food businesses

Freelancers turn to food during pandemic’s crucial period

Mari-An C. Santos

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Freelancers turn to food during pandemic’s crucial period

SIDECAR SIDE HUSTLE. Emer Buenaventura focuses on a food business during the early months of COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.

courtesy of Emer Buenaventura

Entrepreneurs find the need to constantly adapt to changes, and understand how these affect lives. Yet, one thing is constant: people will get hungry and want food

MANILA, Philippines – What do a makeup artist for brides and stars and a former presidential speechwriter have in common? They are among many Filipino freelancers who turned to food businesses to earn money during the crucial period of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A 2022 survey conducted by Payoneer and GCash found that 69% of freelancers managed their own businesses while doing freelance work. The Philippine Statistics Authority’s 2021 List of Establishments showed that micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises comprised 99.58% of businesses in the country.

Brushing up on skills

When the COVID-19 lockdown began in March 2020, Emer Buenaventura had to cancel plans on his calendar, including a wedding in Tuscany. 

Initially, he relied on savings from almost two decades of doing makeup for editorial and advertising photo shoots and events to support himself and his parents. Fortunately, since December 2019, he had been operating a food cart in his Oranbo neighborhood in Pasig.

This was the fulfillment of his dream to have his own food business. He used a second-hand sidecar with a food cart setup, grilling siomai instead of serving the traditional steamed version, and elevating the soy sauce mixture with his recipe. 

He did brisk business on the busy streets among commuters, but as quarantine levels quickly changed, his cart vendor went back to his province, and Emer had to work within pandemic restrictions.

FROM MAKEUP TO FOOD. Emer Buenaventura, who has been a makeup artist for about 20 years, establishes a food business when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. – courtesy of Emer Buenaventura

During the strictest periods, to fight boredom while staying at home, he organized online makeup challenges for his neighborhood friends, who posted their entries on a group chat. 

Emer awarded weekly winners with makeup equipment and products from his stash.

Emer participated in locked-in taping bubbles for teleserye productions in 2021, requiring his absence from the store for 45 days at a time. As a result, his sister took over the food cart.

In 2022, Emer returned to doing makeup for events and advertising pictorials. By December of that year, he and a business partner inaugurated Icons.Salon in Palatiw Kanan, Pasig. 

Despite being located in a residential area, they kept prices affordable, upholding their tagline “affordable glam.”

Emer values sincere customer service and expressed satisfaction in seeing his customers’ positive reactions to their transformations. He said the pandemic taught him that nothing is permanent and highlighted the importance of having other skills, interests, and business acumen.

Now, Emer plans to expand his business by opening another salon in Oranbo and purchasing additional food carts to offer filling and affordable merienda in different parts of Pasig.

Kneading perfection

Like many others during the pandemic, Mai Mislang, a communications consultant, learned a new skill: sourdough bread-making. Eventually, it turned into a home business as she needed to supplement her income while staying at home with her aging parents.

Mai’s interest in baking sourdough bread started during the early days of lockdown when she was cautious about going out but craved good bread. She learned how to bake bread through online sources and became fascinated with sourdough, which grows bacteria from a mixture of flour and water to rise, instead of using conventional yeast.

She said it took her three months to develop a sourdough starter, which she named “Marcus Aurelius,” and it’s still alive today. 

By Christmas of that year, she shared her bread with friends, who were eager to order more. 

After a few more months of honing her baking skills, Rise Artisanal was launched on May 1, 2021.

KITCHEN ART. Communications consultant Mai Mislang learns the art of sourdough bread-making in her kitchen, and eventually establishes a home-based business after perfecting it. – courtesy of Mai Mislang

Drawing from her experience working for a multinational hotel chain and her frustration with finding a way to personalize a gift from a cloud kitchen, Mai offered a concierge service providing free gift-wrapping and personalized cards to make her customers feel special. She said her thoughtful touches helped to create a loyal customer base.

Mai said she devoted all her time and effort to her sourdough business in 2022, preparing dough on Thursdays and delivering orders on weekends. 

During the Christmas season, due to high demand, she worked every day from mid-November to early January. 

Her innovative use of sourdough discards for cookies, brownies, and apple pies set her apart. While the laborious process of making sourdough bread requires overnight fermentation at controlled temperatures, Mai’s pricing remains premium, and she primarily caters to affluent clientele living in upscale gated communities.

Mai’s operations are exclusively home-based and available only on weekends, giving her time for other passions.

Supplying essentials

Eric Teng, for his part, said their food businesses are, even now, a work in progress despite their success with restaurants like Mango Tree, Genki Sushi Philippines, and Sen-Ryo.

He acknowledged that the pandemic hastened the transformation of the food sector. 

“Life has changed the way we travel, work, and consume. We have to constantly observe changes and how they affect our lives,” he told Rappler. 

Yet, one thing is constant: people will get hungry and want food.

“Everyone, anyone can be an entrepreneur. It’s a mindset,” reassured Teng for those contemplating entering the business world. 

Here are some of his tips: 

  • Share your passion, and seek a supportive team. Be prepared; conduct thorough research, but don’t let it prevent you from starting. Remember, launching an enterprise is a continuous process.
  • Learn from your mistakes; never cling to one plan. Strike a balance between remaining alert and trying to accept the problems that arise. Use mistakes as a learning tool. –

Mari-An Santos is an Aries Rufo Journalism fellow.

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