Lockdown Economy Philippines in a Food and Beverage Business with Oca Anoling

The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Danielle Hormillosa

Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.

In this interview, we meet Oscar Anoling, Jr., also known as Sir Oca, one of the founders of Hugot Café by Sir Oca, a food and beverage business in Jones, Isabela. Sir Oca shared the novel idea behind the name of the café, derived from a Filipino slang which refers to sentimental phrases. He also mentioned the business’ environment-friendly notions that they implemented before the Department of Trade and Industry required food businesses to use disposable utensils and containers due to the threats of COVID-19. Hugot Café by Sir Oca suffered from a lack of customers due to the safety regulations against the pandemic which ruled the closure of public establishments. When they re-opened and still with a limited number of customers allowed to enter the café, they utilized delivery services to allow their patrons to buy products amidst constraints.

Hello sir, how are you?

Oscar: Hi! Good afternoon. Awa ng Diyos, okay naman. We are safe here in the southern part of Isabela. Hindi naman kami masyadong naapektuhan ng bagyo at ng pagbaha. Okay naman.

That’s good to hear. Hugot Café by Sir Oca — what are the products that you sell or services you provide?

Oscar: Hindi ako yung sole founder ng Hugot Café. Apat kami dito, mga magkakaibigan noong high school, magkakaklase. Ang mga inooffer namin dito ay mga pang millennial na pagkain. Ang primary target market namin ay mga kabataan. Mayroon kaming milk tea, mayroon kaming fruit tea, may mga frappe, burgers, pasta, chicken wings at nachos — mga comfort foods.

How long have you been doing this business?

Oscar: We started in 2018. Pasalamat tayo sa Panginoon dahil ngayon, mayroon na kaming tatlong branches. We have one in Jones, yoon ang aming main branch and then we have one in Alicia and then one in Cauayan City.

Do you have employees and how many clients do you usually have?

Oscar: May mga employees kami. Dito sa Jones, we have six. In Cauayan, we have seven at dito sa Alicia, sa pagkakaalam ko, lima sila.

Hugot Café by Sir Oca — you mentioned earlier that you are not the sole founder of the business. Can you share with us the reason behind the name and what urged you to start it?

Oscar: Nag-road trip kami, kung baga parang north loop, kaming mga magkakaibigan mula high school. Dahil sa road trip na yoon, may na-create na group chat. Sa group chat namin, may isa kaming kaibigan na may business inclination. Nagbi-business talaga siya so siya ang nag-suggest doon sa group chat namin na bakit hindi kami mag-business dito sa Jones? The next question was, “what kind of business?” Nag-usap kami; binigyan namin ng assignment ang bawat isa. By the time that we meet again, dapat mayroon na kaming proposal. Actually, ang set-up namin ay three proposals each. By the time that we meet, we are expecting to have around 12 proposals. However, when we met, wala ni isang nakapag-present. Nag-agree kami to put up something na wala pa dito sa Jones. Ano nga ba ang wala pa dito sa Jones? Wala pang mga milk tea, wala pang mga ganyan. Lalong lalo na nung 2018, sikat na sikat talaga ang mga milkteahan. So naisip namin: café.

The next question was, “anong ipapangalan sa café?” Kung ano ang pangalan, yun ang magiging tema ng business or ng pwesto. Teacher ako dito sa ISU (Isabela State University) and mahilig ako sa mga hugot. Minsan vini-video ako ng mga estudyante ko habang nagdidiscuss o humohugot sa klase ko, and then they post it online. Kumakalat ang videos kaya sabi ng kaibigan ko, “bakit hindi nalang “Hugot Café by Sir Oca”? Sa aming apat, ako daw ang pinakakilala dito sa Jones so para itong marketing strategy, para lalong ma-promote ang business. Sa akin naman, walang problema as long as yung mga kasama ko pumayag na nakapangalan sa akin ang café, na “Hugot Café by Sir Oca”. Because of that, inisip namin kung ano ang magiging tema ng pwesto. Naglagay kami ng mga hugot sa wall. Kung mapapansin ninyo, sa pwesto namin, lahat ng nakasulat sa wall ay puro hugot.

