THEY say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. And it was through satisfying many appetites that these young Thomasians have succeeded.

For Carlo Ramirez, a senior Hotel and Restaurant Management student, and Monica Agnes and Kathleen Teodoro, alumni from the College of Commerce and Business Administration, business is what they have dreamed of having since childhood.

They came a long way, innovating food choices and delighting the palate of the Thomasian community.

Muffcake adventures

It all began in high school for Carlo.

"Noong fourth year high school naging president ako ng young chef's club sa Siena College Taytay. I was not interested at first but eventually, nagustuhan ko. Nagbake kami, tapos nagluto rin kami,” said Carlo.

Before his high school days, Carlo tapped this interest by secretly attempting to fry an egg under his aunt’s supervision, as his parents frowned at the idea of him pattering around in the kitchen.

“I eventually mastered cooking the egg. But it was only in high school that my passion for cooking really fuelled,” Carlo said.

Carlo believes that passion is an important ingredient in every profession.

“Kapag nakita mo yung finished product tapos pag pinakain mo na sa iba, yung comments and feedback nila maganda—it brings a warm feeling to my heart that makes all the hard work worth it."

"I’ll never get tired of doing this. There's always something new in the kitchen,” said Carlo.

His profound interest in food and cooking earned much of his parent’s support eventually. Carlo pursued a culinary career, enrolling at the College of Tourism and Hospitality Management.

In his sophomore year, Carlo established his venture, Dear Desserts. He first started selling to his classmates pastillas and polvoron, which became sure-fire hits.

Later on, he sold his signature product, his famous muffin-cakes “muffcakes” which, as Carlo described, “stand between the dry and light cupcake and the heavy, moist muffin.”

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Carlo is one of the suppliers of confections at the Patio Maria Cafeteria of the Albertus Magnus Building.

"I chose cupcakes kasi salable at madaling kainin. I have four flavors now, red velvet, cookies and cream, double chocolate and mint chocolate," he said.

Carlo is now quite well-known in his college. People often refer to him for events like debuts and birthdays, wherein he would create fondant and tower cupcakes. Ramirez even created the desserts for his college’s dean’s birthday.

But Carlo had a taste of the professional world when he and six others became champions at a "bake-off" sponsored by Universal Robina, with the theme, “Flourish Pilipinas: Bake it fun in the Philippines.”

Carlo remained true to the spirit of the Filipino-themed event by creating an innovative sapin-sapin cake, made with ingredients only found in the country.

The 21-year-old budding entrepreneur plans to establish and manage a coffee shop or bake shop in the future. Not being very well-off, he said his family is his motivation to put up such business.

"Both of my parents took up early retirement, so my business is my way of starting to get my own income,” Carlo said. “I also want to be self-sufficient in funding my everyday expenses especially for my school works.”

Carlo is very hands-on with his products, doing everything from the marketing to the accounting and selling.

“Always refine your work and product. If you can still improve the quality of product, go for it—do not settle for any less. Sabi nga sa presentations, hangga’t kaya mo, pagandahin mo, gawin mo—never forget the cherry on top,” he advised.

Nutrition mission

Healthy food was given a new face by these two Thomasians.

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Monica Agnes and Kathleen Teodoro, two Entrepreneurship students, own the restaurant Healthy Belly on Padre Noval Street.

Monica revealed that Healthy Belly started as just a requirement for their third year major course, Business Planning.

“Every Entrepreneurship student was required to create a business plan, and then during our fourth year, we were tasked to implement what we have come up with.”

The business plan served as the foundation of the actual business operations. “We designed everything from the operations flow to the menu,” Monica said.

Despite the tiresome work of creating and implementing a business plan, all the hard work paid off when they got the Best Entrepreneur Award given by their college.

They also won the Best Business Implementations and Operations when they represented the University in the a nationwide competition held in Iloilo by the Entrepreneur Educators Association of the Philippines (ENEDA) an organization of schools offering the program Entrepreneurship. About 22 schools participated in the competition and it was the first time that UST became the champion.

The ingredients of success

Knowing that the food industry is multi-faceted, the two formed a vision to change the people’s view on healthy foods.

“We want to change the notion the healthy foods do not taste good. I’m tired of hearing people saying that vegetable dishes are bland,” said Monica.

“We also thought about the students who want to eat home-made food, but then they choose to eat in fast food chains,” said Monica. “At the end of the day, they realize that they ate the same thing again–fried chicken, spaghetti. And then we realized that these students need to eat something healthy.”

Deciding what dishes to place on the menu was not an easy task for them.

“We modified some recipes we found on the web and in various books. After creating and modifying the recipes, we consulted chefs and nutritionists.”

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Monica also mentioned that they provide the nutritional information of the food items, a feature unique from the usual UST haunts.

“The nutritional values of the food are placed on the bulletin board in our restaurant so that the customers could examine them first,” Monica said. “This is useful especiallythose who are health conscious. Yung iba nga, naming customers, after mag work out, nagpupunta dito para kumain.”

Even with numerous competitors, Monica believes that their edge will put them on top.

“Kahit healthy food yung sineserve namin, nandoon pa rin yung taste preference na gusto ng tao. Kahit vegetable dishes, nandoon pa rin yung lasa na kilala nila. What we really aim is that, while you are enjoying your food, you’re also getting healthy benefits.”

While Carlo dreams of putting up a storefront, Monica admitted that she and her partner are planning on expanding their restaurant.

“We are aware that we need to change our marketing strategies if we still want to create other branches for Healthy Belly,” the 20-year-old entrepreneur said. “Some of our classmates back then just created their business plan for the sake of good grades. But for me and my partner, we really envisioned this as a long-term project.”

Though it is a challenge for Monica, Kathleen and Carlo to balance business with schoolwork, they said that having constant support will make the job easier.

“Even the most independent people will have that time na parang ‘hindi ko na kaya,’ kasi darating at darating talaga yung pressure at problema,” Monica said, “Believe in yourself. Take risks because nothing will happen if you’ll stay on your safe side.” Mone Virma Ginry P. Gumapac and Alfredo N. Mendoza V

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