Lockdown Economy Philippines in a Street Foods and Beverages Business with Gayle Antes
The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Megha Shyamili Purushothaman
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 Gayle Antes, the co-founder of Avenida Pedestrian Delights, Filipino street foods and beverages business based in Mandaluyong. Gayle and her husband established Avenida Pedestrian Delights grounded by the principle of Business As Mission with creating job opportunities for those in need as its primary purpose. The business had a hard time adjusting in the first few months of the lockdown because products like “taho” are supposed to be in large cans to be marketed house-to-house instead of packed delivery. Gayle also had to learn how to market their products online.
Tell us about your business Avenida Pedestrian Delights.
Gayle: Avenida Pedestrian Delights was actually my thesis when I went to grad school a couple of years ago. What I wanted to do was to bring the Filipino street foods that we find here in Mandaluyong to the business centres in the Philippines like BGC, Makati Business District and Eastwood. That’s how the idea started, we just wanted to experiment if people from those cities would accept street foods coming from where I grew up, which is Mandaluyong city. Avenida Pedestrian Delights started as a food stall in BGC and then during the pandemic, it became a delivery service because we had to close down all of our food stalls because there were no workers anymore and we didn’t have enough market to sustain it.
So for everyone’s info, the cities that Gayle mentioned, BGC, are like neocities. They are cities that you do not expect will buy street foods.
Gayle: There are no street vendors or peddlers in those cities. They’re not allowed by the cities.
Okay, so can you share with us the story behind ‘Backpack Mission’ that started Avenida Pedestrian Delights?
Gayle: Avenida Pedestrian Delights started in 2018 but the entire business projects started way back in 2012. My husband and I used to live in Los Angeles, California and prior to us coming back here, we had been living there for about 20 years. We have three children.
What we started doing for a church mission, at least between our families, is we started a ‘Backpack Mission’ and we started going back to the Philippines and sponsoring small churches and small communities where we distributed backpacks with school supplies to underprivileged communities and students. We were able to go to Batangas city which is south Luzon and to mountains near Luzon, the mountains in Pampanga where we were able to distribute it to the Aetas community. We were also able to do it in Olongapo city- so like different cities in the Philippines.
But during the 2012 Backpack Mission, when we were doing our distribution to the kids and to the communities, my husband was able to speak and converse with one of the fathers of the children, who was a recipient of the backpack with school supplies. The father was sharing with Eric how he’s very thankful for the backpack with school supplies because it would really help them alleviate the cost of sending their kids to school but during the conversation, he was sharing with Eric how hard it is for people like him to sustain sending their kids to school as a lot of them don’t have jobs and would have seasonal jobs and in the middle of the school year, they won’t have jobs. So he was sharing how hard it was for him to sustain sending his kids to school. That conversation really touched the heart of my husband and it got him thinking that maybe the Backpack Mission might not be sustainable. It’s great that you’re able to give 200 students backpacks with school supplies and they’re all excited to go to school in June but what happens in October when the dad loses his job? We had this brilliant idea to turn the Backpack Mission into ‘Businesses Mission’.
From L.A., we came up with the idea to be business missionaries which means, instead of going to the Philippines to do food drives and all that stuff, we went to the Philippines to put up businesses, small businesses in the community. So the best community, for me, was Mandaluyong because that is where I grew up. The first business that we had was- we put the whole factory at the heart of Mandaluyong city and we started with 16 vendors. It grew to 75 vendors prior to the pandemic, which was amazing. We had all these vendors and the way that my husband did it was he would provide all the materials, the cans for the audiences, maybe they don’t know what taho means- Taho is soybean curd and here in the Philippines. It is being peddled in the streets with men carrying two buckets, thin-back buckets of the taho or beancurd and they go around the city and scream “Taho!” to sell it in the neighbourhood. So what my husband did was he designed it this way- to encourage the men in the community to not be a worker but to be an entrepreneur. So we were manufacturing, your order from us and then it is up to you how you want to market or sell it and how much ever you sell, that’s going to be your profit. So to encourage the men in the community, my husband provided all the materials, like the taho cans, their first order and thus, all that came free and whatever you earn for the first day, you’d take that home. Our hope and our prayer by doing that is to encourage them to come back the next day. So when they feel like “Oh wow, I can make money out of this!”, you make 500 pesos, 300 pesos, 3000 pesos, it was an encouragement for them to come back the next day, for them to feel like “I can do this!” So from 16 vendors, we were able to grow it to 75 vendors before the pandemic.