Ang architecture ng pwesto namin ay may mezzanine or double-deck. Sa main branch namin sa Jones, kung saan kami nagsimula, very limited ang space. Kung hindi ako nagkakamali, 42 square meters lang and nabawasan pa ng kitchen, so lalong lumiit ang dining area. Mas konti ang make-cater na customers. Napaisip kami, “how are we going to double the seating capacity?” One of my friends suggested, “what if lagyan natin ng double deck?” lalong lalo na’t walang ganito sa Jones. It will be first of its kind. Dahil double deck ang café, bago at fresh ang idea. Isang strategy na din yoon na bebenta sa mga customers. Naisip namin na huwag nang maglagay ng upuan kasi lalong magiging limited ang space. Sa pwesto namin ngayon, nakaupo lang sa sahig ang mga kakain so kahit dikit-dikit sila, okay lang. Naglagay kami ng air condition para kahit dikit-dikit, comfortable pa rin yung mga kakain. Naglagay na din kami ng free internet para maka-attract ng customers.

Kapag magbi-business ka kasi, hindi mo lang iisipin yung business na ipapatayo mo, iisipin mo rin how you are going to attract customers para sustainable ang operation ng business. Lahat ng branches namin, ganito ang naging tema. Kung mapuntahan ninyo yung mga bago naming branches, lahat may double deck, walang upuan, nakaupo lang sa sahig, may aircon at may free internet connection.

That’s very different from other businesses and enterprises in Isabela. Previously, before DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) required the use of disposable utensils, Hugot Café used reusable ones. What is the reason behind this?

Oscar: Ang mga ginagamit namit dito ay mga reusable, yung mga nahuhugasan. Social responsibility, kung baga. Kung pwede ka namang gumamit ng reusable lalong lalo na ngayon, kung yung business mo — kahit maliit na business, may impact yung operation mo sa environmental degradation. Baka may balik. It’s one way para maka-contribute kami sa mga movement to fight environmental degradation. Mayroon kaming CLAYGO (“Clean As You Go”) policy na iniimplement sa lahat ng branches namin. We encourage our customers na sila na ang magtapon ng kanilang waste sa mga designated trash bins. Hindi ito katamaran on our part, but it is one way of inculcating responsibility in our customers when it comes to their own waste. Sinimulan namin dito ang pag-implement ng CLAYGO policy and we believe time will come na kapag nagpunta sila sa ibang kainan o establishment, magiging practice at part na ng sistema nila ang CLAYGO.

That’s an initiative! During the lockdown, what are you doing on the business front?

Oscar: We closed for exactly one month. We started closing all our branches on March 17. However, when food establishments were allowed to reopen, we reopened on April 17.

What are the strategies you did to stimulate the business and attract more customers?

Oscar: Dati, we do not have deliveries. We only cater dine-in and take out. Pero dahil sa lockdown and not everyone can go out sa mga bahay nila, naisip naming tuloy magkaroon ng delivery. Sa lahat ng mga branches, naki-partner na kami sa mga delivery services. Awa ng Diyos, naging okay naman yung aming operations dahil sa delivery services, kahit limited ang customers. Isang malaking bagay yun dahil hindi na kailangang lumabas ng mga customers.

Recently, typhoons have ravaged the Philippines and one of the affected areas is where the main branch of Hugot Café is located, in Jones, Isabela. How did this affect your business?

Oscar: Hindi naman major yung effect ng typhoon Ulysses dito sa Jones. Ang northern part of the province ang greatly affected. We are just very thankful na hindi kami naapektuhan dito sa southern part.

Thankfully! In general, how is your business going?

Oscar: Awa ng Diyos, okay naman. But of course, hindi kagaya ng normal operation. Hindi kagaya dati. Kahit nag-open na kami for dine-in, we are instructed by DTI na half lang ng capacity ang pwedeng mag dine-in. May epekto yun sa sales namin. However, nakakaya pa rin naming i-maintain ang operation dahil may pumapasok pa ring customers kahit papano.

