Ella Infante, a 30-year-old mom of two, is among the thousands of Filipinos who lost their job during the pandemic.
She had just landed her dream job as a flight attendant in September 2019 only to lose it a year after.
Ella was among the 2,300 employees retrenched by Philippine Airlines in October 2020 because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
It could have been worse for Ella had she not had a small business to fall back on when she lost her job.
On May 4, 2020, months before the PAL retrenchment was announced, Ella and her husband Deen Opella decided to put up Ausome Cookies by Matteo, a home business they named after their eldest son.
It was Matteo himself, an autistic, who got his parents venturing in business.
Ella told PEP.ph via Zoom interview last Friday, April 16, 2021, they got into business because her seven-year-old son kept asking for his favorite cookies from abroad.
She narrated, "During pandemic, lumilipad pa naman pero na less na yung flying time from 80 hours, siguro naging 12 to 15 hours na lang yung flying time.
"Nung time na yun, ang reason talaga nito nung sa cookies is si Mateo, binibilhan ko siya nung cookies pag may layover ako.
"E, dito sa Manila, medyo mahal. PHP500 isang lalagyan. So sabi parang hindi siya practical especially nung pandemic.
"So nagbe-bake-bake lang ako, ganyan. 'Tapos parang naisip ko, 'Sige nga, ano nga, magbenta nga ako.'"
Ella was relieved that Matteo has also taken an interest in baking, explaining it would have been a problem because the noise and vibrations from the hand mixers may sound alarming to autistic children.
She said, "Yung sa baking... Kasi minsan, parang yung sa vibration nung mixer, medyo hindi sila ano dun, e. Medyo sensitive siya sa part na yun, at saka yung ingay.
"Nung nakikita namin na interested siya, sabi ko, sige pa-try namin pahawakan ng hand mixer. Kasi kapag narinig niya yung mixer before, ico-cover niya yung ears niya.
"Kasi nga hindi kaya... parang siguro merong something na nati-trigger sa kanya 'tapos iko-cover niya yung ears niya. 'Tapos magsha-shout siya, ganun.
"So nung nagbe-bake kami, parang nae-enjoy niya, parang natatanggap niya, 'Ah, okay maingay yung mixer, ah okay, vibration, try ko hawakan.'
"Ayun, medyo maganda yung response niya... nakita namin yung interest niya na siya yung magmi-mix, siya yung mag-a-add nito.
"'Tapos parang feeling niya vlogger, ganyan. While nagmi-mix kami, 'Hi guys, today we're going to mix,' ganyan-ganyan."
Hitting two birds with one stone
Ella shared that Matteo was three years old when he was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
"From the moment na nalaman naming meron siyang autism, nag-a-attend na siya ng mga therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy.
"Minsan pinagsu-swim namin siya kasi... every summer para ma-hit yung ibang motor skills ng sensory issues niya.
"Ayun, we thought at first, pipe siya or bingi kasi hindi siya nagpe-pay ng attention.
"And then yun nga, I was very in denial that time. 'Tapos my mom, ano siya, e, siya yung medyo, 'Ipa-check-up mo, ipa-check-up mo...'
"So nung nalaman namin na yun, nag-therapy na siya. Ongoing na yun up until now."
And now that Matteo is also learning some baking skills, Ella is grinning ear to ear, "We're hitting two birds with one stone na may extra income kami, at the same time, natatarget namin yung sensory issues niya."
Ella and Deen started their home business on per-order arrangement as she was still working for Philippine Airlines at the time.
They started with an initial capital of PHP5,000 for 20 orders of cookies—five pieces per box—and earned a profit of PHP4,000.
Ella recalled, "Nag-start kami sa cookies, 'tapos nag-try ako ng cinnamon rolls, okay rin siya. 'Tapos nauso din yung ube cheese pandesal last year, so naki-trend tayo sa craze."
She added, "From PHP5,000, siguro kinita namin mga PHP4,000. PHP4,000 yung bumalik. Naging PHP9,000 siya."
Aside from cookies, they also started offering cinnamon rolls and ube cheese pandesal when it became a food trend last year.
With PAL in distress, Ella expected the inevitable, It became urgent that she rethink her cookies and bread business in earnest. She added caramel cakes, and they sold well.
She said, "I know na kasi by August na may parang retrenchment na mangyayari. So sabi ko sige, stop muna ako.
"And then, October, sabi ko, 'Baka kailangan ko na ng back-up plan. Baka kailangan kong ayusin yung shop ko.
"Nag-attend ako ng mga workshop, yung sa mga cakes. Kasi sabi ko December, baka maganda yung cakes naman.
"Kasi baka nagsasawa yung tao sa pandesal, cinnamon rolls. Ang dami na, e, ang dami nang nagsulputan na 'baker wannabe' kami rito so nag-iisip ako kung paano.
"So nag-caramel cakes ako nung December. Good thing naman, nag-boom din naman siya."
Finding the competitive edge
One worrying aspect of starting a business at this time is finding suppliers that deliver on time.
According to Ella, "Maraming supplier pero since pandemic, yung operating hours nila...kung online ka lang mag-iinquire, mae-entertain ka pero hindi on time, not unless puntahan mo.
"Minsan may times na pupunta pa kami ng Sampaloc, pupunta pa kami ng Divisoria para mapuntahan mismo at saka makuha agad yung supply. Kasi yung iba, ilang araw pa, mga three days, four days pa bago i-send sa amin."
