Whether you feel good or want to feel better, ice cream is a foodstuff equated to happiness.
That’s why Francis Reyes, the 24‑year‑old Chief of Operations of Caravan Food Group, Inc., with his company of business‑savvy, ice‑cream loving millennials, established Elait. A hybrid of the French word for milk (“Lait”) and the word “elated,” Elait is an ice cream stall in Century City Mall in Makati, which serves scoops of the creamy frozen dessert. With classic flavors like strawberry and chocolate, to trendy flavors like salted egg and matcha, Elait promises to have something to tickle your tastebuds. They also have a frozen yogurt base for their more health‑conscious customers or those who prefer a bit of a kick in their ice cream. (Tip: Yogurt pairs well with their latest flavor: dragonfruit.)
But there’s something else that makes Elait different from other ice cream purveyors: silence.
Ordering your first cup is simple, you don’t even need to scream. Just go to the stall, smile at the friendly staff, and point at the flavor you like on their menu or fill out a form where you can request all the toppings you want, pay ₱180, watch the Elait staff make the rolled ice cream right in front of you, and when you receive your taste treat put both of your hands up to your chin and smile. That’s the sign language for thank you.
This is because the employees are deaf.
“We wanted the concept of happiness to go full circle, that’s why we partnered with College of Saint Benilde’s School for the Deaf,” Mr. Reyes explained while he and Aaron Corpuz, Caravan Foods Marketing Manager, were brainstorming combinations that would go well with their dragonfruit ice cream.
He explained why he’s decided to reach out to the deaf. “Some companies hire deaf employees on a contractual basis only,” he said. “After their contracts, the gap between jobs for the deaf graduates can take several months to one year. We’ve learned that companies aren’t interested in hiring them.”
And that’s why much to the joy of Benilde’s deaf graduates, Caravan Food Group, Inc. made it a goal to hire them for Elait. “At first, we paired up deaf employees with those who can hear, but eventually we saw that they can handle things by themselves.” The founders also posted entertaining infographics on how to order and basic sign language. While Century City Mall is a little more exclusive compared to the mass market malls that dot Edsa, it’s strategically situated between a toy store and a day care center.
It’s the kids that seem happiest when ordering at Elait. “They really try to engage with our team,” Mr. Reyes said. “They try sign language and it’s really heart warming that its the younger generation who are so welcoming to our team. People have been very supportive of our brand.”
Just recently, someone posted about Elait on social media and that post went viral. “There were around 25,000 likes,” Mr. Reyes exclaimed. But Elait’s success doesn’t rely on hype and social media alone. Great care also comes to play in developing the flavors for the brand.
After finding out that the Philippines sources most of its dairy from other countries, Mr. Reyes made sure that he’d use local dairy from Hacienda Macalauan in Calauan, Laguna. Most of the fruits that they use are also locally grown, taking advantage of our wide array of tropical fruits that temperate countries can only dream of having.
“We took our time in producing the flavors of our ice cream. We developed our own recipe for the custard and yogurt bases and we’re using fresh food and premium ingredients. People really taste the difference,” Mr. Reyes said.
Mr. Corpuz added that the ingredients are what make their product stand out amidst other rolled ice cream brands—a trend that harks to Thai street food. “Other companies use powdered and processed ingredients. We make own from the fresh fruits and ingredients that we’re using.”
As for the expansion of their menu, Elait can get experimental. And it pays off. Custard salted egg ice cream with tomato jam might seem like a disgusting flavor to the uninitiated, but it’s a surprisingly delicious mix of sweet and salty that’s very Pinoy. “Our team is made of young people so we can easily follow trends and we listen to our customers’ suggestions,” Mr. Corpuz added. “Like for example, ube was trending so we tried it. Avocado and matcha were also flavors suggested by our customers.”
Elait is set to expand, adding branches to SM Mall of Asia and Ayala Malls the 30th. Not satisfied with leading the deaf, Mr. Reyes also has plans for the corporate social responsibility of their donut shop Overdoughs. “We’re trying to work with Ateneo Special Education Society to see if we can employ them in Overdoughs,” he said. “I want to show that inclusivity is a business model that could work.”