Recently, Jones LGU (Local Government Unit) halted all the operations of public establishments because of COVID-19 cases. How did you cope with that problem?

Oscar: Isa kami sa mga naapektuhan dahil may isa kaming employado na nag-positive. When LGU instructed us to close, we immediately closed the business for 14 days. We followed the order to quarantine at home for 14 days. When the ECQ (Enhanced Community Quarantine) was lifted in our place, we immediately reopened the business and we are now on the fourth day of operation since the reopening.

How about your employee? How is he or she?

Oscar: Okay na siya. Nakalabas na siya ng quarantine. Negative ang kanyang swab test result. We are also thankful na lahat kaming nakasalamuha niya, negative for COVID-19. Very very thankful kami.

That’s good to hear! Do you know how your customers and your competition are doing now?

Oscar: When it comes to customers, we are very open to feedback, comments and suggestions because it is the only way we can improve our service. Every time mayroong feedback ang customer, we try to conduct a root cause analysis. Bakit ito nangyari? Bakit hinayaang mangyari ito? Then, we try to devise a scheme para ma-address agad ang problem.

In terms of the competition, hindi kami masyadong nagfofocus sa competition. We are more into helping the municipality na makilala ang business. Kung merong bagong business, we are happy kasi, halimbawa, kung may magsabi, “kung pupunta tayo ng Jones, ano ang mga pwedeng puntahan?” At least, marami ang choices, hindi lang Hugot Café. Ganoon kami, hindi kami masyadong nagfofocus sa completion. But of course, hindi rin namin hahayaang huli kami. It is still a business.

What is the outlook on the coming few months? What are your plans for Hugot Café especially since we are approaching December already?

Oscar: Gaya ng dati, kapag December mayroon kaming mga promotions, but hindi ko pwedeng i-divulge kasi kung baga, secret muna! But of course, our customers can expect promos lalong lalo na ngayong December. Maglalabas din kami ng bagong line ng products ngayong December.

Can you name three things you need help with, in terms of your business?

Oscar: Walang agad na pumapasok sa isipan ko. So far, okay naman ang operation ng business namin. Mas maganda sana kung babalik tayo sa normal na operation, gaya ng dati.

Isang consideration namin ang mga empleyado namin. Hindi kami nagkaroon ng retrenchment dahil sa pandemic, pero may schedule na and mga empleyado. Mayroon na silang mga shift at kumonti ang pasok ng bawat isa, hindi kagaya dati na marami silang pasok. Pinakiusapan namin sila na mas mabuti na mas kaunti ang pasok nila in a month, rather than may matanggal sa kanila. Pinag-isipan talaga namin ito. Mas kawawa ang empleyado kung magtatanggal kami dahil kailangan nila ng employment lalong lalo na ngayong panahon ng pandemic.

So far, walang major assistance ang kailangan. Ang pinagdarasal lang talaga namin ay sana bumalik na tayo sa normal operation para full blast na uli ang business.

A business that prioritizes environment and employee care. This is Hugot Café by Sir Oca. Thank you so much Sir Oca!

Oscar: Thank you very much for having me.

About the Guest

Hugot Café by Sir Oca first opened to the public on January 30, 2018. Established in the province of Isabela, its main branch is located in Barangay 1 in Jones while other branches are located in Alicia and Cauayan City. The café offers comfort food or “food for the millennials” and beverages. The café’s theme revolves around the slang “hugot,” a term derived from its original meaning: “to pull out” in English. Hugot then refers to drawing out your deep sentimental feelings and turn these into emotional statements, often romantic and with comedic shades. The café’s walls were adorned with tons of hugot, and even the drinks’ sizes were named single and taken.

https://www.instagram.com/hugotcafebysiroca/

The UN-registered nonprofit social initiative that helps small businesses and self-employed professionals to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.