimidated with baking. It’s so precise. It takes so much of your time.”
Marvin’s older sister bakes. His mom, at one time, also baked ensaymadas and chocolate cakes. “That was seven years ago, but she no longer continued,” Agustin said of his mom. “Masakit na ang mga kamay niya.
“With cooking, you can simply trust your taste buds. Tanchahan lang. Baking is like photography. You don’t have the chance to check until the finished product. You have to trust the process and do it right.”
Thanks to recipes online, Agustin merely learned to “mix and match” in order to come up with interesting creations. “Some recipes and techniques, I found on Google,” he admitted. “I made a series of batches and sent them to friends. They liked the products, until I was really satisfied. Then, the orders started coming.”
Agustin started with banana bread. “It became a natural progression for me,” he shared. “After I somewhat got bored with banana bread, I started making carrot cake [kerot loaf cake] with walnuts, chocolate chips and cream cheese. I also make chocolate chip cookies [my 48-hour cookie].”
There are recipes that are a bit complex for Agustin. Yet, he tried them and so far, has been successful. “I make the dough and let it rest for two days for the flavors and textures,” he said. “There’s toffee, there’s chocolate. For them to come together, every element, you have to make the dough rest for two hours.”
Agustin also takes pride in his classic chocolate cake, as well as his black and white cake. “The latter is my take on the Swedish cake I tried years ago in one of my travels,” he said. “Oido naman ako. First, I try it. Then, I let the kids try it. I added black and white frosting to balance the sweetness. Good.”
His most recent product is the best leches cake. Everything is available and can be ordered on Mr. Vinmunchies, Agustin’s latest business venture. He makes all the products in his Quezon City home.
He has several pickup locations all over Metro Manila and all the way to Cavite, Laguna and even in Bulacan.
“When I started, the first few orders were only 20, then 25,” Agustin recalled. “I’d be so happy with it. When the orders kept coming, I couldn’t handle them anymore. So I had to get someone.
“We had a baker then, but she had to leave and work for a cruise ship. Recently, she returned home because all the cruise ships were locked down. The cruise industry will not open again soon. I now have someone to help me with all the orders and deliveries. She stays here in the house. I cannot do all the orders alone. The orders increase every two days,” he said.
Agustin is not complaining, though. In fact, he is thankful the business has been progressing even in such a very short time.
“The other day, for the next delivery, we had to make 270 breads and cakes,” he beamed. “So far, we have a very good reception. We accept orders every two days.”
In his Instagram account, Agustin made this hopeful post. “I’m thankful and grateful that I get to share with you all what I love to do. I’d never thought I’d bake, but this situation taught us again these important values – resiliency, adaptability and that change is inevitable.
“I’m hoping we will survive these unbelievable things happening in 2020. Laban lang. Sabi nga ni Jack Ma, if you’re still alive after this year, you’ve made a profit. Let’s keep fighting. Let’s keep supporting each other.”
While his cake business is on the upsurge, Agustin’s restaurants were badly hit in this pandemic. “The restaurant industry is one of the hardest hit during the lockdown,” he lamented. “Until now, the set protocols are still on a trial and error stage.
“This is not just for us, but for everyone. We don’t know what we are really facing and how we are going to live with it. All we can do is be extra careful not just for ourselves, but more for other people. If we don’t know that we have COVID-19, we are protecting others from getting it or from having the symptoms
“Okay na to be praning these days than to be pabaya. But at the same time, I don’t think we should stop our lives and be constantly scared of this virus. We just have to be very careful in this situation,” he said.
The mere news about the lockdown, that lasted for more than two months, was “devastating” for Agustin and all his employees.
“Of course, we had to think first about our health and safety,” he said. “The economy, the lives that will be affected, because a lot of people are dependent, hired and employed by the restaurants.
“The food business is severely affected. Not just the restaurants, but even hotels. Almost all industries are affected. All of a sudden, the whole world became all too different.
“It’s hard to say, tomorrow will be good. We don’t know when this pandemic will end. We just have to fight it out, survive, get over with this and the trauma that it has caused us and brought us.”
Among Agustin’s many restaurants, Wolfgang’s Steakhouse is a “very expensive concept,” according to him. They have steaks that they fly in from the US on a weekly basis. “We dry-age the meats for 28 days,” he said. “It’s a cycle. That’s how we do it.”
Wolfgang’s Steakhouse has branches at the Newport Mall in Resorts World Manila, Bonifacio Global City, and The Podium. Agustin also owns Sumo Sam, Johnny Chow, John and Yoko, and Tai Koo Hong Kong Roast in Salcedo Village, Legaspi Village, Podium and Serendra.
“Slowly, we are opening and we are asking all the staff to come back,” Agustin said. “We are doing everything slowly.
“We are careful for our staff and more so for our customers. People feel safe when they are dining in our restaurants. Talk about all the adjustments that we did, it’s so safe. Grabe all the preparations that we did before we re-opened.”
Agustin’s mall-based restaurants are still on delivery and pick up operations. For the others, they are slowly implementing dining with 30 percent capacity.
“When we were still closed, we really wanted to open. When we learned we could open again, we felt good. But now that we are opening, to tell you honestly, it’s harder for us," he said.
“It doesn’t look like we are in the food business, because we are consistently policing people. Some don’t follow the protocols. They are eating. They are enjoying the food. They tend to forget. We don’t want customers to get angry. But if they violate us, we might close again.
“We have employees who are relying on the business. We are doing the food service business, but at the same time, we are strictly implementing rules and protocols. It’s harder, but I guess this is the new world, the new normal we are facing right now. Hopefully, it would ease and relax soon.”
Agustin’s favorite word of late is “bayanihan.” He explained: “That’s so Filipino. That shows our best trait during this time. What we do is lift each other up.”
Late last year, Agustin also opened Kondwi, a cocktail lounge, bar and art exhibition space in Poblacion, Makati City. “But it’s closed now,” he sighed. “We were planning a show for the artists, but the lockdown happened. We might do a virtual show any time soon.”
The lockdown allowed Agustin not just to bake, but to spend more time with his twins – Santiago and Sebastian – now 14 years old. “Now is the time I need to be with them more,” Agustin said. “They have asthma. They needed a certificate with the doctor just to go out.
“I brought them to their doctor for check up. They really stay with their mom, but now, they’re with me. I rarely go out. Most of my work can be done at home, online. Even meetings. Spending that time you have with the family makes things a little bit easier.”
Today’s changing times also brought Agustin to realize his priority. “Health is the most important,” he maintained. “Somehow, if you feel anything will not be safe for you, don’t do it. You have to trust your instincts 100 percent.
“You have to follow the rules. You have to make your family feel safe. That’s a big impact on your well-being and emotional state. It’s not just really a fight against the virus, but also your sanity. We get traumatized when these things happen. As much as possible, hopefully, it will not have a lasting effect.
“No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve achieved in life, we’re all equal, when these things happen, if you have a good support, family, friends, in a way. Wealth, achievement or your status in life will mean nothing. Don’t make it harder for you. There’s always a silver lining.”