For this series on Entrepreneurship Tips from Women in the Food Business, we start off with the story of Mrs. Salud Donato de Castro, who was able to juggle a career in the stock market, her food home business, and a growing family.
Vice-Chairman and Treasurer of A. T. De Castro Securities Corporation, member of the Philippine Stock Exchange, Mrs. de Castro describes herself as “a stockbroker by profession and a food enthusiast by avocation.” Married for sixty years to her husband, successful stockbroker, Alejandro “Alex” de Castro (who just turned 100 years old last February), she did not have to work a day in her life but her passion for cooking and baking led her to an organically grown home business that made her famous for her traditionally made artisanal Ensaymadas, Christmas Breads, and other homemade specialties.
Her love affair with food began in her mother’s kitchen when as a little girl, she marveled at how their cook— trained by Spanish chefs —prepared delicious family meals from scratch. With a child’s wondering eyes, she never tired of watching him make meringue and Canonigo so easily… like magic.
This passion for good cooking grew through the years. After she got married, she started attending many private cooking classes from different culinary experts in Manila and abroad. During her travels, she savoured dishes from different cultures, loved watching cooking demos, getting introduced to culinary techniques from the experts.
She went on regional cooking tours in Italy then attended Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris.
There, she met Anne Willan (the school’s Founder, British-American food writer and teacher at the school), professional chefs, restaurateurs, caterers, and food
writers. They mutually shared secrets, techniques, and recipes from their respective
countries. In 1982, while at La Varenne, she was the first Filipina to become a member of the International Association of Cooking Professionals (IACP).
When she returned home to Manila, she was brimming with new ideas and tried to apply all she learned. In her own words:
“The old saying goes ‘The test of the pie is in the eating.’ The first, the hardest and yet most encouraging test of my skills as a chef was a loving husband and a growing brood of five wonderful children who were always eager to savour in a few hours the goodies that took me almost a lifetime to perfect.
In those early years, my cooking must have vastly improved because I started getting many compliments for the dinners I cooked at home. Gradually, I accepted requests from close friends to be their personal chef on special occasions. This was the beginning of a home-based food business. It was also then that I discovered that a “hands on” approach was the best way to learn.
An occasional last minute “addition” to an already good recipe would make the food just perfect! I happily earned extra money while doing something I greatly loved. With the substantial money I made, I invested wisely in good dividend-paying stocks which were at bargain prices then due to a depressed Stock Market. Up to this day I am still holding these shares and believe me, they have grown and multiplied like yeast!
During the lean months of the Stock Market in the 80’s, my business was a bonus gift from God. I started to conduct small gourmet-cooking demos in our home. I never advertised but just by word-of-mouth, the students started to pour in. They gave me the term of endearment, “TSalud.” Would you believe, many of them keep their handwritten dictation recipes in their safe deposit boxes!? They feel these are true, tried and tested recipes which can be handed down from generation to generation! Cooking at its best was born, cooking lessons without secrets came to life!
Here, too, I made good money because my overhead was small.
Here are the lessons I have learned and can share with someone who is considering embarking on a food business:
1. PASSION. Love your work. Love your business.
2. PREPARE to cover such startup expenses as kitchen equipment (ovens, chillers, machines, etc.) cutlery, renovations, etc.
3. Pay attention to LOCATION, COMPETITION, CURRENT TRENDS.
4. PRODUCT: Create your own UNIQUE SPECIALTIES that are hard to imitate.
5. Your PERSONAL TOUCH is important. You need to be hands-on.
6. Pursue EFFICIENT MANAGEMENT and EXCELLENCE. Though your charisma may help, it is not enough to bring in customers.
7. PRACTICE and apply what you have learned.
8. PEOPLE: Hire a good accountant; Get a professional to help you handle quality service. Create the best team. Have good rapport with your staff. Be strict but kind and considerate.
9. PACKAGING should not be overlooked.
10. Watch for PILFERAGE. A good inventory system and security are musts in the trade. Pilferage can happen right in your kitchen. Be strict but kind and considerate. Be watchful at all times. I say this because I have seen food outlets rise and fall because of a lack of a hands-on presence of enterpreneurs. “ . Running a food business is a BANTAY-PATAY kind of enterprise.
11. START SMALL with family and friends.
12. Don’t sacrifice QUALITY. People in the know will aways buy quality products no matter how expensive.
13. KEEP ON GROWING! Constantly improve and upgrade your knowledge and skills. Study and Google all the time for new ideas and techniques. If you have a chance, go to the best schools in Florence, Italy, Paris, Spain, or in other countries of your choice. They offer short cooking courses.
14. DISTRIBUTION: A captive market like a restaurant with many branches would be a great.
The culinary arts belong to the cultural heritage of nations. At the Cultural Center of the Philippines, they end a gala night with a feast of some sort with good food, well served with which we celebrate culture and the arts wherever we are.
On the other hand, the food business serves the survival needs of millions of lives around the world . Knowing this, those of us who are privileged to be part of it need to love what we are doing in such a way that at the end of the day, we have not only earned money, but we have served humanity in a very special way.
Today, between her five children, TSalud has eighteen grandchildren and four great grandchildren. Her only daughter, Caress de Castro Banson (mom of Tsalud’s ten grandchildren), says of her, “My mom cements our family through her kitchen, hosting the best unforgettable meals for us to go home to. She makes me feel she knows everyone and has a solution to everything.”
Today, four generations of Tsalud’s family continue to gather at her home, her lovingly prepared food sweetens their precious moments together.