From civil engineer to mompreneur, creator of bestselling desserts

From civil engineer to mompreneur, creator of bestselling desserts

Ana Lustre-Malijan: From civil engineer to mompreneur, creator of bestselling desserts


Entrepreneurs need to develop unique products to stand out and beat the competition.

This holds true for Ana Margarita Lustre-Malijan, who has poured her heart out to create innovative ways for her milk tea business to remain relevant in a competitive space.


Malijan joined the frozen yogurt (froyo) fad in 2012 when she was 23. As a civil engineer, she was already working for their family business but still, she felt the need to set up her own enterprise. She thought of bringing affordable froyos to her hometown in Puerto Princesa City.


“I knew it wouldn’t survive on a single product. That’s why I added milk tea, hence the name, ‘Frotea’ for froyo and milk tea,” she explains.

She flew to Taiwan to learn how to make proper froyo and source raw materials. After training, Malijan set up her first store with a starting capital of around P350,000 and with just two employees.

“When we opened our first store, it was actually very fulfilling. After work, I’d go straight to the store to do the sales audit,” she says, recalling that she herself tended the store on holidays and weekends.

In the beginning, she looked at the venture as a place to keep her busy after office hours. But she saw the potential to develop a chain of stores in 2018 when she joined a school fair to sell her products. That was when she saw the long queue of customers willing to wait for hours just to get a taste of Frotea.


BIG HIT Some of Frotea’s bestsellers are Panda ice cream, blueberry bingsu and milk tea fish waffle. A recent addition is dark chocolate ice cream, a mix of premium cocoa and creamy milk. Frotea’s milk tea drinks and fruit juices are made with authentic ingredients from Taiwan.

Franchising route

For her second store in El Nido, she made use of her skills as a civil engineer and paid close attention to the construction and design of the store. Malijan envisioned her store as the go-to tambayan (place to hang out) for students and families during the weekend. At first, she made a lot of mistakes. She had to learn and unlearn a lot of things to fully understand her business core.

READ: Franchising explained


“You have to know the ins and outs of your business. You have to know the critical parts of the operations; make sure that you can duplicate everything. You have to put a system in place, from inventories, to trainings, to quality management. And once this is set up, you can start expanding,” she adds.

Her next big move after setting up her second branch was to open up Frotea for franchising. Malijan, now 36, remembers that her first franchisees were her friends. “It was easy to sell it to them since they know my commitment and dedication to the brand. But then again, the pressure has doubled since I have to make sure that they are happy and the stores are profitable,” she says.

She makes sure that the location is good enough to attract enough foot traffic. Commitment of the franchisee is also a must for Malijan. “Some would think that [since] it’s a franchise business, they would not need to put effort into it. But again, it is still a business. Any business will still fail if it is mismanaged,” she adds.

Each franchise costs P350,000 to P700,000 for a kiosk and full store, respectively. In addition, there’s a franchise fee of P120,000.

A full store needs 25 square meters (sq m) of space while a kiosk needs 4 sq m. How soon a franchisee can break even depends on the location and how big the store is, she says.

Fast-forward to today, the milk tea business has set up shops in El Nido, Ibaan, Batangas and Rosario, Cavite. Of its 19 stores, six are franchised.

It’s a surprise even for Malijan that froyo and milk tea have become such a hit for Pinoys. “It is about maintaining your quality, improving for the best and keeping your brand interesting,” she says.

Malijan and her team also underwent formal training with international suppliers to comply with the gold standard of creating milk tea and desserts.

The trend is your friend

Through Frotea, Malijan learned the importance of “obsessing” on the needs of the customers as well as keeping abreast with current trends. “We understand that preferences are not static; they evolve with time. That’s why we regularly engage with our valued customers through surveys and conduct rigorous product testing to ensure that our offerings align perfectly with their changing tastes,” she says.

The Frotea menu goes through continuous tweaking. Aside from the wide variety of milk and fruit teas, the bestsellers are the panda ice cream, blueberry bingsu and milk tea fish waffle. A recent addition is the dark chocolate ice cream, a delectable mix of premium cocoa and creamy milk.

After 12 years of steering her then “sideline” to profitability, Maljian now has a lofty goal: turn Frotea into the No. 1 milk tea dessert shop in the Philippines.

Being an entrepreneur taught her that, “despite how many times you fall, you will always find a way to bounce back and be better,” she says.

Now the brand has identified more key areas for growth. Malijan says steady expansion in metropolitan cities and even smaller towns will open more doors, helping the brand evolve and become better in taste, service and connecting more Filipinos.

Aside from being an entrepreneur, Malijan is also a mother of two (Amara and Alon) and wife (to Jeffrey). For her, women are born as multitaskers and that, in itself, is an advantage for mompreneurs. She is a firm believer that the family must also be involved in the business. In that way, they don’t need to compete for your attention. Her husband, who is also a civil engineer, also pitches ideas for the interiors of Frotea’s branches.

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“Involve your kids on small tasks, such as being your food critic or … getting their opinion [about social media] post. This way, they wouldn’t feel that you are choosing your job over them but rather, it is our business and your opinion counts,” she shares.

TAGS: 'froyo', Entrepreneurs, Franchising, milk tea

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