GHENT, Belgium - Cavite-born Marielle Flores did not expect that Theo and Brom, the first Belgian Tableya, will be such a hit in the Belgian market.
She said the idea came when she decided to settle in Belgium after marrying her Belgian boyfriend Matthias Moens, whom she met while on holiday in the US.
Her husband was in the digital business and she was in an online course when they moved to Belgium in October 2017.
“The idea came when Matthias and I decided to settle here. I was looking for a new business. I wanted to do E-commerce,” she said.
The idea for Theo and Brom came when Flores mentioned to her husband that of all the things, it’s the tableya (chocolate tablet) that she misses the most. She was surprised that there is no such thing as tableya in Belgium, a country known for its famous chocolates.
“I think it was a conversation about our favorite drink. The winter was coming and I said I love tableya and asked him: 'Do you know tableya?' And he said he didn’t and I never knew that tableya was originally and only in the Philippines,” she said in disbelief.
And so Theo and Brom was born, which was derived from cacao’s scientific name Theobroma Cacao. She said it was important for her to produce something that will bring the Belgian and Philippine cultures together.
“Our mission of bridging both worlds strives to highlight how many distinct cultures can bond with commonalities, embrace one’s differences and bring forth the best of what each has to offer,” she said.
She added: "We made it from Philippine cacao. It’s very special cacao because it’s what you call single estate cacao beans from Davao. It’s called De la Cerna Single Estate Cacao beans. We also use Muscovado sugar that’s also sourced from the Philippines so for our round, everything is Philippine sourced.”
WORKING WITH THE BEST
Flores’ husband has extensive experience in digital marketing. He is responsible for Theo and Brom’s E-commerce direction, strategy and expansion.
But before they were able to come up with a product, Flores admitted she had a difficult time pitching her idea to Belgian counterparts. Either they were too busy to listen to her idea or simply because she is someone unknown to the chocolate industry.
Thanks to Dr. Zoi Papalexandratou, a well known researcher who knows Philippine cacao beans, Flores was introduced to Mario Vandeneede, a multi-awarded chocolate maker. Vandeneede is considered as one of the most important beans-to-bar producers in Belgium. He is the founder of Chocolatoa, which has received recognition in the European and International Cocoa Awards.
Vandeneede helped the Moens developed the recipe for Theo and Brom tableya. Considered as one of the finest artisans in the country, Vandeneede acknowledges the importance of each process in chocolate making.
“We all want the best. We don’t want to interfere in quality so for me, we searched the best beans. We search for the best way to do it and every step in the process is important that’s why we do it in a very small scale and that defines the quality of the chocolate,” he said.
Vandeneede believes that the first Belgian Tableya will soon be a household name in Belgium.
“In a year, it will be totally different. In 5 years, we establish the brand. I think I will go in the same family feast and we are drinking Tableya like a normal coffee.”
Flores, for her part, shares her two cents to aspiring businessmen.
“I love my country so much, the only reason I moved is love. And even if I’m here, I connect so much with Filipino culture. For me, it’s a good example to start small so I also encourage other Filipinos that wherever you are, you can always have something. Start from the beginning,” she advised.
This year, they hope to replicate the same feat as they enter the US market.