Monday, October 22, 2018
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Ooh la la, Bizu rises from crises

/ 05:15 AM October 22, 2017

The Happy Garden Cafe is designed like a country store and garden.

Annabel Lichaytoo Tanco has turned crises into opportunities.

Emotional lows in her life, following failed business and personal relationships, became downtime moments to draw ideas for a new venture.


Today, the CEO and president of the Bizu Group is known for introducing European-style pastries and macarons to the country and running a successful catering business.

Tanco credits her parents for exposing her to good food.


They took her and her siblings to the best restaurants and enrolled them in cooking schools during summer vacations. At nine years old, Tanco could already make cannelloni and ravioli.

After graduating from De La Salle University majoring in communication arts and accounting, Tanco started out as a clerk at the central support system of Bank of America. She then realized that she could never work for somebody.

When she married businessman Arthur Tanco Jr, he advised her to venture into garment exports. With help from a Japanese couple who were technicians, Tanco set up a sweater factory at 27 years old. The business thrived for almost a decade until it was hit by a labor union strike. Tanco shut down her business before the Asian Crisis in 1997.

Burned out by the work, Tanco took refuge in a Siddha yoga ashram in New York where she learned about wheatgrass. After recharging, she returned to the Philippines and taught Arthur how to make wheatgrass, which became a hit in the popular Salcedo Market.

However, she was faced with the realities of running the household and paying her children’s college tuition.

“Since I loved to bake and cook, I thought I could help support the family through my passion. My vision was to open many pastry shops,” says Tanco.

At 40, she took up a two-year course at the Center for Culinary Arts.


She befriended a faculty member, a French pastry chef who helped her develop her products.

One of her experiments was the macaron de Paris-delicate, airy, meringue-based sandwiches-popularized by French pastry chef Pierre Hermé.

By 2000, she opened the first Bizu kiosk at Glorietta, bravely introduced macarons and tiny cakes, sold at premium prices.

Passersby were given free samples so they could distinguish the ethereal pastry from the lumpy, coconut macaroons.

Arthur then encouraged her to open the first Bizu Patisserie and Café with a mezzanine at Greenbelt 2.

With loans from her mother-in-law and from a small business guarantee company, Tanco was able to complete the first branch.

Eight branches and a catering service later, Tanco developed another restaurant concept.

A few years ago, Tanco was going through a difficult period in her life.

Tanco consoled herself with motivational speeches from TED Talks. One of the programs discussed Dalai Lama’s Exploring What Matters, a course on how people can be happier and more caring.

Meanwhile, banker Teresita Sy-Coson invited Tanco to check out a space on Jupiter Street, Makati.

Remembering the motivational programs from TED Talks, Tanco thought of bringing happiness by opening a restaurant that can make people feel better about themselves.

It also turned out that Coson took to gardening to relieve stress. The happiness concept and the gardening became the inspiration for the Happy Garden Café at the Sunshine Place.

Annabel Tanco believes that food should make people feel good.—PHOTOS BY NELSON MATAWARAN

“Happy Garden is about freshness from the garden. We are conscious of what people eat. We offer fresh, natural Asian food using healthy ingredients. We say no to pork, white sugar, polished rice, and we also have gluten-free cakes and pastries,” she says.

“On the other hand, Bizu’s lifestyle is indulgent and it’s all about sweetness. After three years, we revamped the menu. We are offering something new to our patrons—lobster sandwich, ox tongue in mushroom truffle sauce, melted cheese raclette and our new bread line with croissant breads,” she adds.

While most of Bizu cake shops-restaurants are in malls, Happy Garden is not in a high-foot traffic area.

“Location is a big factor, but it’s not the only consideration. The experience together with location, easy parking, accessibility, food and service all contribute to the sales volume,” she says.

With 19 years in the food business, Tanco shares her wisdom.

Have a backup. Building a support system was one of the insights she culled from an entrepreneurship course under Robert Kiyosaki, author of “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.”

“When you are located in a mall, it’s tough to survive with stiff rentals. We set up Bizu Catering Studio in 2002.” says Tanco. This company has developed a system that enables it to handle several events everyday.

“We read our clients closely so that we can deliver what they want and satisfy them,” she says.

Never spend operations money for assets. “It will affect the cash flow,” says Tanco. When she opened a Bizu branch at Mall of Asia, she spent the operations money for big ticket items such as equipment. However, it did not attract the right market and was eventually closed after a year.

“It’s better to get a loan from an outside source,” she says.
Marketing is critical in business. “Who we are will determine the business structure, the product and the experience,” she says.

When Tanco started Bizu, she targeted the AB crowd.

“There are people who, like me, want certain things. It’s as if I’m tapping myself. If I like something, I put it out and test if it’s accepted. The personnel have to train the staff to connect with that specific market. The operations—the way you do things—are tailored for that market. The finance department will determine the purchases geared to market,” says Tanco.

Good human resources management makes business productive. Tanco relies on the HR to manage the talents, create and implement strategies for the company’s goals.

“The HR is like your vice president,” she says.

She explains that the lack of an organized human resource department in her garment factory led to major labor problems.

The Bizu Group is more structured. The HR thoroughly orients employees on its code of conduct.

Since pilferage is rampant in a restaurant business, the company has strict measures.

For instance, no one is allowed to bring outside food or ingredients in the workplace. It can be mistaken for an item that was poached from the shelves.

The staff also undergoes random drug tests every six months.

“I tell people what’s expected of them. Rules are rules. There are no gray areas,” she maintains.

Today, she’s slowly delegating the responsibilities to her four children.

“You need younger people to respond to the millennial market,” says Tanco.

Asked what keeps her going in the business, she replies, “My guru says it’s good karma to feed people.”

After all, it comes back through blessings and business.

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TAGS: Annabel Lichaytoo Tanco, Bizu Group, catering business, European-style pastries and macarons
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