Girl Boss: LB women entrepreneurial stories amidst the pandemic

Written by: John Gabriel Almera & Sophia Romilla

GIRL BOSS—Business owners (from left to right) Jacklyn Lapis, Ally Junsay-Berin, Rina and Andrea Ratilla, and Heisel Mei Orobia share their stories on managing their business amidst the pandemic. 

More than a year in the COVID-19 pandemic, small businesses are booming — including women-owned businesses in Los Baños, Laguna.

The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected the livelihood of Filipinos. This has left many without work, while some had to quickly adapt in order to earn in spite of the limitations brought upon by the pandemic. 

According to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), the Philippine economy is showing signs of recovery as of the first quarter of 2021. With the big establishments reopening, small businesses are also making their way to serve their customers and generate income to sustain their needs. Four women-owned businesses based in Los Baños namely AllyBakes Cakes & Pastries, Tita Spice, Heisel’s Pastas and More, and The Grey Stuff paved their way in providing goods and services to their consumers in times of uncertainty.

AllyBakes Cakes & Pastries

AllyBakes Cakes & Pastries, a home-baking business based along Rhoda Subdivision, Brgy. Anos, was started in April 2018 by Ally Junsay-Berin. The 31-year old baker and mother of 3 children said that it was initially just a small business to earn extra income when she gave up her professional career to be a full-time housewife and homemaker to her family. Since then, her business has been constantly participating in weekend markets and even joined the American Women’s Club of the Philippines Annual Bazaar in SMX, Mall of Asia, Pasay City. Amidst the pandemic, Ally still decided to continue the business running because most of the bakeries were closed by then and there were a lot of students stranded in LB.

LOVE AT FIRST BITE. AllyBakes Cakes & Pastries also do custom wedding cakes, a must-have at every wedding reception. (Photo by Ally Junsay-Berin)

“I didn’t just think of it as I will earn so much since the students are still here, but it was more of I wanted to bake for them since it must be really hard to be away from their families when the pandemic started. I have always wanted to make AllyBakes a baking business that feels like your mom or your sister is the one baking for you,” the home baker exclaimed.

When stricter quarantine protocols were announced, AllyBakes focused on marketing their products online by constantly updating and monitoring their Facebook and Instagram accounts. They have also switched to solely pick-up and deliveries for handing out their goods to their customers. For AllyBakes deliveries, Ally partnered with homegrown delivery services such as Elbi Dispatch Delivery and Errands Services, while for clients who order bigger and taller cakes, pick-up is the best option.

The business world, no matter how big or small, always seems to be male-dominated. When asked about what kind of business mindset a woman has that most men do not possess, the full-time mom thinks that multi-tasking is the best asset a woman can have. 

“We can juggle multiple things at the same time and accomplish our goals no matter how many other obligations we have—kids, chores, homeschooling, errands, etc. No idle time, no time for spacing out,” Ally stated. She also thinks that women are born with a mind filled with so many emotions yet so much drive to accomplish just about anything.

As a woman, one of Ally’s challenges is managing the time she has. “Twenty-four hours a day isn’t enough for a mom of three. But with the help of my husband, family, and friends who believed in me, I just went on and did it,” the owner shared. She also learned to do whatever she can with the time that she has and to take it one step, one day at a time.

Tita Spice

Sugar, spice, and everything nice—Tita Spice is a newly-established business owned by Jacklyn Lapis, 32. She explained that the spice business has been with her family for generations. Their original store, of a different name, is based in Divisoria, Manila. She and her husband decided to expand the business to Los Baños and Calamba last March 2021. 

Committing to launching a business is hard, according to Jacklyn. She planned to open Tita Spice in 2020 but postponed it because they were opening Tito Egg, an egg-dealing store that was her husband’s brainchild. “When you establish a business with someone, you have to commit. So when I committed to Tito Egg, I had to take a step back muna with what I intended to put up,” she said.

