The Story of CASA manila’s Sari Sari Pantry. A Story of Hope and New Beginnings
WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS, MAKE LEMONADE
CASA manila’s SARI SARI Private Label, Ready-made Cooking and Dipping Sauces, Condiments, Ice Cream and More came into being during this pandemic. Needless to say, being a restaurateur has its many big challenges which can be very stressful. There are so many details and variables in a restaurant business, especially if you care. So added to this pandemic, this unprecedented time is nothing short of a nightmare. If not for my faith, perseverance and the support of my husband, this situation is enough to make you want to give up. Releasing this stress and worry, staying positive, grateful and mustering up the courage needed certainly helped. However at other times, this anxiety amounted to fear and uncertainty. One of those day, I thought of Sister Elise, a dear friend who taught me, “When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade!
BE READY FOR THE UNEXPECTED
While thinking of the past lemons into lemonade, thank goodness, we had set-up our online ordering system in November 2019. Previously, at the end of 2018, I began anticipating that a recession was imminent. There were already signs. My business experience taught me that “What goes up, must come down.” That’s when I brought in our delivery partners, Uber, Skip the Dishes, Doordash, Foodora and Ritual to grow our market as a safeguard. These marketing efforts along with maintaining our quality standards in the past were enough to help us and be a saving grace in an economic fallout which no one could ever imagine, especially when the lockdown happened.
BE READY TO PIVOT
In mid-March, I was disheartened, looking at our once always full restaurant, after having to lay off 22 employees. It really made me wonder what will happen next. Being a restaurant business owner, I had to think of ways to sustain our business and good will by looking ahead when we re-opened. Renovating our patio and dining room since we were closed came to mind. We must look different and be different when re-open, which I had guessed would be in the summer. Stronger, improved and COVID ready!
When the patio and dining room did open, our guests felt more comfortable. Eventually with the patio and dining room opened, we seemed to be getting back on track with lots of happy returning guests enjoying our new look. It was working! And then it happened again. This past Thanksgiving weekend, the announcement of closing dine-in delivered another blow. It felt like we were back where we started. Ugh!
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
“It is time!” Feeling discouraged, but not defeated, we decided that CASA manila’s SARI SARI PANTRY should emerge, an online and instore market featuring our Private Label ready-made sauces, condiments, artisan, premium ice cream and quality which we use for our own recipes. We would also offer other products including our Ultimate Halo Halo ingredients and other Filipino Asian products. We needed to further pivot our business in some way or else we would become another restaurant casualty we read about every day. We re-built up our business and we were able to rehire and hire 14 staff and now here we are again. While pondering the list of positives of living through this pandemic, some would be, 1) people have discovered the joy of cooking, 2) eating at home is a norm, 3) supporting local businesses and farmers, ultimately our economy is imperative, 4) discovering that “health is wealth”, that healthy eating can be tasty without artificial flavours, ingredients, fillers 5) convenience, easy to prepare is appreciated 6) what we buy ought to be economical and “worth it”. It became so obvious that now is the time for CASA manila’s foundational sauces to be launched.
THE GOLDEN RULE- LOVE YOUR CUSTOMER AS YOU WOULD LOVE YOURSELF- STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN?
“Don’t give anyone anything that you wouldn’t want for yourself. I would tell our staff that this is “The Golden Rule”. Care and Quality will always be sustainable. Becoming restaurateurs who care what our customers ingest meant reading food labels in everything we use. Right from the beginning, our policy and practices was not to use MSG or artificial flavoured cooking powders, food colouring or anything artificial. Even the brands of fish, oyster and soy sauce, oyster sauce and salt had to be switched in order to offer healthier Filipino food. Our preparation became healthier, yet more labour-intensive, not conducive for short order cooking. Developing these sauces was the solution in preparing freshly cooked dishes in a timely manner. All this was necessary to stay true to our mission statement.
Early on, I was horrified when I heard enough jokes about Filipino food as “Stairway to Heaven” or
certain Filipino dishes are, “Killing Me Softly”. Not funny, when you own a business which sells a potentially “silent killer”. I didn’t have to look far for proof, even my own relatives had heart disease, high cholesterol, high-blood and diabetes. Researching further, it was true that Filipinos suffered from those diet related ailments and more, gout and obesity. In addition, 4 months after purchasing CASA manila, my husband was rushed to the hospital for an emergency triple bypass which the cardiologist said was a pre-existing condition and hereditary. Zaldy’s dad passed away in his 40s from a heart attack. My dad passed away from a heart attack in his 50’s. My beloved mom also passed away at 70 from heart disease. God rest their souls. I was determined there had to be a way to make Filipino food healthier.
EMBRACING MOTHER NATURES’ WAY THROUGH SARI SARI PANTRY
It is because of the above, we are passing on what we have developed in the past decade. It’s all in our SARI SARI PANTRY private label line of products. The same sauces you taste at CASA manila restaurant are exactly the same sauces and condiments in the bottle. They are refrigerated because there are no preservatives and no artificial ingredients and flavouring. SARI SARI PANTRY products are made with same culinary philosophy we’ve coined as our “Nature to Nurture”. Simply put, the least we tamper with Mother Nature’s goodness, in the food we eat, the more it will nurture our bodies. We respect Mother Nature’s inherent qualities by using real ingredients. Most sauces and condiments are vegan, vegetarian, gluten free. All our private label sauces do not contain MSG or artificial flavours, ingredients or preservatives. Mother Nature’s goodness is celebrated in SARI SARI PANTRY line of products.
IT’S ALL IN THE NAME
The name SARI SARI celebrates the traditional ways, when the village grocer was the good cook down the street, who had a small store at the front of the house, and made a few cooked daily specials for the neighborhood. Going to market at the earliest dawn, carefully selecting ingredients for freshness to provide for family and extra for the daily specials was the daily mission. Always made from scratch with fresh ingredients and freshly cooked, there was a sense of pride in the dishes cooked, often from recipes handed down from generation to generation. Also inspired by my lola and Zaldy’s nanay, they cooked in a time and a place when instant “sarap” was not in their radar. SARI SARI PANTRY honours all the lolas, lolos, titas and titos, nanays and tatays who cooked simply using nature’s bounty, within their means, but also made the meals everything with love.
RELEASE YOUR INNER FILIPINO CHEF
Now you can make Filipino dishes which usually takes hours, in a short period of time. With our easy to use cooking and dipping sauces, condiments, ice cream and more. SARI SARI PANTRY will add variety to your repertoire of pantry ingredients. Made with your convenience in mind, with cooking instructions (and even chef’s tips) right on the bottle, you can create in 20 to 30 minutes. All this along with your health and enjoyment in mind. In the near future, we will be publishing on our website, more recipes and tips you can create with each product. We will also have cooking demo videos online.
DON’T KEEP IT BOTTLED UP…EXPRESS YOURSELF…BELIEVE
Without a doubt, this is the most challenging time for all of us, one that is affecting the whole world, all ages, ethnicity and income levels. We are in this chaotic time together. However, with positive “lemon” planning, hard work, gratitude and faith, we can get through this and be better than ever before.
But whatever you do, “Let’s not keep it bottled up!” One way is to try CASA manila’s SARI SARI PANTRY line of authentically delicious, private label, ready-made cooking and dipping sauces and more! Visit our website and order online, phone in your order or shop in person.