MANILA, Philippines - Taking their love for food, parties, and family to a whole new level, the Abesamis sisters - Veronica, Aina, Tine, Joyce, and Issa - started Elation, a catering business specializing in chocolate fondue and shooters, in November 2008.
"We wanted a business that we could manage on our own," says Veronica, the eldest sister at 23. Aina, 21, adds, "We wanted to earn our own money and be productive." As the two eldest sisters, and the only ones to have already finished college, Veronica and Aina are in charge of the business aspect of Elation.
Veronica finished nursing at the University of Sto. Tomas, but was part of the batch that was affected by the board exam leakage. Instead of waiting idly to retake the exam, she decided to act upon the long-time dream of the sisters to start their own business. Aina, on the other hand, is graduating this year from the Ateneo with a degree in management economics.
"We were taught that it's better to be an employer than an employee," Aina says.
As for the younger sisters, Issa, 18, is taking up medical technology at the UST, while Joyce and Tine, 15 and 14 respectively, are still in high school at Miriam. They help out as much as they can with networking, advertising, hosting, and concocting new drinks.
Joyce seems the most keen on continuing the business full time when she graduates. "I am very excited to be part of the business," she says of Elation. "I plan to take up culinary arts."
The sisters vouch for Joyce's inclination towards the culinary arts. "She is the one who cooks for us when we want a snack at home!"
Tine, on the other hand, says that she wants to be a teacher. "But I still want to be part of the business," she adds.
Since two of them are still minors, it was important for the sisters to create shooters that had flexible alcohol content. "Parents like us because we can tone down the alcohol upon request," says Veronica. "Our flavors are not dependent on the alcohol to make them taste good. We can change the alcohol content without sacrificing the taste."
Chocolate fondue is a no-brainer and definitely an instant bestseller. After all, who would not be tempted to indulge in fruits, marshmallows, and other treats, dipped in a fountain of chocolate - which Elation offers in dark, white, and milk chocolate variants.
"We don't like beer," Veronica adds, explaining their decision to add shooters to their buffet menu. "We are catering to the younger generation," noting that many parties today have mobile bars offering myriad flavored shooters.
"Our flavors are out of the ordinary," the sisters say of the shooters that they personally create. "We have over 50 mixes," says Aina.
Issa adds, "The taste of the drinks is what gives us an edge. They are really delicious and uncommon."
The five sisters concocted each drink themselves, starting with traditional drinks as their base, such as a tequila sunrise or a margarita, then adding their own twist to it by substituting different ingredients. Building their menu of shooters took a lot of experimenting and consulting.
"We had many sessions trying the drinks we mixed," Joyce shares. Needless to say, some sessions ended with them red-faced and slightly tipsy.
Among their bestsellers is Melon Madness, which is made up of milk, melon syrup, and a secret ingredient. As for personal favorites, Veronica's is Scorching Discovery, a peach and tequila mix, and Issa's is the drink she created herself, Backstabber, which is seemingly mild at first, then stabs the drinker in the back with its delayed effect.
Other interesting mixes are the Pseudo Margarita, which fits a margarita in a shot glass, and another Elation original called Tine's Lunchbox, made with banana and peanut butter.
The sisters agree that part of their edge in the business is that they know their market well - they are, after all, the market that they cater to. With a range of ages - 23 to 14 - they have been able to widen their client base, while being confident that they know what tastes and styles would be a hit with each age group. In fact, some of their first clients were their own friends and classmates celebrating their birthdays. "We make sure that they are enjoying," says Veronica.
When the business started, Joyce, Aina, and Veronica served as the bartenders. Now that business is picking up, they have specially trained bartenders to help out. "We can accommodate five events per night," says Veronica. From their November launch, work has been coming in non-stop for the sisters. "Since January, there has been no weekend without a booking," Aina reports. "We did not expect that the clients would remember Elation from the launch, but they did," she says.
"It is tiring, but we are getting very good feedback from clients and guests, which is fulfilling," Veronica says of their work.
Part of what keeps them enthusiastic about their work is being sisters. "We've always bonded over food," Aina shares, noting that they do not go out much to watch movies or shop, but would rather stay at home and bond while enjoying good food.
"It gives us an advantage because we can say anything to each other," says Veronica, pointing out that they still treat each other as sisters and not as business partners. She adds, "We're together all the time, so if anyone has ideas, we can discuss them anytime."
Of course, sisters cannot help but fight. "We have petty arguments about the business sometimes," says Veronica, sharing that they sometimes fight over the smallest details. "We always try to turn them into something constructive."
Aina adds, "I've learned to listen to Ate and go with her decisions because she is the general manager."
It's not surprising that they went into the food business, since they are the daughters of the popular VS&F caterers. "We grew up in a business-oriented atmosphere," says Aina. "We learned at an early age to prioritize the clients and we know the good traits needed to run a business."
Veronica adds, "It was easier for us because we already knew the good suppliers and had resources." That said, the girls work hard to prove that they can make it on their own. "Our parents know that we can make our own decisions and that we know what to do," says Veronica. "They still give us advice."
The sisters are not pressured by their parents' success in the business. Tine says, "They know that we are just starting and they are supportive and proud of us."
"We provide the same good service, but we've evolved and improved," says Joyce. In fact, she says that they might have actually helped their parents. "Now they know what the younger generation likes. We are able to update them."
The sisters have many more plans for their growing business. "We want to expand our chocolate fondue into a full dessert bar," says Veronica, adding that Aina is the one who loves to bake. "We also want to go into cocktail food." The sisters also plan on developing special chocolate and alcohol, as well as wine and cheese, pairing menus.
"Elation" means high spirits, filled with happiness, an experience that they hope to create in each party they cater. Elation, as well, is what the Abesamis sisters are feeling as they enjoy their sweet success.
Source: Philippine Star