Maritel Nievera was only 17 years old when she got married. Because her then-husband owned a family restaurant in Pampanga, she learned the ropes of the business.
Years later, Maritel separated from her husband and decided to move to Quezon City. It was there that she started building herself and her business. Using the money she received from her marriage separation, she built her first eat-all-you-can restaurant focusing on Kapampangan cuisine.
Being a single mother to her two children and with no college degree didn’t stop Maritel from building her own empire. Cabalen restaurant soon became the largest Kapampangan specialty chain in the country. It has expanded to over 50 branches and developed other businesses that include Mangan, Soi, BKK Express, and EatPinoy.
Maritel shared with Esquire some business tips that every aspiring entrepreneur can learn. Here are a few:
1. Find a niche market
A niche market is a subset of all possible clients who are most likely to buy from you. It has distinct requirements, tastes, or identities that set it apart from the larger market. Your niche is specific to you and it’s what sets you apart from the competition.
According to Maritel, she studied and found her niche as a Kapampangan specialty restaurant.
She said, “I realized that all the restaurants were simply offering the same food with different names. I thought that there was no way for me to compete if I would just copy and be like them.”
“When I went back to Pampanga, I tried to research the menu of the different Kapampangan restaurants. I went deeper into the Kapampangan food for every town until I came up with a menu that features all the best food of Pampanga,” she added.
2. Customer experience is the best marketing strategy
According to Maritel, word-of-mouth is the best form of marketing. Give your customers the best experience so that they will tell their friends and family about your business.
She recalled how a food columnist from a major newspaper wrote about her excellent dining experience at Cabalen without her sponsoring it. She was also able to lease space at SM Megamall because some officials dined and enjoyed their food at their restaurant.
Maritel explained that sometimes they will get modest revenues but they still aim to provide the foods their customers want.
3. Be flexible
With the challenges of the pandemic, Maritel highlighted how important it was to have a competitive and flexible business model.
Maritel recalled that they once had a competitor that offered a buffet at a very low price. At that time, Cabalen suffered greatly because they were serving “high-end, a la carte style.”
But Maritel quickly adapted to the challenge and it worked well for them. “What I did was to rethink our strategy and adopt my competitor’s model. I observed and simply copied how they did it, including the marketing campaign, and offered our price at P100 lower than the competition. The strategy worked for us and enabled us to regain our lost customers. Since then, Cabalen has been known as a buffet restaurant,” she said.
If you’re planning of opening up a restaurant, you can read many inspiring stories and business advice. You can learn lessons from a 20-year-old restaurant owner, or business tips from Max’s Group Chair Sharon Fuentebella.