Nico and Ally Gonzales, founders of Noodle Lab.
“It was dreamt up ages ago, but it took a pandemic to launch it,” said Nico and Ally Gonzales, founders of Noodle Lab, a passion project that makes made-to-order fresh pasta, and as part of finding new ways for people to enjoy it.
In an interview with Daily Tribune’s “Pairfect,” the Gonzaleses shared their insights on how to get started in business, especially through the rough and narrow, and how, at Noodle Lab and in life, all they really knead is love.
Daily Tribune (DT): What’s the long and short of Noodle Lab?
Nico Gonzales (NG): The past few years, I’ve been getting really into cooking. And, of course, the number one person that I cook for is Ally. Her favorite is pasta. She can give up anything, but pasta is non-negotiable. I took it upon myself to learn how to make the best fresh pasta. We started making our friends and family try it and they kept on saying fresh pasta is really good, and that it’s so different from the regular boxed pasta, but they don’t really get access to it on a day-to-day basis.
Ally Gonzales (AG): We saw that opportunity. We tried it out small quantities. We tried to make two to three kilos a day as a way to test the market. Then we ramped it up to 15 kilos a day when people started clamoring for it. Still small, but it’s a very exciting growth for the company as well.
We actually ventured into B2B. We started five months ago; we had clients who had their own food businesses like catering, or food delivery. They buy from us in bulk, using our fresh pasta as an ingredient. Our production room right now is our dining room and our living room, and it’s planned out We really have to get it out at some point.
Spaghetti / Photographs courtesy of ig/Noodlelab.ph
AG: When it comes to scaling production, we want to put out our products at the price point where it isn’t too expensive. Of course it costs more than the grocery-bought dried pasta, but not as expensive that it would just be for special occasions. We want people to see the difference between fresh pasta and dried grocery pasta, and replace it in their daily meals.
NG: It has a lot of manual labor involved; a lot of kneading process is done by hand that’s why we really have to explain to our customers that it’s not instantly made. We try our best to make sure that, when you order, it’s made for you, made fresh and there’s sort of that waiting time.
Starting a business amid a pandemic, for some, is not a very bright idea: The market is down, people are unemployed. But some like you found a way to turn it around. What did you learn?
AG: A lot of learnings on the food safety part of the business. And, also, I was almost convinced we couldn’t do this because we thought everything would be hard: From talking to our suppliers, convincing people that it’s safe to be buying food. Everything is done via digital: If I have to find a supplier for a specific flour or a specific part of the packaging, you can’t simply just go out there. Now you do it on Viber, on Facebook Marketplace. We have to adapt to how people are buying there essentials right now.
NG: It is a challenging time for a lot of businesses, but specific to the food industry, this is a trend that is starting to crop up more. It started with ube pandesal, then sour dough bread. A lot of home-based food businesses, a lot of people are starting to go in a business even on a smaller scale. That’s the silver lining of the situation. There is that big landscape shift, where a lot of people are becoming their own bosses.
DT: How do you reconcile in life and in business?
NG: We have the same background when it comes to marketing. We both have our way of looking at things. We both had full-time jobs when we started, so being able to manage the time was the biggest challenge. That’s why we’re doing smaller batches. Being stuck together in quarantine 24/7 plus running a business together isn’t for everyone. But luckily, we were able to figure out how to make it work. Right now, Ally is the one that’s pouring most of her time into Noodle Lab now, while I maintain my current job. I think we’ve had less arguments recently now that she’s been running the show a bit more. Happy wife, happy life.
DT: In starting a business, where should one begin?
AG: We didn’t know how to start. Starting something from scratch was always something intimidating. You know, we’ve had this idea of for years, but we never really acted on it. We were like, “We don’t have capital.” It’s not like we have savings, a lump sum we have for certain things like fixing our home or health, etc. Because of the pandemic, we were like, “Why don’t we just try with whatever small capital we have, and we don’t spend more than what we make and we just keep growing from there?”
NG: The biggest learning here is: If you have an idea, just go do it. As we continue our operations, we adjust, we fine-tune. For a first-time business owner, it’s really not about getting too technical with it. It’s just executing and figuring out how to make it work, how to move forward and how to be agile enough to pivot if you encounter any problem.
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