As a young profess ional in the 1990s, Eric Cabrales found it easy to secure jobs, but he didn’t have much luck in keeping them.
After six stints at different companies—the longest stint at 11 months, and the shortest, just two—he knew he was at a turning point. In spite of the career setbacks, Cabrales firmly avoided wallowing in disappointment. He says: “I’m a problem solver. I don’t entertain negative vibes.”
The La Union native reviewed his options and decided he wanted to put up his own business. He then had to zero in on a concept he could develop. As a student in Baguio City’s St. Louis University, Cabrales became a fan of street food. [See three questions for aspiring retailers here]
However, he also noticed that while these edibles were widely available, a lot of people refused to eat them for fear of getting sick. Then it occurred to him: what if he offered the same kind of food—quick, satisfying, affordable—in a clean and hygienic manner? He also thought: instead of setting up shop in the streets, how about operating a movable kiosk in shopping malls and commercial centers?
Not having enough funds to start on his own, Cabrales sought ways to finance his venture, until he found someone who liked his concept enough to buy it. Using P20,000 of what he earned from that transaction, Cabrales put up a food cart at the Robinsons Starmills Pampanga in San Fernando, Pampanga, selling fish balls and squid balls, as well as coated eggs (in the vernacular, kwek-kwek).
Slowly but surely, his business gained ground in the area, and people began asking how they could get a franchise. By 2001, he had 15 franchisees in Pampanga. With his business firmly established in the province, Cabrales trained his sights on Manila. [See guide to a successful food business here]
After a few months, Cabrales put up a food cart at Save-a-Lot, a Makati City shopping center that has since closed down. Called Tokneneng (after the colloquial word for a boiled chicken egg dipped in batter and fried), the kiosk offered the same fare as his Pampanga food outlets.
His work team consisted of himself and his business partner, Alma Canlas, plus two service crew members. Eventually, the fledgling enterprise’s earnings steadily rose, and potential franchisees had to come to Cabrales’ outlets to make inquiries. “I didn’t have an office then... my only capital was trust,” he says.
Page 2: On his own