That was in 2012 and it was great. Our background is healthcare professionals. We were back in LA, working our jobs and the business was going on back here. But back in 2014/2013, Eric had this ambitious crazy idea to move back to the Philippines so in June of 2014, we sold everything we owned, quit our jobs, left all our family and friends behind, we left the only lives we knew of and moved back here. So our agreement was we were going to do this for 2 years.
Gayle: Very risky! We had 3 young kids under and during that time, they were all under 12. So we were like, “Okay, if we are going to do this for two years then we’re just going to have to create relationships with these people.” Then we hope that by creating relationships, we would create a stronger impact as far as holistic development is concerned which means spiritually, financially, physically and emotionally. So 2014 we moved back here and we started another business which is the junk shop business, designing it the same way as the taho one- encouraging people to come and we give them a 1000 pesos a day and then they go around the community, buy people’s junk so we can collect it at the end of the day and recycle it. So that was the second business.
In 2017, we observed that there were lots of kids of the vendors who needed students and allowances to buy their food for school and projects and who needed jobs but couldn’t find jobs because they could only work weekends. So we had this other idea to create Sorbelato & Soyblessed catering services. From peddling our taho in the streets, we brought it to events and parties. We put up booths of taho and ice cream, the sorbets ice cream which is our Filipino traditional ice cream, we turn it to sorbellato. We did R&D for a long period of time and combined the taste of traditional sorbets with the creaminess and way that gelato is created, so we call it sorbelato. We created the catering services which is Sorbelato & Soyblessed and we were able to hire the kids of the vendors for weekend jobs, so we were able to pay them- in the Philippines, the minimum wage is 500 something a day for 8 hours so for the kids and the students, we were paying them 100 pesos an hour for 4 hours plus 50 pesos for food allowance. So that’s 450 pesos for 4–5 hours work, right? So that’s how we did for the kids, students, college and senior high. We started in 2017 and we were doing 13 (events) a month. Prior to the pandemic, we were doing 100 events a month.
As I said, in 2018, I went back to school to take up my Masters degree in entrepreneurship because I want to learn how to do this. When we started doing it, it was pure heart and I realised we can’t do business with just pure heart so I had to learn what KPI means, what inventory is and all that stuff and even just how to really do business better. So I went back to school to take up my Masters in Entrepreneurship and I had to create a project or a thesis. I realized that what we don’t have jobs for the mothers or women in our community, so I created Avenida Pedestrian Delights because the mothers and the women in the community can’t do the catering services as it requires a lot of lifting. Some of them can do it, well, of course, even the taho business requires a lot of physical strength that a lot of women can do. So I realised and asked my husband “So who do I have, who am I not able to create jobs for? Okay, so women!” So I created Avenida Pedestrian Delights because Avenida Pedestrian Delights was designed to be food booths in different places in the communities in Eastwood, BGC and Makati and who are the perfect people to man the booths? The women! So that’s how I created Avenida Pedestrian Delights. I had the inspiration to create this business specifically for women.
