MANILA – Miki Arceo-Velasquez still can't believe that their business has become a massive success.
Arceo-Velasquez and her husband are the people behind the wildly popular Maxi Mango, which has been attracting long lines (read: some people wait for as long as three hours) for its deceptively simple yet strangely addictive mango float.
"It's surreal," the 32-year-old entrepreneur told ABS-CBN News. "Just when you think na parang, that's it, wala nang ikakaganda, something else happens. It just keeps getting better."
Arceo-Velasquez may look familiar to fans and viewers of "Pinoy Big Brother" -- she was among the housemates in the first season of the reality show's teen edition, joining the likes of Kim Chiu and Gerald Anderson.
"I was in 'PBB' in 2006. That was the first teen edition where Kim Chiu came out as the winner," said Arceo-Velasquez, who joined at the age of 18 upon the insistence of her nanny.
After her "PBB" stint, Arceo-Velasquez continued her studies in Davao and flew abroad to be with her boyfriend (eventually her husband) and his family.
Years later, they returned home and put up a soft serve ice cream business, working with different ingredients and flavors until they got the perfect mix.
And then, Maxi Mango was born.
"We decided to focus on just mango so it's something na Filipino talaga. It had the lowest cost and at the same time, we thought everybody loves mango float," Arceo-Velasquez said of the dessert, which is also known to other Filipinos as the "refrigerator cake."
When asked why they didn't go for durian, which is usually associated with their hometown of Davao, Arceo-Velasquez said in jest: "We probably will never be able to get rid of the smell from the ice cream machine!"
"We did think of it, but it sticks talaga eh. It won't get off!"
'A DESSERT FOR EVERYONE'
Maxi Mango is all about the mango float (starts at P65 for a small cup) -- which consists of mango soft serve ice cream, mango bits, cream, and crushed graham crackers.
The stall also offers a simpler version (starts at P49), which is ice cream topped with small pieces of mango.
Arceo-Velasquez said their goal was to "create something that appeals to the A and B markets in taste and aesthetic, but can also be afforded by the C and D markets."
"My husband and I, we've been doing the soft serve thing for six years already, so that's what I always tell potential franchisees. Part of our edge is that we really know our stuff when it comes to soft serve. That ice cream, 'yun 'yung pinaghirapan namin. It's the star. 'Yun ang nagdadala," she explained.
The ex-"PBB" housemate continued: "Our mango mix that comes out of the ice cream machine, that's an exclusive and customized formula. Plus hinahaluan pa namin ng mango puree. All our mangoes are from Davao."
AN 'EXPENSIVE' RISK
After putting up a few stores in Davao, Arceo-Velasquez felt that Maxi Mango was ripe for expansion in Metro Manila.
It was, she said, an "expensive" risk that they were willing to take -- they didn't know anyone in Manila, and they were not sure if their business will be as successful there.
"We knew from the start pa lang from our launch in Manila that either this is going to work, or people are going to completely ignore us and laugh at us. We're glad it worked," Arceo-Velasquez said.
"It was a really big, and really, really expensive risk," she shared. "When we started off, we only had one machine here, until we eventually grew. We didn't know anyone. I have very little family here and they're all very, very busy also, so we had nowhere to live here... And we had no commissary, no office, no car. I had to put my car inside a container van and ship it here."
Maxi Mango currently has branches at Robinsons Galleria, Glorietta Mall, and Mall of Asia. The brand is showing no signs of slowing down, with stores soon to open at UP Town Center, Vista Mall Taguig, SM North Edsa, and Trinoma in the coming weeks.
When asked about the most important lesson she learned as an entrepreneur, Arceo-Velasquez replied: "Be brave. Don't go into things half-baked -- it's either all in, or don't do it at all. We took a very big risk by using mango-flavored soft serve because there's no leeway for failure. If Maxi Mango were to fail, I can't put something else on top kasi the soft serve base is already mango. If cookies and marshmallows ang ilalagay ko, that's weird. But if you use vanilla, you're giving yourself leeway to fail. You can put anything you want on top. Parang di ka pa nagsisimula, you're already thinking of your Plan B."
"Dapat panindigan mo. Believe in your product. And if you know other entrepreneurs or businessmen and you get the opportunity to speak to them, take everything that you possibly can. I learned so much from them," she ended.