How this caterer shifted and grew her home business during lockdown

Anna Gabrielle Cerezo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 03 2020 06:04 AM | Updated as of Jun 03 2020 08:34 AM

Food entrepreneur Ammy Prieto with "Umagang Kay Ganda" host Gretchen Ho

MANILA -- When the coronavirus swept the nation and forced the public to stay home, countless amateur chefs and bakers lit up their stoves, and fired up their ovens. 

While some cooked to pass time, some did it to earn an extra income. With the economy shut and companies forced to retrench, many turned to online selling to keep afloat. 

Luckily, for some they found success at the comfort of their home.

Ammy Prieto, owner of Prieto’s Kitchen, a catering service that has recently shifted into a home kitchen setup, said her business picked up during the lockdown.

“Catering business completely ceased operations but our food orders have been successful,” she said. 

“Since the ECQ, we are always fully booked. We have been cooking at full capacity daily,” she added. 

While the government has relaxed the lockdown, food and beverage establishments operations remain at a limited capacity.

With eating in as the norm (and safest option), Prieto, advising from her own experience, encouraged aspiring food entrepreneurs to launch their business. 

“We get a lot of orders. We are busy everyday. We had more orders these days,” she said.

Since the businesswoman acknowledges no venture comes without risks, she offered this piece of advice: “invest in the quality of your food and be hungry for opportunities.” 

QUALITY IS CORE

While the types of cuisines and fusions a budding entrepreneur can choose from are vast, so is the market. The businesswoman noted “it boils down to the quality of the product and not the type of food.”

Baked Salmon and Meatloaf. Handout

As a caterer, Prieto’s kitchen offers a wide range of food selections. According to her, their bestsellers are a mix of both their classic dishes and those with twists.

“For our traditional dishes, our baked salmon, our meatloaf, hibok-hibok and bibingka are the bestsellers,” she enumerated.

Meanwhile, palitaw balls with dulce de leche filling and ube-cheese pandesal are the home kitchen’s non-traditional bestsellers. 

“People will buy your food because they enjoy the taste, they will look for it,” Prieto said. 

KEEP AN OPEN MIND FOR OPPORTUNITIES

While food trends such as the ube-cheese pandesal tend to saturate the market, Prieto said she is not afraid to join the bandwagon.

“It is a business opportunity,” she insisted.

Instead of being discouraged by the crowded market, Prieto advised aspiring entrepreneurs to take advantage of it.

According to her, “as long as the product stands out from the competition, and gives the customers their money's worth,” the product will thrive. 

“In the end, it’s about the taste and I’ve been told my version is better or the best they tried,” she said. 

Ube cheese pandesal. Handout

While Prieto admitted getting compliments especially from first time customers is elating, she noted “repeat orders” are the true stamp of success.

“It makes me happy when customers text me they enjoyed the food, nakakawala ng pagod… but when people order again, that is the sign I am successful,” she shared. 

INVEST IN THE INGREDIENTS 

To create topnotch products that will have “customers wanting more,” Prieto advised foodies to use fresh ingredients from reputable and high-quality brands. 

“For the ube pandesal, for example, I only buy the cheese that I myself find delicious,” she said.

Prieto also stressed the importance of researching and experimenting with various ingredients in cooking. 

“I learned big household brands use this certain flour so I switched to it, and I was told by my customers the ube pandesal tasted better,” Prieto added. 

The caterer also warned cooks not to skimp on ingredients to cut costs. 

“In my artichoke dip, I use 5 kinds of cheese and I put a generous amount for each… I got compliments that it tasted better than the one from a famous restaurant for around the same price,” Prieto said. 

She continued: “If magtipid ka kahit kaunti, the quality will be different. You won’t be satisfied.”

Artichoke Dip. Handout

BUILD A NETWORK

While delicious products are obviously what will sustain a business, establishing a strong network can jumpstart it.

According to Prieto, she was able to transition into a home business when orders for separate food trays grew by “word of mouth.” 

“I started as a caterer and only sold food trays and boxes to friends. But through their referrals, I eventually got more and more orders,” she explained. 

She continued: “For example, a satisfied customer liked our food so he would refer us to his friends or family, who in turn would order. Or someone would buy from us for gifting or for events, and when they liked it, they would order too, and so on. Umiikot na.” 

The businesswoman also stressed the importance of being proactive. 

While Prieto said she had always been passionate about cooking, starting a business did not cross her mind. 

“I love cooking for my friends and family. As a young wife before dapat terno lagi pagkain. If there is sinigang, there should be matching inihaw,” she recalled. 

She continued: “When I was in college I would always bring lasagna for my friends. I really enjoyed letting others try my cooking.” 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Ammy Prieto (@prietoskitchen) on

Eventually, when Prieto met the right people, she was able to turn her passion into an opportunity.

“When my husband was still active in PNP, I would bring food at Crame for the ladies club,” she shared. 

“They then asked me to cater the lunch regularly. It all started there,” she added.

DON’T STOP LEARNING

Prieto said she loved trying new recipes and experimenting how to improve her craft. 

“When I was in college I enrolled myself in cooking class. In 2018, I re-enrolled with the same mentor to learn new dishes,” Prieto said.

“Most of the time, I just look at the recipes on the internet and try them out,” she added.

Prieto encourages aspiring foodies to likewise be bold in the kitchen. 

“One time, I cooked callos for the first time. I just looked up the ingredients on Google, and the wife of PNP Chief Archie Gamboa told me he really liked it,” she recalled. 

According to her, “you never know the dish might be the next best seller.”

PATIENCE AND HARDWORK

The key to a thriving business in the long run, Prieto said, is perseverance.

Although she works from home, running a business is no easy feat. According to Prieto only three people run the home kitchen.

“With the help of my niece Carol and another aide, we start cooking at 6 a.m. until around 1 or 2 p.m.,” Prieto explained.

After packing the orders, she also oversees the delivery.

“I get in touch with the customers when they can book a courier for their orders. I also give special instructions,” Prieto said.

“For example, when they order kakanin, I tell them to put it in the fridge or open the container so it won't spoil,” she added.

Work, however, does not end in the kitchen. After managing the deliveries, Prieto and her niece will go to the grocery and the market to restock their supplies for the next batch of orders. 

Prieto emphasized the importance of patience in growing her business. 

“I was told it would take about 4 years before business would pick up. True enough, I started around 2017,” she said.

She continued, “Before, I would see other businesses take off before mine and think to myself, malayo pa ako.” 

Thankfully, Prieto said she did not give up despite the challenges as business has caught on and is now looking into expanding her kitchen.

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