The coronavirus pandemic has nearly decimated the hotel and restaurant industry, as people stayed at home for several months since the government imposed community lockdown and border restrictions in March this year to contain the spread of the virus.
Among the casualties are the dining corners in Quezon City such as West Ave., Timog Ave. and Tomas Morato Ave. where nearly all restaurants closed shop from March to May. Only fastfood chains with drive-thru services were allowed to operate, but just at a fraction of their normal capacity. Amid these challenges, entrepreneur Rodrigo ‘Rad’ Pelayo kept innovating his food business—from dining to home-cooked meal delivery to food basket sales—just to keep the revenue stream flowing for his employees. At the start of the pandemic, he even organized food donation drives and delivered nearly 10,000 packs of meals to healthcare and security frontliners.On why he chose to keep Healthy Meals PH operational and opened two branches of Avelina’s Kitchen while other stores decided to close shop, Pelayo says: “I have a different mindset. If many restaurants were closing, we should remain open to serve the customers who would always eat, no matter what the situation is. Food is a necessity,” he says.Pelayo says a major part of the decision is also about his employees. “At the end of the day, we run the business not only because of the owners, but because we have staff who have families. That’s where we are coming from,” he says.“If you are a restaurant owner, you can temporarily close it and rest for two weeks. But that is not the direction of our company. The question is, how about the staff and their families?”Pelayo says he is fortunate to have kindhearted landowners who understand the financial situation of the company during this challenging period. Pelayo is one of the owners of Avelina’s Kitchen, formerly H Cafe and Events Place, at Scout Limbaga corner Mother Ignacia Ave. in Quezon City. His group also opened a restaurant in Marikina City, while continuing the delivery of home-cooked meals under Healthy Meals PH.Pelayo manages the franchising of Avelina’s Kitchen and Healthy Meals PH which also has a commissary at Scout Limbaga. “The Scout Limbaga branch is actually our main commissary, so we cannot close the operations just because there is a pandemic. For me, today is not the new normal. This is actually the normal. So we have to adapt fast and take actions quickly,” he says.“By God’s grace, so far the business is doing well. That is why we launched Marikina [branch]. I’m not saying we were earning a lot. If we break even or we see a customer come in, we consider it an achievement already. The situation is not expected to change in the next year or two. At least, we have started to adapt. If we had closed it, we would have not learned how to adapt to the pandemic,” he says.
Pelayo says it is important to remind himself of why he started the food business in the first place. “Why is more important than how in the business. For me, this is my face, my brand. I have built the brand for almost four years, so failure is not an option. To close down the business is a ‘no’ for me. I know what I want. Why did I start the business? That is more important. Knowing this, the challenges and obstacles become an opportunity to learn,” he says.He advises other entrepreneurs to pick up their dreams and rebuild their business. “There are always ups and downs in the business. It is not a straight line. “The more you get down, the more you learn. Then be ready for the ‘up’,” he says.Pelayo renamed H Café as Avelina’s Kitchen, after her mother who cooks delicious food. “My mother taught me how to be an entrepreneur. She taught me how to manage a retail store. It was also my dear mother who came up with a lot of heritage family dishes like ‘sinigang’,” he says.He says Avelina’s Kitchen offers heritage dishes and healthy meals, “as my way of honoring my mother, and all the other mothers in the world who love and sacrifice for the family”. He says among the heritage dishes that use natural ingredients on the menu of Avelina’s Kitchen are baked lechon kawali, pancit habhab and sinigang sa bayabas. Dine-in customers can also try keto meals (low-carb meals) and plant-based meals which Health Meals PH is known for. Healthy Meals PH is a gastronomic delivery and catering service provider that offers the right approach to preparing complete and balanced meals. Avelina’s Kitchen also has a panaderia that offers pandecoco, Spanish bread, cakes and pastry. Pelayo says the restaurant will soon feature more products such as frozen picks (tocino, longanisa) and bottled products (baked peanut butter, buro isda and Pesto Sauce).Encouraged by the success of the Scout Limbaga and Marikina branches, Pelayo says they are set to open new restaurants under franchise agreements in Fort Bonifacio, Tagaytay City, Antipolo City, Baguio City, and Pampanga.“Upon tasting our heritage menu, you will remember your mother or your lola. That’s why we welcome you home at Avelina’s Kitchen,” he says.