February 22, 2024

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‘One dish at a time’: RJ Ledesma shares tips for ‘foodpreneurs’

MANILA, Philippines — The pandemic sent jitters, not only among health workers, but entrepreneurs. Social distancing has driven a wedge between what they’re selling and the people who buy their products.

Entrepreneur-media practitioner RJ Ledesma is not afraid of the pandemic’s impact on his businesses, especially Mercato Centrale. Instead, he welcomes it as a chance to grow his business and develop even more as an entrepreneur.

In a recent online interview for Philstar.com‘s show “Slam Book,” the 47-year-old who broke into public consciousness as the star of the Royal Tru Orange commercial decades back, described the pandemic as an opportunity to be seized. It’s a chance to be creative, retool and reboot for the new normal and the next.

“An entrepreneur sees opportunities to create amid a situation, good or bad. And it’s not being an opportunist,” he pointed out.

It’s being able to solve problems that irritate everyone, and earning along the way.  That’s his first tip to those who want to earn their first million. The second is sound financial investments or setting aside money for the future.

Although he follows the two options, Ledesma would rather talk lengthily about the first, and guide aspiring entrepreneurs as well. He cites lessons from Phoenix Petroleum president Bong Fadullon, who advised Ledesma not to wait until the pandemic is over to recondition his business.

According to Ledesma, Fadullon urged him to come up with ways to reopen the business right during the pandemic. Otherwise, things will not be the same again.

Mercato Centrale had to close at the height of the pandemic because people shunned mass gatherings. But instead of doing nothing over the closure, the Ledesmas decided to fight using  their entrepreneurial mindset.

RJ and wife Vanessa seized the opportunity to develop al fresco markets that is the rage during the pandemic, and came up with an outdoor market. They gathered food vendors in destinations in BGC, SM by the Bay, UpTown Bonifacio, McKinley Hill, Eastwood and Nuvali. People feel safe because of social distancing and health protocols.

The pain point from rising delivery fees due to kitchens located far from one another, was gone. Vendors didn’t have to log in extra miles to deliver his goods, and therefore jack up the selling price. Online deliveries made things even more convenient for vendors and customers.

This is why Ledesma insists that contrary to public perception, the food market is growing. It’s far from saturated. There’s plenty of room for aspiring “foodpreneurs.”

For him, the most important tip is to find out or create a dish that’s not easily duplicated. Do you have a secret sauce? A special machine? A skill set? Originality is the key.

People do not just buy the food, but the story behind it. Let your dish tell a story. Is it a heritage dish from your ancestors? Is it your comfort food abroad? Did it come from your home province? Is it a fusion dish you brought home with you from a job in the Middle East?

Like many things in life, doing business is a matter of grit and determination. Ledesma shows that entrepreneurs can survive the worst by hanging on and thinking of ways to turn a crisis into an opportunity.

Non-entrepreneurs can also learn a lot from this lesson in persistence.

RELATED: Reality bites: Marvin Agustin shares food business experience, tips during pandemic