Even more challenging for home bakers like Ella is the glut in food-making business, "Lahat ng tao nag-iisip ng extra income, parang ang dami na rin lumabas na binebenta-benta dito, ganyan.
"Siyempre ang unang target market namin is yung friends namin. Support-support sila. But then, inisip din namin paano namin ito mame-maintain. Siyempre, magsasawa din yung friends namin kabibili ng cookies, mga cinnamon ganyan. So paano namin mapapalawak yung reach sa market."
Ella and Deen hit jackpot when they started selling their "Berry Donuts," their version of the famous strawberry donuts of The Donut Man in Los Angeles, California.
As she recalled, Ella started making them on March 15, 2021, prodded by Deen who had a sudden craving for strawberry donuts after watching a video on Facebook.
With help from some friends in Pangasinan, she was able to obtain strawberries from Baguio to make a shortcake version of the popular California donuts.
The story so far, "Yung friends ko, nagpunta sila ng Pangasinan kasi taga-Pangasinan yung isa dun.
"So alam ko na nadun sila, 'tapos parang sabi nila, 'Try kong tumawid ng Baguio since an hour and a half lang yata. Nung nandun na sila, parang kinantyawan ko lang, 'Uy, baka naman puwede ako magpabili ng strawberries sa inyo. Kasi yung husband ko, mahilig siya sa strawberries. Sabi nila, 'Okay, sige.' Tapos hinatid sa akin pagbalik nila dito sa Manila.
"The next day, sabi nung husband ko, 'O, baka masira yung strawberries.' Sabi niyang ganun. Sabi ko, 'Ano kayang puwedeng gawin?' Sabi ko sa kanya. E, siya, gusto niya yung sa L.A., yung sa U.S. na donuts. 'Tapos sabi niya, 'O, baka puwede mong gawin 'tapos strawberry shortcake,' sabi niyang ganun."
It was a happy ending after all as Ella put it, "By January, siyempre nag-less na yung mga orders kasi wala na masyadong occasions. Nag-stop ako ulit 'tapos ito na, yung donuts na. Dumating na yung donuts na uso. Ito yung pinaka-unexpected product ko."
Word of mouth and social media have boosted Ella and Deen's business after the couple posted their berry donuts on their Facebook group page called "What's Your Ulam Pare?"
Ella told PEP.ph, "Pinost ko siya dun sa isang group, dun sa What's Your Ulam Pare? Mahilig ako dun mag-post, kunyare magluluto ako ng mga kung ano lang, yung husband nagluto ng ulam, ganyan, ipo-post ko lang dun. So parang nag-post lang ako dun na, 'Strawberries and cream donuts mga p're,' mga ganun.
"'Tapos parang one day, nagulat ako ang daming nagme-message na, 'Magkano? Binebenta ko ba?'
"'Tapos yung iba kong friends, 'O, trending ka dun sa What's Your Ulam, shine-share nila yung ano...' Tapos yung iba, tinatanong kung puwede ba nilang i-save yung photo, gagawin nilang wallpaper kasi nakakatakam yung strawberries, ganyan."
The couple decided to rename their business to Ausome Goodies by Matteo.
On March 21, 2021, Sunday, Ella and Deen started selling their first batch of berry donuts. At that time, they were able to produce 160 pieces of berry donuts for 40 orders.
Ella said their orders grew every week, and on April 11, 2021, they were able to produce 200 boxes of berry donuts.
"Ang nilabas namin sa 40 boxes siguro mga nasa labas PHP5,000 to PHP7,000, ganyan. 'Tapos ang kinita namin, dumoble naman siya ng PHP14,000. Ngayon naman, ang pinaka-marami naming orders is nung Sunday... naka 200 boxes kami."
At press time, Ella and Deen only get to serve their donuts on weekends.
Their berry donuts cost PHP279 per box of four. They recently introduced their mangoes and cream donuts for the same price. They also have plain frosted donuts for PHP199.
They also continue baking caramel cakes for PHP700 to PHP1,000, depending on the size. They also offer revel bars. A box of eight costs PHP200.
The goal and motivation
PEP.ph asked Ella for some piece of advice she can share with others who are also planning to start their own businesses. Ella said it starts with finding your passion.
"Siguro, never stop trying at saka never stop na mag-explore. Unang-unang dapat mong gawin is alamin mo ano yung gusto mo. Kasi, for example, gagawin mo ito just because trending, just because ang daming nagbebenta, parang, 'Ah ako, sige gagawin ko na.'
"Pero hindi mo siya talaga gusto. Parang mabigat, dragging siyang gawin. So alamin mo yung gusto mo. Kung hilig mo mag-bake, then go for it, magluto, ganun."
For Ella, it also important to have a mission and a vision for your business.
"Isipin mo rin ano yung goal mo. For example, kami kasi aside from pagbebenta, we have the advocacy na autism awareness, pati yung kay Matteo na ma-hit yung sensory issues niya. So meron din goal para lang hindi siya for the meantime. Mas maganda kasi yung iisipin mo pang-matagalan, yung pang-long term.
"At least you would know din your core, 'Ano nga ba ito? Bakit ko nga ba ito ginagawa? May core ka."
And for her last piece of advice, Ella reiterates the importance of having the courage to start own business. "Huwag kang mahihiya, kasi ako nung una, nahihiya ako e. Nahihiya ako parang magbenta, parang, 'Ano ito? Parang hindi namana ko mahilig mag-ano ah...'
"Baka sabihin nila, hindi ako ito or not so me, ganyan."