Jacklyn discussed that they plan to add more spices to their inventory and to source their goods to local restaurants. However, the cost of transportation has increased amid the COVID-19 pandemic. She also discussed the added risk of contracting COVID-19 during business transactions. “It’s either I pick the spices up in Manila—I expose myself—or I pay for the delivery fee. So alin ang pipiliin ko, my health or paying for more? So, what I chose is to pay more than sacrifice my health as well as my family’s,” she said.

She said that many of the goods they sell are also available in the local market. “What I can say na edge ni Tita Spice is that the spices are always fresh. Sino-source kasi namin as bulk ang spices. Our family has a cold storage facility in Manila so we can be sure that these spices are fresh pa din,” she added.

FRESH AND SPICY. Tita Spice, along with Tito Egg, is open to serve fresh spices every Sunday at the Batong Malake Sunday Market. (Photo from Tita Spice Facebook Page)

Apart from their stall during the Sunday Market in Brgy. Batong Malake, Tita Spice’s social media presence has been one of their main platforms for selling their goods. 

For Jacklyn, women have more patience when it comes to their business mindset. “I do think that women look into the problem and then find solutions or exhaust whatever they can muna before moving on to the next thing,” she stated.

Despite facing difficulties in launching their business, Jacklyn advises fellow women entrepreneurs to research their products or ideas, check on their capital, and start small. “You really have to start small. Week or months after, you check how it is—your inventory, your products, is it at par with the other stores? When you see that your business is growing, you infuse more capital. Slowly but surely, you can expand your business. And then when you see that it is growing, you commit. You put in more time. That’s where your commitment comes in,” she concluded. 

Heisel’s Pasta and More

Heisel’s Pasta and More took a big leap and opened its kitchen to serve mouth-watering pasta, Korean fried chicken, and a new twist on the crowd’s favorite samgyupsal on May 28, 2020. The owner, Heisel Mei Orobia, is a licensed nutritionist who is also very passionate about her field. Before the pandemic, she was a field researcher working on the National Nutrition Survey at the Department of Science and Technology-Food and Nutrition Research Institute. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the operations in conducting surveys were stopped, leaving her temporarily unemployed. She then shifted to freelancing to sustain herself.

Her passion for cooking intensified during the pandemic and it resulted in something that was never planned in the first place. “One day, napasobra lang talaga ‘yung luto ko. That time, hyped pa ‘yung ElBids kasi ‘yung mga students nasa dorm pa no’n. Meron akong 5 extra tubs ng cheesy baked mac so doon nagsimula ‘yon. Within 5 minutes, na-sold out agad siya. ‘Yung 4 tubs for ElBids, ‘yung isa para ipatikim ng friend ko,” Heisel exclaimed. But after she delivered the tubs, she checked her post again and was shocked that it was flooded with more comments than she expected. Positive feedback was also given by her unexpected first customers, who even thought that she sold cheesy baked mac regularly. All of these became her motivation to start a business venture.

PASTA AND MORE. Heisel’s Pasta and More’s creamy carbonara, cheesy baked mac, garlic bread, and Korean fried chicken are packed in serving tubs, ready to satisfy the hungry customers. (Photo by Heisel Mei Orobia)

For Heisel, the capabilities of both men and women are quite similar when running a business. But for her, the women’s approach to this varies. “Siguro for women, iba lang talaga ‘yung approach nila. Women, even before pa, established sila na parang maging homemaker lang. But for me, ‘yung mga modern women ngayon, nag step up talaga sila para ipakita kung ano talaga ang kakayahan nila,” she shared. 

The nutritionist also thinks that both men and women are risk-takers in any business involved. But then, women might have something more to consider. “‘Yung mga babae are very much into details. Even kapag mag take sila ng risk, ina-assure pa rin nila na ‘yung mga risks na ‘to ay mag-generate lang ng positive outcomes or results,” Heisel added.

Meanwhile, the owner did not encounter any gender-related issues along the way for she believes that her business was built in an era where women empowerment is already evident so regardless of what gender owns the business, it was not much of a big deal anymore.

