The early years
Before I narrate how it was when we started, let me give you a bit of a background of why we got into the business. Ever since I can remember, my family loved to eat, and we loved our sauces. My mother was a great cook, and my three older brothers and I loved her cooking. Once a week we would indulge in a family barbecue, and sinamak was a staple dipping sauce, particularly since my mother’s roots are from Iloilo. My brothers and I also enjoyed having parties with friends, and we concocted our own sauces, rubs, and dips, for everyone to enjoy. As we got older, we went our separate ways, and had our own paths in life. I put up an IT company after working for a known IT corporation, and thought that would be my career until I got old and retired.
I Met Anne
It was one of the usual parties we would have with friends when I met Anne. I didn’t realize it then, that she would end up my wife, and change my life for the better. Don’t get me wrong, I did not have a bad life, I was doing okay with my IT company, enjoyed partying with friends, and had the support from my family. Anne and I eventually tied the knot on Sept 20, 2013, and life could not have been better.
We transferred to a house we rented in Antipolo, and it had a front and back yard. My dad was staying with me (my mom passed away in 2006, never having met Anne), and loved to spend the mornings in the garden with his coffee and pan de sal, listening to the birds chirping. Needless to say, Anne and I decided to make use of the garden and took up the hobby of planting seedlings. We started with different varieties and colors of chillies, basically for ornamental and home use. But Anne was always business-minded, she and her sisters ran a school for children. She also indulged in small buy and sell, and was at that time busying herself with soaps, oils, and other beauty products. Not for the money really, but she simply enjoyed doing business. So, one day I asked her if she would like to distribute vinegar, as I had a friend that manufactured distilled white vinegar. Well, the challenge was taken, and it was the start of our new business.
Together with some of her friends, we started a distribution company called Royal ELMSS Food Corporation. The idea was to sell all-natural basic commodities like vinegar, cooking oil, salt, pepper, and fish sauce. A small amount of capital and a lot of research and sourcing is all we needed to get things rolling. It was tough to sell, particularly the vinegar, as not many people knew about distilled vinegar. So, we started to look for other uses for vinegar, aside from cooking.
The Start of Casa Lontoc
One morning, Anne decided to harvest some of the chillies we were growing to make sinamak for the house. After she bottled it, she took a photo and posted it on Facebook. To her surprise, many of our friends wanted to order! And it spread like wildfire, soon we were getting orders even from people we did not know – friends of friends. We were advised to brand it, and join bazaars to sell. We thought of the name 182 Casa Lontoc, which was the home I grew up in, in remembrance of how Anne and I met, as well as the multitude of parties with friends who enjoyed our sinamak.
Our Business was expanding
We never expected the business to grow as fast as it did. But we soon enough had to expand, as the business was to go into retail. We incorporated 90 Pacific Corporation to handle manufacturing, and we rented a small place as our commissary. We collaborated with many of the hot sauce makers and chili growers and carried their products in our bazaars. Since we had more products we could now join the mall bazaars. The year was 2016 and 2017 and most people in the Philippines only knew of the chilies that you get in the grocery (F1) and labuyo or bird’s eye chili. Actually most people thought the F1 was called labuyo. In the bazaars we sold and let people taste other types of chilies that they’ve never seen before like Habaneros, Scotch bonnets, Ghost peppers, TMS, and the Carolina Reaper . We also made Sinamak and chili garlic using these chilies (Fiery Sinamak, and Habanero Chili Garlic).
Because of bazaars and other marketing efforts we were able to get distributors, who were able to put us on shelves. We had a strong presence in the south, in many pasalubong stores, and a few stores in Metro Manila. Anne really enjoyed the marketing aspect of the business, she would talk to the other bazaar vendors giving advice and even helping them sell. This did good for Casa Lontoc, some of the vendors carried our products in bazaars that we did not join, however we would advertise them in our social media.
Looking Back But Moving Forward
It may not be a rags to riches story (still no riches), but it shows how a hobby can turn into a profitable business. It is never easy, and there are usually more hardships than rewards. But if you are hard working, and set a goal, you can achieve success and happiness. As the company looks forward, we don’t know what may come our way, just like the Coronavirus, which has crippled many businesses. But there is always light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how long the tunnel may be. Anne taught me to take things in stride, and to enjoy the simple joys when times are tough. Well, that is the story of Casa Lontoc, and it is a work in progress.