High school friends become business partners to reinvent bagnet in Manila

“We had to build it from the ground up. We used things from our own houses for the first six months to pay off the construction. Even our rice cooker was a regular one, not the big one that other stalls used… It was a big jump. We didn’t realize how big it was. When we were signing the contract, we were just laughing, like… oh, this is real!”

Sitting in 150 Food Park is a stall from which the smell of freshly cooked pork wafts. A playful logo featuring a tipsy pig hangs above – a play on the Filipino dish nilasing na bagnet. These are what welcome customers when they try Balay Bagnet, the brainchild of highschool friends-turned-business partners, Arvin and Giana.

“We serve bagnet, but give it a modern take,” Giana proudly explains. “We offer different types, like bagnet-sisig and bagnet kare-kare.”

The stall was set up back in late 2015. But the real roots of Balay Bagnet run a little further back. In fact, back when the two were still in highschool, they were already talking about setting up an establishment together. As someone who loved to cook, Giana wanted to be a restauranteur; Arvin was likewise interested in starting something as her own enterprise.

When the two entered college, Balay Bagnet was set up as part of an on-campus entrepreneurial challenge that they joined. Upon graduation, they took the stall to the Mercato food market in Bonifacio Global City. That’s where the real work began.

“It was super challenging for us,” Giana explains. “But it was the springboard of our business.”

Challenging is right. They only had a 2-by-3, a small foldable stall, which they had to set up by hand before operations, and fold up after. They brought it out every weekend for three months, and every weekend they did everything needed of the operations: they chopped, they fried, they fixed the stall, carried it in, brought in the water, the oil… everything.

As a two-person project in those days, they only had their own hands to rely on. Arvin and Giana were there to set-up before the market opened at 4:00 PM, and they often finished packing everything as late as 4:00 AM. Fortunately, all the years of knowing each other seeped into their work in the best way. They knew each other’s strengths, taking turns in leading the way, and relying on each other.

Their reward? “People started noticing us,” Giana says. “Some said it was the best bagnet they’ve had!”

But if managing their little food stall was the most tiring part physically, the next task was the most draining mentally: building the stall that would become their main branch on Maginhawa:

“We had to have it built from the ground up. We used things from our own houses for the first six months to pay off the construction. Even our rice cooker was a regular one, not the big one that other stalls used… It was a big jump. We didn’t realize how big it was. When we were signing the contract, we were just laughing, like… oh [expletive], this is real!”

The anxiety was present all throughout the construction; Arvin oversaw their highschool dream take form, while Giana finished a culinary course to master the ways of the kitchen. On December 12, 2015, Balay Bagnet was open for business.

Now, more than a year of operating out of 150 Food Park and a handful of employees under their responsibility, the two don’t just consider their establishment as a product of their partnership. It’s the fruit of a friendship, something they admit never changes regardless of how business is going.

“Know what you’re doing!” Arvin encourages, as a piece of advice for would-be restauranteurs. “Maybe not everything, but learn what’s crucial! Starting a business isn’t just like a job. It takes longer than you think. You don’t get any time-out. Even when you’re on vacation, you’re still managing your business.

“But… even if it’s really scary, it’s yours. It’s your own thing.”

Liked this story? Check out Balay Bagnet’s Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/BalayBagnet/

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