“You don’t need to be a big brand to flourish in the market. Small players can still succeed.”
Glenn Villacin flashed a big smile as he firmly expressed those words. One would not expect that he had trials to overcome to keep his restaurant business afloat in this time of pandemic with his bright demeanor and positive outlook in life.
Glenn’s knack for running a food business started way back in college when he first opened a barbecue stand with his friends. He later moved forward with a lechon house, then a restobar called Club Seven where he eventually met his wife who was of Japanese descent.
They moved to Japan shortly after having their firstborn. There he immersed in the Japanese culture as he worked in a food bento manufacturing company that supplies bento boxes to Family Mart and other convenience stores. A few years later, Glenn moved his family back to Iligan City. Using the skills and experiences he gathered in his years of living in Japan, Glenn introduced the ramen craze in the city by opening Ramen-Yah! Japanese Noodle and Bento Restaurant. While managing the restaurant, he went back to Japan to work as a teacher and enrolled in cooking classes in Tokyo in his free time.
After two years of studying, he finally decided to settle down in Iligan for good.
As a first mover in the market, Glenn successfully introduced to the locals a taste of Japan through his mouthwatering dishes. He took the risk to expand his business by opening another branch in a big shopping mall. Things were turning out according to his plan until the Marawi siege broke out.
Glenn refused to give up and continued to open his second branch. Together with other members of the Iligan Hotels and Restaurants Resorts Association (IHARRA), he also introduced food parks around the city to improve the adverse economic condition of the market.
His entrepreneurial spirit kicked in again when he opened his second major food project and registered it as a national brand—Kogi-Yah Yakiniku Bar. It was a place conceptualized for people who love unique cuisine, interesting flavors, and novel ways of dining which was to cook food in the table.
But while the food industry was still recovering from the repercussions of the Marawi siege, the restaurants were once again challenged when the pandemic started and threatened the business operations. The totality of the business was not very positive as Iligan City was immediately placed under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) as early as March. It gradually eased down to general community quarantine (GCQ), modified general community quarantine (MGCQ), but went back to modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) last September.
The restaurants experienced significant loses and weekends became very quiet; most members of IHARRA considered themselves lucky if they can earn even just 20% of their usual profits. While it was a disheartening experience, Glenn looked at it as a level playing field as the new normal became a complete opposite of how people normally behave.
“Everything has been put on hold but the current situation allows us to explore new things,” he said. “In order to survive, we have to explore new ideas, new concepts, and new markets as well.”
Refusing to close the doors of his business, Glenn opened Kogi-Yah in Food Panda, Streetby, and other local delivery applications. He changed his focus to speed, quality, quantity, and price to sustain his business, resulting in an improvement of profitability a month since he started adapting to deliveries and take-outs.
“It’s an exciting way to market your products and I hope people will acknowledge that we have moved into another concept of our lives, another way of marketing our products. These platforms really helped turned the wheels of the economy,” Glenn shared. “We came from a lot of difficulties, but I still see a lot of future for Kogi-Yah and Ramen-Yah!”
With the help of the Kapatid Mentor Me (KMME) program, Glenn was able to form network linkages with his fellow mentees while acquiring process business trainings and benchmarking. More importantly, he was able to learn from the best. He credited the Department of Trade Industry (DTI)
for keeping the entrepreneurship spirit alive by always keeping the MSMEs in mind and providing them the avenue to improve and sustain their businesses.
His strong vision, combined with his learnings from the KMME program, encouraged him to move his business to Cagayan de Oro once the economic condition becomes better in order to expand his market for authentic, affordable, and tasty dishes.
For Glenn, one must be willing to explore a new market in order to improve sales and to succeed. (DTI-10)