Interview with Isabel Calvo

Updated: Sep 26

1. Preséntese y presente a su empresa Introduce yourself and introduce your company

My name is Isabel Calvo, I’m Spanish from Valladolid and I’m 33 years old.

I am an entrepreneur. I came to The Philippines 8 years ago and I fell in love with the country right away, a place full of opportunities, a city full of life, also the culture, the food, the personality of the people.

I’m the owner of La Pícara restaurant, it is a Spanish restaurant located in BGC, high street. We have been open for three years and a half already. We can fit around 200 customers and we have 40 employees.

My partner Jaime Gonzalez and I are also running a dark kitchen that we started during the lockdown, we have 18 employees and we run 5 food brands:

Guilt free, is the most successful so far, we like to say that is the revolution of the healthy food, we basically make food that everybody likes to eat like pasta, kebabs, burgers, pizza, rice dishes, etc but we make it with a very low calorie content, we make our own protein breads, we substitute rice by cauliflower rice, we import our own shirataki pasta from Japan, we use no oils, sugars or flours of any kind, etc. We deliver orders right away and we make personal weekly menus for people that want to lose weight, stay fit or change to a healthier lifestyle. We are working on a restaurant project in Bgc right now for this brand.

We also have an italian concept called La Ragazza, we make fresh pasta, neapolitan pizzas, risottos, etc. We are also working on two restaurant projects for this brand right now that are currently in construction and we hope to open many more and become one of the well known places for pizza in The Philippines.

Our third concept is La Latina, we cook some of the most well known latin-american foods, we also have a Food Cart in BGC for this concept and we are working on another restaurant for this brand that is also in construction.

The fourth concept we have is called La Royal and we make smashed burgers, shakes, fries, wings, etc.

The last brand is called Los Churros and we basically sell Spanish churros and buñuelos, with different dippings, etc.

I am currently also running the first business that I started in The Philippines, it is a Spanish food catering called Manila y Ole. I started this business 7 years ago selling paellas at the Legazpi Sunday market, this grew little by little and became a catering company. The success of this business is what pushed me to open La Picara.

My partner Jaime and I are also running a boat business called El Rapaz, we have a sailing boat, a trimaran and a catamaran.

It’s more than just a boat that you rent, we offer a full experience, we organize private parties with boodle fights in secluded islands, we offer a lot of water activities such as wakeboarding, kayaking, paddle board, diving etc and the most important, we have very good quality food.

We are located in Anilao, very close to Manila but also close to fantastic islands like Sombrero, Verde Island, Maricaban, etc

We also have a couple of resort projects on construction in the mountains. We are building one in Antipolo and another in Laguna, close to Manila but in the middle of nature, they are called Kalikasan that means Nature in Tagalog. We will also have a restaurant there with a Filipino-Spanish fusion, based on local products, we will plant our one fruits and vegetables, everything will be sustainable.

Our last project is called Swanky plates, we basically design plates, print them in China and sell them here.

2. ¿Qué le hizo venir a Filipinas / Qué llevó a su empresa a Filipinas?

What made you come to the Philippines/ What made your company come to the Philippines?

So after being a Spanish teacher in the States and other countries in Europe, I moved to the north of Spain, to Gijon, Asturias, I fell in love with the city, I realised that I really like Spain, it’s amazing food, culture, weather, etc but I was eager to travel more and discover other places and also, the job opportunities that Spain was offering weren’t great, I had some business ideas but I found Spain too difficult to become an entrepreneur. Too many rules and regulations, being an entrepreneur is maybe not the most welcoming thing, the mindset of the people also that surrounded me was not in the entrepreneurial side either.

Anyway, long story short, I hosted a Filipino in my house with Couchsurfing, this filipino spoke Spanish and told me a lot of great things about his country, I had never met anybody from the Philippines before, he told me about the beautiful islands, the influences of Spanish in Tagalog.

I was amazed, he also mentioned that The Philippines was an english speaking country so I thought that this country was perfect for me. A few months later, I sent my CV to Instituto Cervantes and booked a one way flight to what I didn't know was going to be the adventure of my life and the place where I was going to stay for good.

3. ¿En qué año llegó y cómo ha cambiado el país desde entonces?

What year did you arrive and how has the country changed since then?

When I arrived in 2014, Bgc was growing at a crazy speed and is still doing it. Makati was the main business center although right now Bgc is clearly the busiest area.

There was a lot of poverty all around, I volunteer in an Ngo the first three years that I lived in The Philippines and really the contrasts and the poor areas are something else. Sadly I don't think poverty has changed or is changing anytime soon.

4. ¿Considera que hacer negocios en el país es más sencillo hoy en día, o se ha vuelto más complicado?

Do you think that doing business nowadays is easier or more complicated than before?

For me is easier because I have a track record, more contacts and more importantly more knowledge. But I would say, it’s more difficult now. I guess it depends on the business you are in but for the restaurant / service business, there are much more competitors and more prepared people.

5. ¿Cómo ha cambiado el consumidor filipino a lo largo de todos estos años?

How has the Filipino consumer changed during all the years that passed by?

I think at least in Bgc, they are more picky when it comes to eating out.

More people are interested in healthy food.

The lower classes are still eating too much junk food, too much sugar and they are not eating healthy food at all, they are surrounded by advertisements and junk food is easier, more approachable and cheaper.

6. ¿Cuál es el reto más difícil desde que está aquí?

What has been your most difficult challenge since you are here?

Friends come and go, Manila is a very cosmopolitan city and I keep losing good friends, covid also made a lot of people leave. That’s without a doubt the only thing I like the least.

7. En todos estos años, ¿de qué es de lo que está más orgulloso?

Of all these years, what are you most proud of?

I’m proud of what I have learned, of how much I have fought to be where I am and I’m extremely grateful to this country that I ended up coming by coincidence because it has given me an opportunity no other place has given me.

8. Could you give three basic guidelines to effectively manage such a business in the Philippines?

Take care of your workers, find good people and train them well and be on top of them all the time.

Control product costs, cash in and out etc. well.

Give a personal treatment to the customers, and control the small details, lights, music, cleanliness, etc.

And of course be consistent and always give good food, which is the key to the restaurant, in a cozy atmosphere and in a good location.

9. Mirando al futuro ¿dónde ve a su empresa dentro de diez y veinte años? ¿Y a usted?

Looking to the future, where do you see your company in ten and twenty years? And you?

Well, I would like to grow the business I have now, and start some ideas I have in mind.

I will most likely stay in the Philippines where the return of investment is much better than in other countries, at least for my sector.

10. ¿Cómo cree que la Cámara, además de todo lo que ya hace, puede ayudar de manera más eficiente a los empresarios?

How do you think the Chamber, in addition to everything it already does, can help entrepreneurs more efficiently?

By putting entrepreneurs in contact with other entrepreneurs.

It occurs to me that it could be very good, since on several occasions we have needed to hire Spaniards and it is not easy to find them, putting companies in contact with professionals in Spain could be something very interesting.

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