It was doing great, it was surprising that people in those communities accepted our products. We had purely Filipino street food; egg scramble, taho, sorbets, banana cue, camote cue all those things, it was surprising that the people accepted it. Unfortunately, pandemic hit, so all of those businesses because of the ECQ- for your audiences, it is the mandate of the government to shut down everything except essentials. So Sorbelato & Soyblessed, the catering events business, from 100 events a month, it was down to zero. We couldn’t afford to sustain the food booths because we couldn’t afford to pay rent as there were no workers. Ninety per cent, I’m not sure if I am right with the numbers, but most workers started working from home. Not to mention the industries that shut down after that. A lot of the taho vendors had to rest because a lot of them are 65 and over. And based on the government mandate, everybody who was 65 and older can’t go out and do business.
So yes, we were severely affected. For a month I was watching Netflix and wallowing in my tears and sadness that all the businesses had slowed down. Then my husband said, “Okay, well you know what, we need to get up there and do something about this cuz a lot of the people outside are going hungry”. And I said yeah. So when the pandemic hit, what we tried to do is we were giving all of our vendors, servers and employees, weekly groceries to sustain them. But 2–3 months into it, it was hard to sustain it. So my husband and I had to think of a way to create something of value to help these people at least some of them if we can’t hire all of them back; to at least give some of them back so we thought of this great idea of making Avenida Pedestrian Delights a delivery service and I think that’s where you found us *laughs*.
We started doing it through Instagram and Facebook and everything was done through delivery. It was very challenging at first because how do you pack taho from the traditional cans into containers? I hope people who used to buy from us, the first few people who bought from us and are watching this, I want to sincerely apologize because we really didn’t know what we were doing the first few weeks! When we would deliver, the taho would be crumbly and it was not perfect when we would deliver it. But now we found ways to do it with R&D and all the research that we had to do, so now we are able to deliver taho, scramble and everything in containers.
We started it in May, I have to say that it was a flourishing business during the pandemic because no one was going out so the business was doing really great when no one was going out and everybody was at home. So that’s how Avenida Pedestrian Delights started and progressed to this delivery service.
Right! So now Gayle, can you share with us the status of your business like how is your business doing right now?
Gayle: As far as Avenida Pedestrian Delights is concerned, because everybody is able to go out now, I mean we can see it in the news- the sales for Avenida Pedestrian Delights is going down but the dealership with the taho business is going up. So that’s how we know the trend. When the vendors are able to sell more in the streets. The delivery service goes down. Which is for us, while it is sad as far the business is concerned, we are happy because the vendors are able to sell more which means they are able to provide more for their families. Sorbelato & Soyblessed may not be as great as it used to be, which is 100 events a month but during December, we were able to book more than a dozen events. If you were to ask me, is there any business that I really would want to flourish again it would be the Sorbelato & Soyblessed business because Sorbelato & Soyblessed business is — everyone in the team was making money- the servers, us; we would pay our ice cream cook 500 pesos per three hours of his time, our coordinator would make money off events and we would give her commission for every event. There were four people making money in the Sorbelato & Soyblessed business compared to the Avenida business which is just me and my husband and of course, we pay the employees but that’s not how we designed Business Mission. Business Mission was designed for everyone to make money, create wealth and benefit from the business. So as much as I am very thankful that Avenida Pedestrian Delights flourished during the pandemic, my prayer is for the Sorbelato & Soyblessed business and the Antes dealership which is the manufacturing business, to be the ones to flourish again because if those businesses flourish, everyone in the community or in our team makes money instead of just us. So you know, that’s why when I was reading your questionnaire, I had to really think about this and I thought, yeah it is those two businesses that I really want to flourish again because we had shared wealth when those businesses were flourishing instead of just Avenida and it is just us and the partners.
So how about your customers, do you know how your customers, taho lovers like me, are doing right now? And your competitors as well?
Gayle: We have a lot of competitors. I think after we did- well I don’t know who did it first but when we came out with the Avenida Pedestrian Delights, it was amazing!
