Seasoned online food entrepreneurs give advice on how to move online

WITH more people spending time at home, many have parlayed both their time and ability into cooking -— and some of them have even translated that into a new career. San Miguel’s Home Foodie held a webinar last week with two seasoned online food entrepreneurs to help budding businesses get up on their feet.

Joseph John Viel (otherwise known as JJ) is known as a chef for the former Cucina Rusticana. His restaurant closed prior to the pandemic, but even before quarantine had been imposed he had already shifted to online food deliveries, as well as having food kiosks and joining Sunday bazaars. “I decided to pour my whole attention to the home-based business instead,” he said, after the quarantines affected the later businesses. “It started after I was done with my restaurant,” he said about his online business, Commissario by Chef Joseph Viel. After he had closed, a lot of his old customers asked if they could still buy food from him.

Another webinar speaker, Dave Cervantes, had worked in several restaurants and kitchens, and had his own online business, Tickle Tongue Pastries. Busy with his career, Tickle Tongue went into a bit of a hiatus, but after the pandemic struck, he decided to resurrect the online pastry shop with a new name, 22 Grams Patisserie.

While Mr. Cervantes is known for his cookies (especially one made with bananas and chocolate), Mr. Viel is known for his traditional Italian dishes, an influence from his Italian heritage. On his menu are Osso Buco, Chicken Parmigiana, a Cerveza Negra Beef Roast, and for dessert, a Mango Cream Pie.

The pair talked about the shift to online and deliveries: for example, ordering from Mr. Cervantes means setting a preferred date. The products are baked on the dawn of the date provided by the customers to ensure freshness. The system also allows him to only make the exact amount, so little or none of the products are wasted. On consistency, he says “there’s always a recipe that we follow to make it consistent.”

As for Mr. Viel, he changed his menu to make the items more travel-worthy. “Some items I totally removed, because I did not want to compromise the quality at all,” he said. For others, he just changed the packaging to protect the food’s freshness and temperature, but it also helps that he makes sure that the riders he hires for deliveries have insulated boxes to maintain the quality.

Social media has been instrumental to Mr. Viel’s success. “Thanks to social media, between Instagram and Facebook — and for those who may not know, I’m also on TikTok.  It really helped boost the brand. It kind of won the hearts of people.”

“I wouldn’t say sensation,” he replied when he was called a TikTok sensation by a webinar host. “But sure, if you want to call me that.” His TikTok is known for videos with his cat, his fitness journey, and his one-minute recipe videos.

“Do not get discouraged in the beginning,” he said of using social media. “I’ll tell you right now there’s a huge possibility that not many people will really bother to try your product. Keep pushing, keep promoting. The moment you start garnering followers, use the power of testimonials.” Customers usually thank him for their orders, and he asks if he could post compliments by customers on his food. “That’s more or less the way to capture your crowd,” he said, comparing online testimonials to how word-of-mouth reviews used to boost restaurants.

“You want to find a good balance between making a good profit and still catering to those who would still want to spend for your product,” said Mr. Viel, giving advice about starting your own business. “The problem with other online sellers, in my humble opinion, is it tends to be too expensive.” He also says that due to safety concerns, restaurants should prioritize takeouts and cut costs where they can — like for rent.

“Don’t be afraid to seek help,” was Mr. Cervantes’ advice. “Don’t be afraid to start, especially right now… We have to focus on what we do, and if we’re focused, then eventually, we’ll be able to create efficient and effective procedures to start our business.”

To order from Mr. Viel, follow his store on Instagram and Facebook @commissarioph. As for Mr. Cervantes, his cookies and cakes are available on Facebook @22gramspatisserie, and on Instagram @22grams.mnl. — Joseph L. Garcia