How the ube hopia saved Eng Bee Tin
MANILA, Philippines — Sitting in Eng Bee Tin’s Binondo office, which is under renovation, Gerry Chua says he doesn’t believe in feng shui.
Indeed, the jovial patriarch of the Eng Bee Tin enterprise doesn’t seem like a man who leaves things to chance. He may have now turned over the reins to his three children, but once upon a time, he led a debt-ridden company to success.
The Chinese deli was set up in 1912 by Gerry’s grandfather Chua Chiu Hong, a Chinese farmer who settled in the Philippines. The business initially struggled to find success.
Their hopia was infamous. Gerry recounts, “Wala nang bumibili ng hopia namin. ‘Yung hopia namin, pag initsa mo, pagbagsak hopia pa rin. Ganun katigas!” (Nobody would buy our hopia anymore. When you throw the hopia, it would fall down in one piece. It was that hard!)
At 21, Gerry took over the family business. To improve the hopia’s quality, he tweaked the recipe using corn oil and thinned out the crust. He baked them himself to reduce labor costs. But sales didn’t pick up, and they had no money left to pay for sugar and flour.
Friends — even relatives — disappeared during this crisis.
“Eight checks a day yung nagbabounce, kasi yung tatay ko, ginawa nang pera ‘yung tseke,” Gerry shares. “Galing eskwelahan, pag-uwi ko kailangang magtanong sa bangko kung magkano utang namin.” (Our checks would bounce, because my father used them as cash. When I got home from school, I'd need to stop by the bank to ask how much our debt was.)
During this time, Gerry had taken to frequenting the air-conditioned supermarket in Ongpin to cool off. He dropped by so often that security began to suspect he was a shoplifter.
To appear casual to the security guard tailing him, he asked an ice cream vendor about their best-selling flavor. When she answered ube, the proverbial light bulb went off in Gerry’s head — ube hopia!
His friends — or what was left of them, anyway — told him the product wouldn’t fly, but Gerry believed in the product’s potential and resolved to save Eng Bee Tin’s legacy.
More than 3 decades later, it’s one of their most popular flavors. At 106 years old, Eng Bee Tin, a well-known and beloved Chinoy brand, is the oldest hopia manufacturer in the Philippines.
Aside from his entrepreneurial legacy, Gerry believes in leaving behind an advocacy. He founded Txtfire Philippines, a firefighter volunteer group. Proceeds of his coffee shop, Cafe Mezzanine, have also been donated to firefighting efforts for the past 22 years.
Even with years of success under their belt, Gerry still has apprehensions. There’s always the risk of failure — of branches closing down, or exports not meeting commitments.
But for him, there’s no way to go but forward. “Business yan e, wala namang business na 100% sure. Pero pag gusto mo yung ginagawa mo, may solusyon yan. Mako-coconquer yan sa sipag at tiyaga.” (Nothing's 100% sure when it comes to business. But if you love what you're doing, you'll find solutions. You can do anything with perseverance and hard work.)
Innovation is also key to survival. Aside from automating manufacturing processes and online sales, Eng Bee Tin constantly develops new products. The company started with merely two flavors, monggo and baboy. Now they have over 20.
Gerry’s daughter, Geraldine, says the secret to 106 years of existence is commitment to excellence. “When we create new products, it’s not just para may bago (so we have something new). It has to be something customers would want, something we would be proud of.”
His son Gerrick adds that the secret is literally in the recipe. Only the best ingredients will create the best products. It is not in the family’s practice to compromise quality for profit, even if customers have no way of knowing.
“Importante yung integrity mo, yung commitment mo sa produkto mo. At ang pinakaimportante, sipag,” concludes Gerry. (Integrity and commitment are essential. Most importantly, learn to persevere.) — Rappler.com
PLDT Enterprise, the B2B arm of the country’s leading ICT and digital services provider, relaunches the MVP Bossing Awards—highlighting the role of local entrepreneurship in nation-building. Now on its 8 th year, the MVP Bossing Awards has recognized over 80 iconic business leaders throughout its history.
Chua was awarded as one of the 2016 MVP Bossings for his work growing Filipino-favorite Eng Bee Tin. The new batch of MVP Bossings will be awarded on October 25.
For more stories about past MVP Bossings, visit this link.