Pilot turns to baking to make ends meet after pandemic grounds flights

Anna Gabrielle Cerezo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 28 2020 09:44 AM

Pilot Manuel Andre Prieto is the co-owner of Airbuns320. Photo provided by author

MANILA -- Man, it is said, cannot live on bread alone. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed air travel, commercial airline pilot Manuel Andre Prieto and his girlfriend Shayne Therese Daulat, have no choice but to try. 

After the couple’s household income took a harsh blow from the fallout of the ongoing health crisis, he and Daulat now rely on their newly opened online bakery, Airbuns320, to make ends meet. 

“Airbuns320 is a word play of the passenger aircraft I usually fly, Airbus A320,” Prieto explained. 

The aviation industry is among the largest casualties of the pandemic after over 200 countries and the territories imposed travel restrictions to limit the spread of the new strain of coronavirus, the United Nations' World Tourism Organization reported. 

As commercial planes continue to be grounded, those who fly it, like Prieto, needed an alternative way to earn a living. Although the pilot had not been laid off, his salary was slashed significantly. 

“Our pay is based on flight assignments. Normally, I would fly around 70 hours per month, but during the entire quarantine period, I was only able to fly one repatriation flight,” he explained. 

He continued: “It greatly affected me that the income I was getting was not normal. Like everyone else we had our own responsibilities, expenses, and bills to pay.” 

Instead of “complaining and entertaining negative energy,” however, Prieto said Daulat came up with an idea of selling baked goods to keep their finances afloat.

According to her, she wanted to monetize the “extra time” the stay-at-home order allotted them “to become more productive and unlock skills we have been wanting to share.” 

Daulat said Prieto learned how to bake during the lockdown while she honed the techniques she learned from a baking school the previous year.

“I enrolled myself in a baking school because we always planned to have our own bakery or cafe someday,” she recalled. 

Manuel Andre Prieto and Shayne Therese Daulat, owners of Airbuns320. Photo provided by author

While it may seem like an imprudent decision to open a food business in the wake of the economic collapse, Prieto and Daulat felt it was the “best time” to jumpstart their dream since they saw “the need for it arising.” 

“We were looking for bread and pastries during the start of the pandemic but every bakeshop was closed. Then we both realized like us, people might be looking for bread and pastries too,” Daulat said. 

Prieto added: “Since everyone had to stay at home and adjust to the new normal, we believe it is everyone’s need at this time.”

Their gut instinct was right on the money. In a matter of just two weeks, the couple had already earned the return of investment.

“The customers are the key to our success. Happy customers become repeat customers, so we work hard to make each customer's experience memorable,” Daulat enthused.

Prieto continued: “It is very rewarding to see our and particularly Shayne's hard work pay off, and of course being told that our products are nothing but delicious.” 

Airbuns320 boasts three types of pastries: soft coffee buns, giant cookies, and its signature twisted cinnamon buns. 

The online bakery’s cookies are available in five different flavors: classic chocolate chip, double chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, dark chocolate peanut butter chip, and chocolate chip with walnut. The signature twisted cinnamon buns, on the other, hand can be customized by adding walnuts, pecans, chocolate syrup, biscoff, or salted caramel to their homemade cream cheese topping.

Signature Twisted Cinnamon Buns. Photo provided by author

Although Daulat takes pride in her original recipes, she admitted creating them was their “greatest challenge.”

“It took some time to perfect them. I had to research how to perfect every bread and cookie recipe… It is true that nothing worth having comes easy,” she said.

According to the amateur baker, it took dozens of batches before she was confident enough to put her pastries in the market.

“I was actually about to give up. Andre was the one who kept on pushing me not to stop and bake even more,” she said.

Daulat continued: “I am also thankful to my sisters who have been doing the taste tests and have been very supportive ever since.” 

To ensure “quality will be prioritized over quantity” and that the breads will be delivered to the customer fresh from the oven, all the products of Airbuns320 are pre-ordered. 

“We bake the orders every day to guarantee the freshness of our breads. We also only use premium ingredients,” Daulat shared. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Airbuns320 (@airbuns320) on

The couple encourages other aspiring entrepreneurs to follow suit and join the online business trend the COVID-19 pandemic ushered. 

“It doesn’t need to be big. Like us, you can all start small,” Prieto said. 

The "new normal" has after all, without a doubt, put a spotlight on e-commerce. Despite the government slowly easing the lockdown, since the number of cases continues to grow by the hundreds daily, many still opt to shop online in lieu of visiting malls and physical stores.

“We are adjusting to the new normal and we all know that people always wanted convenience. We have all kinds of technology right now that can be utilized. People can order anytime online and have it delivered right away,” Daulat explained. 

According to Prieto, the knowledge aspiring entrepreneurs need is right at their fingertips. All they need to do, he said, is “push a button on your phone.” 

“All the information is actually on your phone, you research on instructional videos, learn a new skill… the possibilities are endless if the internet is used properly and I assure you it gives out success,“ he explained. 

Prieto, however, acknowledges “taking the first step is always the hardest” part of starting a new venture. Hence, he advised hopefuls to determine “your purpose on why you want to start a business.” 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Airbuns320 (@airbuns320) on

“Whether it is for your family, yourself or you just want to make things better or aim to live a comfortable and normal life, of course… Dapat may pinaghuhugutan ka ng lakas ng loob,” he said. 

According to the pilot, since obstacles and challenges are inevitable, it is important to practice a positive mindset when setting up shop. 

“In the Filipino culture, they have a saying 'hindi ka pa nagsisimula iniisip mo na 'yung masamang mangyayari,' which is an outlook for a lot of people. So remove that,” he advised. 

He continued: “Remember regret is the most painful thing that can happen to you. The important thing is you try.” 

Meanwhile, Daulat emphasized the importance of investing “love and passion” into one’s work. 

“For me, if you want to make things happen, you just don’t give 100%, we should give 200% focus, commitment and love. And everything will follow.”

In the future, the couple hopes to expand their business and eventually materialize their dream of opening a café.

According to Daulat, their vision is for Airbuns320 to “become the best and go-to cookies and baked goods brand across the country.” 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Airbuns320 (@airbuns320) on

“Like the parable of the mustard seed, we want to grow. Even if we started really small in this business, we hope to someday share Shayne’s baked products to everyone,” Prieto expounded.

In the meantime, however, the duo said they are more than grateful their small venture is able to sustain their daily expenses during this difficult time.

“I am thankful we were able to do something about our current situation and found a way to survive this pandemic,” Prieto admitted.

He continued: “We thank God for giving us this blessing.” 

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