“If you eat healthy, you may live to be 100 . . . or more” he says with a chuckle.
These words come from a young entrepreneur who runs a café or what he calls a “RESTORE-ant” using Baguio’s prime products—organic vegetables and organic coffee.
I was pleasantly surprised to see a full house for lunch in a vegetarian restaurant called Health 100 in a hidden street corner along Magsaysay Avenue in Baguio City. Elmer Macalingay, born Adventist and a vegetarian, did not start as a restaurateur. He actually finished with a degree in Education from the University of the Cordilleras. He taught third and fifth grade kids for a few years after graduation and then went on and pursued an insurance agent’s career for another eight years. When the insurance industry hit low in 2008, Elmer started his dream business: a vegetarian restaurant.
He was not afraid that he would be the sixth vegetarian concept to open in the City of Pines. I myself have been to several other veggie cafes in Baguio when I was semi-vegetarian about four years ago, about the same time Elmer was also starting Health 100. But Elmer stated a difference—he would get his vegetables from small organic producers and help them sell their produce, squash noodles, beans and other provisions in a little corner of his café.
Being known to Arabica coffee advocates Richard and Christine Abellon as a friend and third cousin, he also had access to the best-roasted coffee beans in the city. Elmer had all the elements ready save for experience as an operator. He took up a short course in Culinary Management to boost his innate confidence, and after that course, he was ready to take the plunge . . . into business, and Health 100 opened in 2009.
The best budget meals now at P55 and P85 are steals considering you are served organic brown rice, the freshest organic vegetables and you can add some freshly-made carrot juice and a house salad. Soup and water is self-service. It is a hit among Baguio locals not just because of value for money but the warmth of the place. In a cool city like Baguio, warmth can mean not just a higher temperature but also a general feeling of relaxation and comfort, which I immediately felt upon my arrival.
I looked at the chalkboards displaying meals for breakfast—to sandwiches and a host of other house specials. Christine, my host, suggested we check out the rice meals. You have a choice of asking for half a cup (which I did) of rice and service was “turo-turo” (point at the viand you like) style for the vegetables. Chris ordered carrot juice and a huge house salad which three of us shared.
Sometime before our dessert phase, in comes Elmer from his rounds.
“I am like a doctor,” he says. “I do rounds,” he again chuckles. What he means by rounds is doing the rounds of his now three locations—called Health 100 (the original), Health 101 in la Trinidad and Health 102 near University of Baguio. While Health 100 remains pure vegetarian, Elmer had to add fish in the other new locations because of customer demand. It is a good business mix—a pure one for the original concept and hybrids for the others. Elmer has grown organically (pun intended) and has been rolling his profits into new locations like the next two he set up.
He has the innate marketing savvy, the gift of gab and the thirst to learn. He took out his notebook and wrote away while doing an interview and asking me questions about business and about life. I saw myself in him when I was just starting our café many years ago. After all, Elmer is just 33 years old.
He is thankful he pursued the insurance path for a while as that stint with a multinational took him to trainings and exposed him to different kinds of people. His eight-year experience in selling also brought him to different restaurants, which further reinforced his dream, of opening his own someday.
Now, this is a real inspiring business. Take the best of your city. Parlay it into a business venture and enjoy the ride. At the Health 100 location, we sat over freshly brewed Maleng-ag coffee and freshly-baked banana bread (made in his “commissary” just below the resto) and met mayors, vice-mayors, community leaders and other groups of women and men who came and dined and said hello to the captain of the store, Elmer.
I asked him how he saw himself five years from now and he replied, “I want to go into franchising to share my vision of serving healthy food at an affordable price so many more people will live to a hundred.”
My business tip for him, “Spread your mission but reflect on the best way to do it.” With a good mission, I am certain he will find the right path.
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Chit Juan is a founder and owner of ECHOStore sustainable lifestyle, ECHOmarket sustainable farms and ECHOcafe in Serendra , Podium and Centris QC malls. She also is President of the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines and President of the Philippine Coffee Board Inc., two non-profits close to her heart. She often speaks to corporates, youth and NGOs on social entrepreneurship, women empowerment, and coffee. You can follow her on twitter.com/chitjuan or find her on facebook:Pacita “Chit” Juan. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.