Pricing economically but making it up on volume
Licking his wounds from a failed restaurant partnership, Chef Jose Antonio Miguel “Jam” Melchor bravely plunged into a hole-in-the-wall operation in San Antonio Village, Makati. Although the chances of restaurant survival in that area are slim, he has been creative in finding other steady sources of income through health food delivery, catering and serving P50 lunches to the surrounding office market.
Melchor’s Bite Contemporary Cuisine promotes cooking a la minute using organic ingredients.
“It’s difficult to find a restaurant in Makati which serves organic food at affordable prices,” says the 29-year-old chef.
The kare-kare sauce is made from macadamia nuts from Davao. It also uses local wagyu beef and tapa from grass-fed cows in Bukidnon and free- range poultry comes from Batangas. Bite recently introduced artisan ice cream in such local flavors as tibok-tibok (coconut milk and corn pudding) coco-lychee and guyabano.
Melchor studied at the American Hospitality Academy and worked at the Red Crab Group of Restaurants. He got exposed to organic food and sustainable lifestyle at the now-defunct Le Bistro Vert (LBV) restaurant. The owners, Chit Juan, Reena Francisco and Jeannie Javelosa, opened his eyes on the natural cultivation of agricultural products and their impact on the environment and the local economy. Back then, start-up farmer entrepreneurs from Ministry of Mushrooms, Kitayama and Down to Earth were offering their products that were grown in safe soil with natural fertilizers and were free from synthetic pesticides. Other farmers presented organically-fed livestock that were not given growth hormones or antibiotics.
Le Bistro Vert’s chef-consultant Sau del Rosario created the dishes while Melchor put them down in writing, quantified the ingredients and their costs and collated them in the restaurant’s manual.
Meanwhile, Melchor moonlighted in another restaurant which operated for a few years. After a falling out with his business partner, the enterprising Melchor established a corporation, Bite Culinary Innovations, with his mother and some investors.
Opened last October, Bite Contemporary Cuisine is a two-level, 100-sqm restaurant which could comfortably fit 50 people. However, Melchor couldn’t rely on walk-ins to pay for the mounting expenses.
Creative health food
Two months ago, he launched a specialty food delivery, Healthy Eats by Bite Contemporary Cuisine, which puts a new spin on the classic low-calorie diet. The diet consists of gourmet meals using organically grown ingredients while keeping track of the individual’s daily requirements for carbs, proteins and fats.
Focusing on a sustainable eating plan filled with fiber and nutrients, Bite’s Healthy Meals aim to satiate cravings for sugars and spark up the weight loss. The foods take longer to digest and are assimilated slowly and circulate sugar into the blood slowly. The Healthy Meals plan emphasizes animal protein, fats from vegetable and olive oils and carbohydrates that easily make the client full. With 1,200 calories a day, one can safely lose two or three lbs a week. The clients don’t feel deprived such as snacking on bite-size pieces of low-sugar, walnut brownies and banana breads.
The popularity of Healthy Eats is that these low-fat, low-sodium and low-cholesterol meals are done creatively.
“I started with the Healthy Meals delivery to reach out to as many people who can’t come this far. I hope to share a piece of us,” says Melchor.
Healthy Eats meals have been tested by the restaurant’s partner, Crossfit Mad Minute, a gym that offers intense strength conditioning exercises based on weights and gymnastics. The menu is approved by the nutritionist.
“We emphasize portion control. You only need a certain amount to be healthy,” says Melchor. A sample of a 1,223-calorie-a-day menu consists of blueberry pancakes for breakfast, chicken schnitzel and kamote mash for lunch, banana bread for snack and beef stew with vegetable tabouleh for dinner.
There is even a Kapampangan breakfast of lelut manuc fillet (chicken porridge), smoked fish caesare salad for lunch, pear and homemade yogurt for snack and herbed chicken fillet and sweet potato duchess for dinner. All for a total of 1,034 calories.
Before undertaking the Healthy Meals food delivery, Melchor researched on the market. The established diet food deliveries charge at least P1,200 a day which totals to P8,400 for seven days, inclusive of delivery. Although they may seem pricey, these businesses offer a wide variety of diet options, including vegan and detox. On the other hand, some food deliveries are as low as P1,500 a week, however, the customer can’t be assured of quality ingredients.
Melchor prices his food delivery midway. Healthy Eats’ 1,200 calorie menu for seven days fetches P2,800. It costs a little more for meals that range from 1,500 to 2,000 calories day. The client gets three meals and a snack, at a cost of P400 a day. Food delivery costs an additional P50 around Makati and P80 outside Makati.
“Most people are in a hurry. They want the food delivered on time. They want the meals to be healthy but also affordable,” says Melchor.
To run the business efficiently, he rents a place near the restaurant so that the staff can work long hours. The food preparation starts at night. The next day before sunrise, the kitchen staffs starts cooking the meals and packing them. Four delivery boys bring the foods to as far as Quezon City to Metro South. To sustain Bite’s operations, Melchor targets a minimum of 30 clients for food deliveries a week.
During the Holy Week, Melchor went to his hometown in Angeles, Pampanga to test the market for Healthy Eats. He offered five-day meals at P2,000. Fortunately, he got 30 clients who went to his house every morning to pick up their meal packs.
Other income sources
Like many specialty restaurants, Bite Contemporary Cuisine derives more income from catering. It gets an average of four catering events a month. Corporate accounts are as affordable as P500 per head and P300 for individual accounts for a guest count between 30 to 50.
Meanwhile, to subsidize the free meals of Melchor’s employees, he started producing P50 lunch packs for companies and a hospital near the neighborhood. Their payments for the entire week are collected on Fridays. Melchor says it’s as if their office customers are on credit for the rest of the week. Serving an average of 75 employees for lunch, he earns an extra P22,500 a month. This takes care of the one free meal a day for his 11 employees and gives him a humble profit of less than P7,000 weekly.
“Diskarte lang,” he says. Melchor credits flexibility and customer adoption that drive the profits, though modest, to the bottom-line. He always makes sure that he hits target level of sales to compensate for the capital he pumped into developing his business.
On marketing, Melchor credits social media. Bloggers come unannounced to dine at Bite Contemporary Cuisine and dispatch their reviews. TV personality Love Añover has been posting photos of Healthy Eats meals and how she lost weight. Other celebrities such as Piolo Pascual, Carla Abellana, Jessie Mendiola, Brent Javier, Lyn Ching and Brent Javier became regular clients. Aside from the hashtags and usernames, the online buzz spread the word on Bite and Healthy Eats. The unsolicited promotions were further boosted by hashtags (#healthyeats and #bite) and usernames (@chefjamme and @bitebistro).
Keeping an eye on the bottom-line, he says the sales report has been showing a positive trend. Melchor wants to expand such as starting Healthy Eats in Pampanga and Metro South and building a commissary in the city. He has proven that he could fulfill his dreams while filling up the wallet.
(For details, contact Bite Contemporary Cuisine Glory Building, 7427 Yakal Street, San Antonio, Makati City tel. 4782659 and 0917-8309516.)
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