Sometimes we would have 200 items sold a day, that’s how amazing it became. After that, we saw a lot of people doing it too but we are thankful for that, we really believe, and this is honest to goodness statement, that we are very happy that people are able to copy it and thrive and even survive by copying the concept because you really can feel, when you go out there in the community, you can feel the hardship and poverty of the people. If people are able to survive through copying the concept or by being a competition of the concept, then that’s really fine. That’s why we are in three enterprises because we are able to do that.
So we have a lot of competition that came up but we’re perfectly happy, like I said, an honest to goodness statement and we are very happy that people are able to survive and thrive and we are happier if they thrive. I think one of the biggest benefits that we have if we are the manufacturers of our own products- we are able to make money from the manufacturing side to the distribution side because we have everything, we are the beginning to the end-users, we are able to do it. I think with Avenida Pedestrian Delights, what’s unique about us is we are selling almost all the Filipino street foods you see out there because when we look at the competition, we see just taho and ice cream; at Avenida Pedestrian Delights, we have everything. So I guess that works for us because we have all the products available that we can sell to the market and as far as the market is concerned, a lot of the people that were buying from us are the people who were uncomfortable buying from the street vendors. And it’s understandable because it is the pandemic so they wanted to make sure that the packaging was safe, the way it’s presented is safe, of course, compared to the taho from the outside or the fishball. So it is understandable and of course, I guess that the great thing about democracy is that you have a market for everybody and of course, the other vendors would have their own market too but primarily our market is the people who weren’t comfortable buying from the other vendors outside pedalling in the streets or even comfortable going out yet to buy food from the restaurants or going and eating out.
Gayle, you already shared a few of your struggles during the pandemic but can you name three things you need help with?
Gayle: Well, I think there’s not much we can do as far the catering and events business is concerned unless the vaccine comes out or people are feeling safe to come out. I know with the vaccine it’s really- the biggest thing about the pandemic, a lot of business owners can relate to this, it is the fear in the hearts of the people. Unless that fear is alleviated, there’s not much that we can do. Of course, it is political too unless the mandates are changed that we can congregate 50 or more people then there’s not much that we can do. So really right now, it’s mostly political, health, environmental and there’s not much that we can do.
I think right now a lot of the businesses, even with us, is we just need to know how to gracefully exit and end some of our enterprises and our ideas because like I said, with tourism and all the event businesses, it might take a while, a couple of years, before all of them come back to the normal that we had in 2019. Unless we accept that or adapt to the new normal, there is really not much that we can do so yeah, I think it’s really to accept that you will never be the same until the vaccine or until 2 years from now like how a lot of health experts are predicting.
An entrepreneur who advocates business as a mission, she is Gayle Antes! Thank you so much, Gayle!
Gayle: Thank you so much too!
About the Guest
Gayle Antes moved to Los Angeles, California back in 1994, and began her career in the healthcare industry as a receptionist. She worked her way up and became the youngest Accounts Receivable Regional Financial Consultant of one of the biggest healthcare companies in Southern California. She was responsible to oversee the Federal and State accounts receivable collections of multiple Long Term Care Facilities with a total of over $100 million in annual sales. She was also part of an integral team that helped another healthcare company develop new businesses and acquisitions that resulted in an additional $200 million in annual sales. Although still living in the US, Gayle and her husband decided to start different businesses in Manila. They eventually moved back to the Philippines in 2014 to pursue their calling called ‘Business as Mission”. After receiving her master’s degree in Entrepreneurship in 2018, she became a guest lecturer for business and entrepreneurship for postgraduate students, as well as corporate managers & executives. She also started a consultancy firm to help investors and other entrepreneurs in business development and compliance. Gayle is also very active in community outreach and volunteer work. Together with her husband, they started a ‘backpack mission’ where they would go to underserved communities in a different part of the Philippines to give backpacks with school supplies to school-aged children. She has also done community outreach with the Muslim communities to foster better relations between the Christian community and the Muslim community. Among others, Gayle co-handles Avenida Pedestrian Delights, the home of your favourite PH Street Food.