Raquel T. Choa’s life began on a rather bitter note. She started working at a young age, selling candles and sampaguita to help her parents. At age 12, she worked as a kasambahay in Laguna.
Still, she has fond memories of planting and preparing cacao with her grandmother, Leonila Borgonia, whom she calls nanay. At age 7, Choa already knew how to prepare tablea. It is a skill she used to build Ralfe Gourmet Chocolate Boutique, which she started in 2010.
With the help of her husband, Alfred, a mechanical engineer, and business partner, Edu Pantino, a marketing manager, Choa was able to grow Ralfe Gourmet and even start a cacao farm. Her peers eventually started referring to her as ‘the country’s chocolate ambassadress.’
She had to earn that title, though. It took time before the business took off, with some local chefs challenging the quality of her products, even referring to them as ‘dirty chocolate,’ because she liked to do things by hand, as her nanay had taught her.
Still, Choa pushed through with the business. “I think there’s no secret, aside from the passion and the love that you have—if you’re really in love with anything, you really give it the best that you have,” she says.
And this can’t be more evident than in her latest concept, The Chocolate Chamber, a fine-dining café that highlights the tablea experience. Even amidst offers to franchise the concept—with some offers coming from Hong Kong and Taiwan—Choa wants to keep things within the family, with some of her relatives and her children already actively involved in the business. “As much as I want to elevate the image of Philippine tablea, I also want to protect it.”
Photo: Vincent Coscolluela
This article was originally published in the September 2014 issue of Entrepreneur magazine. Subscribe to the print or digital version here.