What started as an exchange of family traditions is quickly becoming a network of small ventures focused on Filipino comfort foods.
Last year, human resources practitioner Leila Palma decided to go into the sorbetes business, peddling the frozen treat known colloquially as “dirty ice cream.” She christened her fledgling enterprise Sorbetiya, giving a nod to the aunt who had taught her the traditional recipe.
In December, her friends Zoilo and Diane Andin took their children on their annual trip to Baguio City to enjoy an old favorite, the time-honored hot tsokolate served by the Choco-Late de Batirol restaurant in Camp John Hay. The proprietors, who were friends of Mr. Andin’s, had been thinking of franchising their popular restaurant in Metro Manila but saw that it would be difficult to transport the ambiance of Baguio to the hot capital region.
The Andins offered to run a distributorship around the tsokolate paste instead, bottling the product in their own home. They also began selling batirols and molinillos, the metal jug and wooden whisk used to blend tsokolate, after having tapped a local foundry to produce the batirols according to Mr. Andin’s specifications.
In time, Ms. Palma and the Andins banded together under the banner of chocoATBP to sell their products at bazaars within the city. Their businesses took off quickly as passing elders gave their stamp of approval, while encouraging their children and grandchildren to sample the traditional treats.
“I don’t have to do too much marketing, because every now and then, people just call,” Ms. Palma said in an interview. She now has two sorbeteros plying the streets of Pasig and Taguig, and word-of-mouth has made Sorbetiya’s metal carts a fixture at private parties.
The Andins’ products stand up better to shipping conditions. “The batirols have reached as far as Cebu and Bacolod. In the US, we’re getting inquiries about thetsokolate, so it’s moving along pretty well. We’re looking forward to the point when we’re actually shipping it by the box,” Ms. Andin said.
The business also distributes Chinuts, another homemade product, this time by Ms. Palma’s sister Brenda. As chocoATBP continues to grow, its founders hope to add the goods of other entrepreneurs to their stock.
“What initially was an idea borne out of a love for a particular product is evolving into an advocacy,” Mr. Andin said. “Our group is becoming a platform for home-based producers who’ve come up with comfort foods, foods that remind us of our childhoods.”
Mr. Andin, now an independent lawyer, had worked for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, where he was involved in introducing new livelihoods to communities around the country. In the process, he saw how difficult it was to bridge small enterprises to the larger market in the capital and beyond. “Now that we’re in the private sector and we’ve set this up, I want to go back to them and say, ‘You don’t have a platform to market your products in Metro [Manila]—we can do that.’”
Later this year, the group hopes to start offering tiltilan, a traditional Kapampangan delicacy that Mr. Andin has dubbed “Pinoy caviar.” Used either as a dish component or as a standalone dip, the comfort food was made by another province-based family friend who had let production go dormant as he focused on other priorities. He agreed to revive his business when chocoATBP offered to help him take tiltilan beyond Pampanga.
By tapping other home-based entrepreneurs who make Filipino favorites, chocoATBP hopes to keep these foods and their recipes alive. The group makes it a point not only to sell the goods but also to make passing customers aware of how they are made, with tsokolate blending done on-site.
“It’s common for elders at bazaars to point us out and say to their children or grandchildren, ‘That’s how your grandmother used to do it,’” Ms. Palma said. “We wanted to continue the traditions. Sorbetes is my aunt’s legacy to me, tsokolate de batirol is a [traditional] way of preparing tsokolate, [and] tiltilan [uses] a traditional way.”
While preserving these customs, the group also looks for ways to update them for the next generation. Packaging has been important, but the products themselves take new forms when they can. Apart from the traditional ube, cheese, and mango sorbetes flavors, Ms. Palma has also produced custom mixes such as blueberry, cookies-and-cream, and, for one particular customer, strawberries-and-gin. Ms. Andin shared that she and her husband have also been experimenting with new tsokolate blends, both for the general market and for hotel and restaurant chefs who would like to expand their menus.
In the future, chocoATBP hopes to move out of its proprietors’ homes and into an office in Quezon City, where it should be easier for both producers and consumers to reach them. Shipping is another important project, given the large market of overseas Filipino workers. Ms. Andin said: “We’re trying to bring a taste of home to wherever they are.”
chocoATBP may be found online on Facebook and Multiply.com.
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