September 13, 2022 | 10:57
MANILA, Philippines — Turkish owner Gem Zeñarosa and his wife Angel have revealed how they started their shawarma business.
Zeñarosa said their business started 15 years ago, although they have no experience in the food business. During their start-up years, the only marketing thing he cared about was their product. So he put all his effort into offering an affordable yet tasty pita bread that customers would dream of.
“I remember the sleepless nights formulating the recipes and preparing the pita bread, sauces and meat. I had only a handful of employees during the first years of my business, so I had to do work requirements. Also, I wanted to make sure I was buying the best ingredients for my product, so I bought the supplies myself,” Zeñarosa said.
Navigating the Balintawak market early in the morning, searching for quality raw materials and carrying sacks of onions and cucumbers on his shoulders were part of Zeñarosa’s daily routine back then. It also handled logistics, delivering mall-to-mall-to-mall daily, ensuring supplies were delivered to its branches before the mall opened.
Sticking to his simple plan, he turned in a direction he could never have imagined. The company quickly became a household name and appetizing habit among Filipinos that sparked buying behavior from the public. It didn’t take long for the company to grow rapidly and they had to deal with a problem that every business owner would want to be, higher supply demand.
“One of the problems we encountered, particularly during the first years of our operations, was to meet the surprisingly high demand for our product. We continued to increase our daily supply, but we always sold out even before the closure of the shopping center. We had to find rapid adjustment and expansion of our commissary in order to meet the demand of the customers”, recalls Zeñarosa.
There was even a time when Zeñarosa didn’t sleep for two straight days, continually working shift after shift because he joined the commissioner’s production team making pita bread.
“The most difficult and tiring experiences I have had leading this company are the same memories that bring me joy. Because I know the trade-off was the satisfaction of our customers and our franchisees as well “, said Zenarosa.
Today, the company’s production team uses modern equipment in food processing and applies high standards of health and hygiene in food handling in accordance with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations. . Their bread maker is fully automated and can produce thousands of pita breads in a day.
Like most businesses, Zeñarosa’s company also suffered financial losses during the pandemic that began in the first quarter of 2020.
“The pandemic was unprecedented and it hit us all by surprise. We had no idea such a thing could happen to the whole world in this lifetime. We had to permanently close some of our stores, especially those located in office buildings, schools and hospitals,” explained Zeñarosa.
But as a man of faith, Zeñarosa drew strength from God, kept him strong and guided him on the paths to follow in these difficult times. And it is by God’s grace that Turks continue to thrive during the pandemic.
“Fortunately, the majority of our branches have reopened and we are delighted that people continue to patronize our product. We have also capitalized on the food delivery service through aggregators such as Grab Food, which has helped to keeping our business afloat Sales are not yet at the same level as before the pandemic, but we hope to reach that level or even surpass it soon.
To meet the needs of more customers who, in addition to quality, demand convenience to suit their busy schedules, the company has taken another step for its 15th anniversary. Their first drive-thru concept store recently opened in White Plains, Quezon City.
This plan had been in the works for some time even before the pandemic hit. And the presence of the global health emergency has only validated Zenarosa’s plan to venture into drive-thru segments aimed at increasing customer convenience, comfort and safety.
The White Plains store features a contemporary design with a high ceiling and a giant industrial fan as its main feature. The number of seats is limited to ten places only. The overall look projects an airy and comfortable atmosphere for diners. A dedicated bike rack is also available to cater to cycling enthusiasts.
Currently, the brand has over 600 stores nationwide and will open 12 more branches, with international expansion already underway.
“Globalization is the next target. We hope to start our international operations this year. We were supposed to open in the United States and Hong Kong in 2020, but have been sidetracked by the pandemic. With the easing of travel restrictions and the reopening of the borders, we hope to finally move forward with this plan.”
On top of all this, Zeñarosa credits their success to the grace God has given them over the years. According to him, the success of his business is not attributed to any marketing formula or business strategy he might have devised, it is rooted in prayers, sacrifices, commitment, hard work and most importantly , Faith in god.
For him, everything he has, every success, every little thing that displays his victories can only be attributed to the Lord who lays down his plans.
“All my plans are rooted in my faith. The course of my business stems from the strength and direction I derive from God,” Zeñarosa said.
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