Small businesses start with something you enjoy, or with something you need to change or improve on, and for nurse Sthony "Isto" M. Ramos, it was both his love for spicy food and the medical background that urged him to shift to his passion, which was entrepreneurship.

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“This idea came up three years ago. Mahilig din po ako sa mga spicy food, so nakita ko po ‘yong chili garlic na business, nakita ko sa internet. And then I was curious na bakit nila sinusunog ang chili garlic sauce, ginagawang toasted."

Noting the nutritional value of garlic, he shares how toasting, and sometimes, even burning it cancels out the good that it can do to one’s body. “Nasasayangan po ako… So I decided to make my own chili garlic sauce. ‘Yon po ‘yong non-toasted chili garlic sauce. At least po, pag non-toasted po siya, you can still use it for pang gisa, pang prito, pang sabaw, so that nagiging versatile product na siya. Hindi lang siya for dipping… you can use it for cooking as well.”

The Zamboanga native reveals that when he started, he didn’t really know how to cook, and he only had P5,000 as his first investment and his parents’ kitchen to cook in.

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“I practiced po talaga, kasi ang hirap magbalat ng maraming garlic. It takes a really long time. ‘Yong starting ko po sa isang kilo… it [would take] me two hours, three hours. Pero… nag-research ako, mayroon palang mga technique na puwedeng magbalat ng garlic na much faster.

“At first mahirap kasi first luto ko, sunog siya. Intolerable taste. Trial and error until nakuha ko po ‘yong exact taste, the exact texture of my product.”

He then started testing his products with family and friends, and then he noticed how word about Mang Isto Chili Garlic Sauce spread fast in his locale. “Napansin ko po na nagiging word of mouth na siya sa lugar namin sa Zamboanga City. So, doon po nag-start na po na nagbenta na sa mga city, sa mga offices, and then nag-decide na po na gawin na talaga as full-time business.”

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He sought the help of the Department of Trade and Industry, and attended their Mentor Me Program at the Negosyo Center. “Doon po talaga ako mas na-enhance sa pag-bi-business,” he shares. “Malaking tulong din sa akin ‘yong OTOP (One Town, One Product Program), nakatulong din po sa packaging at labeling ko.”

The Kapatid Mentor ME Project is a DTI and Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship (PCE) initiative that aims to help business-minded Pinoys through mentoring, offering shared service facilities, and connecting micro entrepreneurs to large companies and including them in their value chains. OTOP Philippines, on the other hand, is an international project that started in Japan. The idea is to support micro entrepreneurs in their hometowns and help them grow the economy in their locales through educational programs on supply, demand, marketing, packaging, and production, among others.

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It was these that helped Sthony get his business off the ground. Now, he has his own production area and his non-toasted chili garlic sauce are now on the shelves of groceries in Zamboanga.

“Now I’m trying to penetrate Manila,” he reveals. “I’m trying to penetrate the mainstream… and para sa international market din.”

For those just starting up their own enterprises, he has a simple piece of advice: “There’s always a way.”

For more inquiries, follow Mang Isto Chili Garlic Sauce on Facebook.

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