The Grey Stuff

“Try it. It’s delicious!”—The Grey Stuff is a local pastry business co-owned by sisters Rina and Andrea Ratilla. Established in 2015, they initially sold lava brownies, chocolate chip cookies, and cupcakes. Today, they sell a variety of pastries including macarons and cakes.

“We started The Grey Stuff in 2015. Back then, my sister had just graduated from culinary school and I was in my third year of college. We originally started because we wanted to earn money for traveling,” Rina said.

However, they decided to temporarily close the business in 2016 to focus on their careers. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Andrea, who was then a pastry chef in Makati, suddenly lost her job. With Rina also stuck at home due to the nationwide cancellation of classes, they decided to reopen The Grey Stuff. 

“We were also inspired by the sudden boom of small businesses during the pandemic, so we decided to give it another shot. Thankfully, we were met by overwhelming support from the local community, and it’s almost been a year since we reopened!” she said.

When they reopened, adapting to the pandemic was not that big of a challenge for them as they already had the limitations in mind. Apart from this, they partnered with third-party delivery services and postponed meetups whenever necessary to avoid the transmission of the COVID-19 virus.

Rather than a difference between men and women with regards to business mindset, Rina stated that what she observed was more on the difference in management styles. “In my sister’s experience, female bosses tend to be more open to communication and delegation of tasks. And though this doesn’t apply to us since we are a team of two women, the culinary world is surprisingly male-dominated, but having a female boss always makes the kitchen a safer space for female chefs,” she said.

PIECE OF CAKE. Andrea adds some finishing touches on the crowd-favorite Strawberry Shortcake. This cake is only on the menu when fresh strawberries are readily available. (Photo by Rina Ratilla)

Rina stated that even though their reopening was well-received, the difficulty they mainly faced was to have the confidence to start again. “I think being self-critical is a problem that a lot of women face, and it’s definitely something we still deal with now. We’re just lucky to have family and friends who support us and give us the push we need to keep going,” she said.

“Honestly, when we started this, we really didn’t think long term,” Rina stated. According to her, when they reopened, they thought that they would eventually close the business to focus again on their profession and priorities pre-pandemic. However, they decided that they want to continue the business a year into the pandemic.

“We might have to close for a while when I return to med school and to rethink our business strategy for the post-pandemic world, but we promise that we won’t disappear for another five years,” she concluded.

What Lies Ahead

The future plans of these lady-owned businesses include expanding and offering more goods and services to their new and existing customers. For Ally, continuously innovating ways on how to make AllyBakes stand out is something that she’s currently doing. Due to the pandemic, the baker said that a lot of people have started to sell their baked goods too and it can be challenging to be different from another. With that, she constantly tries to make new products for AllyBakes to offer in the market.

For Jacklyn, she said that Tita Spice and Tito Egg will have to “join forces to make it to the economy.” “Kung Tita Spice lang, on her own, would have a higher cost. Higher ang kailangan naming capital. If we are going to put them together, they would be covering each other’s expenses,” she explained. Currently, both businesses continue to participate in the Batong Malake Sunday Market to attract more potential customers.

These women also have a message to their fellow women who plan to start their own businesses. For Heisel, it is really about the passion which will drive you to continue what you wish to do. She then added, “Don’t hesitate to ask help and provide help kasi nasa gitna tayo ng pandemya so the least you could do is be kind to one another.” Heisel’s Pasta and More occasionally holds donation drives where she donates the shop’s profit to her chosen beneficiaries. Her first donation drive was within the LB community wherein she handed out food bags with vegetables and then followed by donating her profit for the victims of Typhoon Ulysses in coordination with the UP Isabela Society. She also directly sends out the donations personally to some students in need.

For The Grey Stuff, Rina encourages women to start a business in Los Baños—for the community is very much willing to support local and homegrown businesses. 

As stated earlier, the culinary world, or even the business world in general, is surprisingly male-dominated, so it is always nice to have a woman in the ranks. Besides, is there still anything in this world, at this progressive age, that a woman cannot do?

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