MALUNGON, Sarangani (MindaNews / 02 August) — Along the winding highway in Barangay Nagpan here, three young sisters, aged 15 to 23, have found a way to keep their business alive despite the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to hope that soon, this small restaurant that offers not just good food but a picture-perfect scenery of rainbow over rolling green fields, will reopen for dine-in services.
Before the pandemic, Rainbow Bistro, as its owners named the restaurant, had become a pit stop for hungry travelers plying the cities of Davao and General Santos.
The restaurant offered Filipino dishes such as native chicken binakol, chicken hinalang, chicken pandan, chicken ubad (the innermost and soft part of the banana plant), pork humba and beef lauya.
It opened in October 2019, initially serving buko halo-halo and fresh pomelos. It was forced to close shop from March to November 2020 as community quarantines were imposed due to COVID-19.
Rainbow Bistro reopened in December 2020 as a “sisters’ act” by very young entrepreneurs — Mica Cejar, 23, and her sisters Yana, 17, and Ikay, 15.
“We do everything ourselves from cooking, washing the dishes and cleaning the place,” Mica told MindaNews.
Mica was able to get help from her sisters Yana and Ikay because they were forced to study at home as government has not allowed face-to-face classes nationwide.
Yana , who is in Grade 11, and Ikay in Grade 9, opted for modular rather than online classes as internet service is unreliable in their village.
Mica said business was doing good from December 2020 to February 2021 but slowed down thereafter as COVID-19 surges were recorded in the cities of Davao and GenSan, as well as in Malungon town itself, prompting stricter movement restrictions.
“Our target customers are the travelers. With the movement restrictions, we took another beating. There were few customers coming in,” she recalled.
The sisters closed the restaurant last June to dine-in customers, not just because few of them were coming in due to stricter travel restrictions but also for their safety, as they have not been vaccinated against COVID-19.
With business turning worse because of the continuing onslaught of COVID-19, the sisters put their act together and used their fighting spirit to rise from the nightmare other small businesses are also going through.
“Instead of getting discouraged, we tried to look for other sources of income. We ventured into online selling and we are doing okay,” Mica said. “Unlike before when we paid ourselves salaries, now we give ourselves only allowances so that we can still shop online.”
Mica, a graduate of Bachelor of Science in Business Administration major in Marketing Management at the Stratford International School in nearby GenSan, said they advertised on Facebook, apart from regularly using the popular social media’s free features, to sell their goods and also promote their products via Instagram.
Family members, friends and friends of friends helped spread word about the sisters’ restaurant and food delivery business.
The family-owned Rio Vista Farm and Forest received assistance from the Agricultural Training Institute – Region 12 headed by Abdul Daya-an, in the form of oven, freezer, chiller and chairs. Rio Vista is certified by the ATI-12 as an organic school of practical agriculture . Rainbow Bistro serves as the outlet of produce from Rio Vista, such as native chicken and buko.
Yana, the second of three siblings, noted that time management allowed her and Ikay to help and sustain the business with their elder sister Mica.
“We usually study at night and help cook or whatever we can do for the business during daytime,” said Yana, who has learned basic accounting by tracking their business expenses and sales.
Yana admitted the out-of-class learning environment triggered by the pandemic is difficult for her, but it also provided her the opportunity to engage in business with her sisters.
“With face-to-face classes, you have teachers to explain the lessons,” she said, noting that home studying entails more individual research, which becomes a problem if the internet service is erratic.
Being the eldest, Mica usually takes care of food delivery at a designated meet-up place in neighboring GenSan, which is about 45 minutes away from Rainbow Bistro.
If the family vehicle is not available, she would take public rides just to deliver the orders to their customers in the city, many of them repeat customers, especially for their baked products.
The sisters accept payment through GCash or upon delivery.
Since the sisters started their online food business, their best-sellers are the no-preservative buko pie at 280 pesos per box and pocket pies of macapuno, langka and pineapple flavors for 135 pesos for a six-piece box, Mica said.
They continue to receive orders for their Filipino dish offerings, such as native chicken binakol. Prices are reasonable, below 115 pesos per serving, good for two persons.
Mica said they could earn from 2,000 to 4,000 pesos per delivery to the city.
The sisters are optimistic that the pandemic would soon ease so that they could reopen Rainbow Bistro for dine-in and earn better, together with their online food delivery business.
The sisters believe there is a rainbow after the rain.
They are confident that customers will come back to Rainbow Bistro once it reopens, not only to fill their hunger with sumptuous food but also to gaze at the rainbow across the horizon if they are lucky to be there when the colors in the sky show up. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)