IN THESE times of Covid, I have seen people rise on these scary times to discover their talents, improve their skills, and come out as a winner. In my series of Covid Business Spotlight, I will feature businesses borne out of this pandemic. In a time when one feels the worst year yet in recent years with the lockdown, the slowdown of the economy, unending lockdowns with no clear news on how the vaccine will be distributed, businesses like Jenny Chan-Tan's show that in the midst of all chaos, triumph can be achieved. In this feature this week, I will put the spotlight on housewife Jen, who hails from a Filipino Chinese family. She enjoys serving her dishes to friends and family. She even sends food to her friends' houses.
She is a full-time housewife although every Christmas she sells the custard apple. It is seasonal, so her selling only lasts for two months. Never in a million years did she think she would ever get into the business of selling food at all. She definitely surprised everyone, including her husband.
She even surprised me! The idea of starting a food business never crossed her mind. She always thought that if she were to start a business, it would be in the fashion industry. Little did she know that she would warm the hearts of countless people with her heartfelt cooking.
Read on to learn from Jen Tan on her new business and how you can also launch your Covid business with success.
1) What is your business?
I sell home-cooked traditional Chinese dishes, modified to suit our modern taste. They are inspired by my travels but adjusted to our local palate. The dishes I offer may sound simple, but it will give you feelings of comfort and nostalgia, bringing back memories of family gatherings. They also stir up feelings of excitement and curiosity as my friends and clients often wonder how they were made! The stars of her menu are Braised Beef Tendon, Silken Egg with seasoned pork, Hand-pulled aromatic chicken, Stuffed seafood Eggplant and Chicken Congee ala Paeng.
2) Who is your market?
I would like to say that my market is those who are like me, who prefer quality over quantity and over price. My customers value remarkable dishes, especially during this lockdown. With the pandemic, we can't go out as much and can’t travel; and there are many who long to explore and go food tripping. In my own way, I like to think my dishes provide that experience and satisfy their cravings. I hope, in my little way, I bring comfort to those who miss traveling by being able to sample new, exciting dishes right in their own home.
3) What was the inspiration for this business?
My dishes are inspired by meals my family and I had tried in the past, or dishes I want to eat but have no idea where to get. Weird, but each morning I wake up, my first thought is “What do I want to eat today?” My mind and palate synchronize and give me the answer!
I am also inspired and challenged by whipping up dishes my family will like. My twins used to be very picky eaters, so they really challenged me. Add my husband, who likes clean-tasting dishes!
4) How did you get this up and running?
It all started with me cooking for friends who were coming over for dinner. This was typical since we often have friends over. I also like sending my dishes to my friends and siblings. But that night, after tasting the Braised beef with tendon I made, my good friend Liza and her husband Doc Sid pushed me to sell it. Relentlessly, week after week, they would ask me if it was ready to be ordered. After two months of grueling R&D, I was ready. I’m happy to report, it was well-received. My sister-in-law, Melda, too was a source of strength! She is a very good cook and baker. I sent her my dish, then she messaged me ordering for the next weekend. I told her I wasn't ready and she replied, "never say no to a customer!" Up to now, even when the slots are full, I can't say no.
Starting up was a struggle for me. I had no partner, so it was all me. From cooking, buying ingredients, finding the right meat, looking for the perfect container, packaging, marketing, social media, replying to inquiries, taking orders, etc. Name it, I have experienced it. Looking back, I don't know how I did it all. There were times I wanted to give up, but I told myself, this too shall pass and I will succeed. Then I gave myself a pat on the shoulder. Comforting and encouraging words from friends and family helped a lot. But what really pushed me was my dream... A simple dream that one day I can do something... Accomplish something and be proud of it. Never in my wildest dreams nor people who know me would imagine that one day I would be selling food that I cooked! Only those who are close to me know that I cook. But to others, I’m known as a person who loves to eat.
5) How did you make your first sale?
Believe it or not, my first sale was from a friend who lives in Connecticut, USA. She ordered for her sister and her mom!
It took me a while to sell my Braised beef with tendon. My very first dish and will always be special. I knew this dish would either make or break my career — it was THE deciding factor. I worked hard finding the umami taste and perfect meat. It was challenging to source affordable meat that will be as tender and flavorful as more expensive cuts. I would go to different shops and search online to find the perfect supplier. I am blessed they were very patient with my endless questions. I would buy, cook, and do taste tests.
6) What are your plans post covid?
I ask myself the same question! Before lockdown, My life revolved around my family, then friends! We like eating out a lot. I have been a housewife for 17 years. I don't work except during Christmas season when I sell our Custard Apples. That made me really busy! Besides that, what kept me busy was my family and eating and chillin’ with friends. I remember one time I told my lawyer friend that sometimes I get so tired from all these. I avoid scheduling two to three events in a day since it makes me lose my energy. What she replied marked. She said, I guess you are so idle and free that you get tired from simple things. Bam! That took a mark too! But now, ever since I started jencooks, being idle makes me feel restless and guilty. It's as if I am so lazy and feel ashamed of it. A 360-degree turn.
7) What’s your advice to anyone who has ideas to start a business these times?
My advice is simple. You have to have strong will, passion, determination, focus, patience, and most importantly, be thick-skinned or aka "makapal na mukha."
When I started, I questioned myself all the time — questions that would often unnerve me. My biggest adversary was and continues to be myself. I never had formal training so this was my biggest insecurity. Are my dishes good? Do I have the background? What makes my dishes so special?
When I started, I questioned myself all the time — questions that would often unnerve me. My biggest adversary was and continues to be myself. I never had formal training so this was my biggest insecurity. Are my dishes good? Do I have the background? What makes my dishes so special for people to buy? Am I good enough? It was hard. I am very fortunate my family and friends are very supportive. In the first place, it was their idea that I get into this.
8) What are the top 3 difficult challenges in this business?
When I started, I kept sending my dishes to friends who I knew had a good palate. I wanted to know their comments. If it was good, I felt happy! I was eager to hear the "but" though — the critique. Hearing constructive criticism helped me improve and grow. All comments were noted.
I realize being in business, criticism is unavoidable. You cannot please everyone. In the end, I chose to trust my palate and forge on. So far, I am lucky this decision worked! Pricing was also a challenge. I do not scrimp on my ingredients and I like to serve big servings. I needed to factor in the time and effort as well.
The next challenge is the menu. I always brainstorm what to offer — what dish should I serve next? It has to be something that’s not available out there. And if it is, I had to make it different and stand on its own. But most importantly, I hope that each dish that comes out of my kitchen brings back memories of childhood: Simple, traditional, clean-tasting, with a twist.
9) What can be improved on your business?
There’s always room for improvement. I just started and everything is based on instinct. As I go along, I learn from experience. Learning to prioritize is the first thing. I learned how to distinguish the task I need to do first over those that can be done later on.
I learned how to be humble and accept constructive criticism. It was hard, especially when you get opinions left and right. I listen and adjust if it is doable, based on my own preference.
Sometimes I do get confused. So in the end, I just have to trust my gut and taste buds!
10) What’s your ideal goal for this business a year from now?
Years from now, I hope Jencooks would still be around, and I’d still be standing, breathing, cooking and sharing my passion with everyone as much as I do with my family. The Lord is my shelter and He alone gives me strength!
You can order any of her delicious dishes from JenCooksPH at 0917-895-5658
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