Think "quarantine food trend" and what immediately comes to mind? Let us guess: it was sushi bake.
If we're right, there's no surprise there – months after its lockdown debut, the sushi bake still remains a household hit.
In the sea of sushi bake options, Taste and Tell MNL stands out, partly because they're pioneers, having born early in the lockdown. To date, they've already amassed 17,600 followers (and their own website) in just over 4 months of business.
Known for their unconventional sushi bake takes (no, it's not just kani) – salmon, scallop, tenderloin steak, unagi, and more – Taste and Tell MNL is proof of the magic that can spark when 4 hungry sisters are stuck at home but bound together by their love for food (and each other, of course).
Pamela, a 22-year-old Industrial Engineering college senior, is the top foodie of the 4 sisters. When she's not studying, she's baking macarons, cooking steaks, or experimenting with torched sushi trays for her family members to try.
Pamela's side hobby turned into a full-blown biz when 23-year-old business graduate Mariell brought her sister's sushi tray to her boyfriend's house as a gift. A week later, Mariell got a call from her boyfriend's mom, asking if she could order 10 trays to send out to her friends.
"Should we start selling this?" the sisters then asked one another. Theunanimous decision was "yes."
Mariell immediately quit her job and took on the social media marketing role, 25-year-old Marika handled logistics, 28-year-old Trixie took care of sourcing and purchasing, and Pamela took charge in the kitchen. The girls' parents also served as business consultants. Suddenly, it was all hands on deck for the whole family – and the rest was Taste and Tell history.
Just like many small food businesses, Taste and Tell launched during the peak of the pandemic – a stressful move, especially for young owners with no prior business experience.
"In the beginning, we felt like we were thrown into a war zone without any weapons, trying to fulfill and organize so many orders," Pamela told Rappler.
"It was hard sourcing quality ingredients. We had to talk to so many suppliers to send us samples of different ingredients – from Japanese mayonnaise, premium crab sticks, to Norwegian salmon."
"Like any other new venture, we’ve had our fair share of shortcomings. But we took both the good and bad feedback for our improvement, and we had our family as our support system, offering help even before we asked."
Sushi bakes have become a very saturated market, so what was the secret behind Taste and Tell's success? Perhaps a mix of novelty, premium ingredients, and speed. Taste and Tell was one of the very first brands to serve the dish aburi-style, using more expensive seafood and unique sauces right away. To many, they offered an "elevated" sushi bake experience.
"Our trays are also all made with love. We also made sure that this could be a daily staple for the Filipino tastebuds," Pamela said.
"We wanted the concept to be ready-to-eat – no more baking or oven needed. We don't compromise on any ingredients either."
You’d think a food fad would die down by now, but with sushi bake, it's quite the contrary – Filipinos still can't seem to get enough, and Taste and Tell isn’t planning to let go of this obsession just yet.
"Sushi bake was a hit because of its rice component. We Filipino love to eat rice! And during the pandemic, everyone is home with their families. So everyone just wants to spend time with each other with good food," Pamela said.
"We plan to keep our brand sustainable by adapting to this market, creating new flavors, and listening to what our customers want."
Taste and Tell also owes its success to 3 factors: customer service, social media presence, and word of mouth.
"If your customer doesn't feel appreciated or valued, it doesn't matter how great your product is. At the end of the day, you're also selling your customers an experience," Pamela said. Once a good experience is sold, that's when word of mouth spreads.
"At the same time, your social media visuals should be nice and feed posting must be continuous. You must always engage with your customers."
Taste and Tell is on call the whole week, except on Mondays and Thursdays. But on these rest days, Team No Sleep is still at it, replenishing stocks and checking inventory. Recipe development days aren't set – they're usually dictated by Pamela's bursts of creativity and inspiration.
"We wake up at 7am and start cooking in the kitchen by 7:30. By noon, half of us dispatches orders while the other half stays in the kitchen to cook," Pamela said, who still attends online classes after service.
Cooking for the day officially ends at 4 pm, but the work doesn't. The evening is spent taking orders online and confirming payments with customers, and it is only at midnight that the team can finally sleep.
"During our first few weeks, we'd even forget to eat because we had to fulfill all of the orders and have them delivered right away," said.
"But since then, we've learned to manage our time wisely." – Rappler.com
If she’s not writing about food, she’s probably thinking about it. From advertising copywriter to freelance feature writer, Steph Arnaldo finally turned her part-time passion into a full-time career. She’s written about food, lifestyle, and wellness for Rappler since 2018.