Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Aboy's Restaurant; A Story of Dedication

Bacolod City is not only known for its sweet delicacies but also delicious food accompanied by success stories. Here is one of the so many rags-to-riches episodes in the life of Bacolod.

"A popular eating place for tourists in Bacolod City for the past 11 years is Aboy's Restaurant, which is famous for its grilled blue marlin and such other specialties as squid fat, tuna sisig, pork sisig, and grilled mushrooms. The 1,464 sq m restaurant, which has been designed to look like a mansion, has four function rooms that can accommodate as many as 120 to 150 customers at any one time. On a typical day, it serves an average of 500 diners and gets one or two bookings for its function rooms. It is a successful business in every way—a labor of love by a former pharmaceutical salesman who started it in 1992 as a small carinderia (eatery) with bare soil as flooring.

Nestor Evaristo, now 49, had put up Aboy's Restaurant the hard way. After being assigned in Bacolod for 10 years as a salesman for United Laboratories, he found life in the city to his liking and decided to stay there for good. Thus, when the company reassigned him to Manila in 1992, he decided to quit and go into business on his own in Bacolod. He thought that it would be easier to run a business in Bacolod considering that he and his family had already lived there for 10 years during his assignment.

Before he could put up a business, however, the Evaristos had already used up his P80,000 separation pay from Unilab. To make ends meet while still thinking up a suitable business, Evaristo peddled polvoron, fishball, and whatever sellable product he could lay his hands on, while his wife, Rodelia, sold insurance plans. Then one day, Evaristo chanced upon a vacant lot along Burgos St. near the public market. Since he was used to doing home cooking, he instinctively thought of putting up a carinderia on that spot. The problem was that he did not have the capital for it. "I therefore pawned my Volkswagen for P28,000 to raise the money," he recalls. As it turned out, the amount he got was just enough for the construction of a kubo (nipa hut) made of coco lumber and for the other start-up expenses. Through sheer determination, however, the Evaristos somehow managed to put up their carinderia. Success comes from good marketing, good pricing, and personalized service to customers

To get started in the business, the Evaristos served only typical carinderia fare like menudo and mechado. They thought that these dishes would be suitable for the drivers and sales agents who were their target customers. They were wrong; hardly any of their target customers liked or bought their food offerings. It was then that the Evaristos decided to serve sinugba (grilled food), the native Ilonggo dish. It was to become their carinderia's specialty, but at that time, even with its introduction, all that the couple could attract was an average of 20 customers a day—hardly enough to make the business a going concern. Worse, they could not serve dinner because the place was so dark and the carinderia could remain open for business only from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
The Evaristos thus found themselves in a serious quandary. Their carinderia was not making any profit at all; out of its daily capital outlay of P1,000, it was grossing only P500 because half of the dishes were just going to waste. Thus, for three months, just to keep the business afloat and be able to pay their helpers, the Evaristos had to pawn their belongings one after another. Evaristo tried to get a loan from the banks but to no avail. "That's the sad reality of starting a business," he says. "No bank would want to help you because you don't have a credit history and a track record."

As a last resort, Evaristo decided to reinvent his menu and to come up with a market buzz for his restaurant. He did tests to determine what dishes would sell, then improved the taste of those dishes. He also did several sales gimmicks: one was to give out discount coupons through taxi drivers, and the other to ask for the business cards of his customers. "The taxi drivers didn't get anything from our 15 percent discount coupons but some of the passengers who received them would give the drivers a tip in appreciation," he says.
After a week of the coupon distribution effort, more customers came to eat at Aboy's. In fact, the word of mouth became so effective that even prominent people in Iloilo started coming to the place to eat. It was at this point that the Evaristos decided that Rodelia should take charge of the financials of the business, and that Nestor should devote his time to cooking and serving.

Evaristo says that his idea of collecting business cards from customers also proved very effective in creating customer awareness for Aboy's. It got started when on a whim, he asked his customers for their business cards, which he then posted on the wall of the restaurant as keepsakes. This routine became so well-established that the clients themselves started freely posting their business cards on the wall. After collecting hundreds of the business cards, Evaristo decided to classify them according to industry as a reference for his customers—an extra service that Aboy's soon became very well known for.

Six months after, buoyed up by the success of its marketing initiatives, Aboy's started enjoying brisk business and the Evaristos recovered their initial investment in the restaurant. Then, sometime in 1995, a representative of Allied Bank knocked at their door offering them a loan. The couple decided to borrow P4.8 million from the bank to expand their restaurant business. They used the loan to buy a P3-million lot at Liroville Subdivision, at the back of the Golden Field Commercial Complex in Bacolod, then built a 120-seater restaurant worth P1.8 million on it.

With a daily average of 300 to 350 customers dining at their new restaurant during peak seasons, the Evaristos did very well and were able to fully repay their bank loan in 2000. At this point, Evaristo began to further improve and standardize his recipes as well as focus more intensely on the quality of Aboy's food preparation and customer service. "Our trade secret does not lie on my recipes alone but on a combination of many factors, particularly the kind of service my crew gives to our customers and our being hands-on in running the business," he says. In 2005, the Evaristos took a P9 million loan from the BPI Family Bank, then another P5 million in 2006, to further expand the capacity of Aboy's restaurant to 500 seats. They also added more restaurant facilities and hired a bigger crew to further improve their customer service.

Today, Aboy's has a total of 75 employees, 12 of whom work in the kitchen, six in the grilling area, and the rest in the restaurant floor to serve the diners. However, Evaristo has made it standard practice to require all of the restaurant employees to be at the dining area during lunchtime so they can all serve the customers. "Cook ka man or accountant, basta lunch time, you have to serve," he says.

The Evaristos attribute the success of their restaurant to good marketing, good pricing, and personalized service to customers. "Paminsan-minsan nga, pinapayungan ko pa ang customers, minsan ipinagda-drive ko sila kapag walang makuhang taxi o kapag nahihirapan silang makabalik sa kanilang hotel [Sometimes, I even have to walk our customers with our umbrella, and at times I drive for them when they couldn't get a taxi or when they find it so difficult to get back to their hotel]."

Even as the competition gets stiffer with the opening of more Manila-based grill restaurants in Iloilo, the Evaristos are very confident that Aboy's Restaurant can hold its own because of its key success secrets. Recently, in fact, Aboy's opened its business for franchising under the guidance of RK Consultancy, having decided to make its well-loved food specialties even more widely available to the dining public."
When in Bacolod, don't forget to make a stop at Aboy's Restaurant and have a taste of food from the Ilonggo kitchen.
Liroville Subd., Bacolod City
Telephone: (034) 435-0760; (034) 435-2340

(Article from Entrepreneur.com.ph)

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