By BERNIE CAHILES-MAGKILAT
Taho (soy pudding) is a food most Filipinos take for granted. It is cheap, but nutritious. It is not difficult for people to love the lowly taho.
While Taho is a street food that are peddled in the morning, entrepreneur ELENA ZAYCO has thought of elevating the status of taho by making it available to people anytime of day in air-conditioned spaces.
HOUSE OF TAHO
HOUSE OF TAHO is the brainchild of Elena, a native of Cagayan de Oro, together with three friends with initial capitalization of ₱250,000. The idea was to sell a product that is familiar to the people but needs to be elevated to cater and fit to mall-goers.
That idea started the rise of TAHO ATBP, which opened its first kiosk at Gaisano City Mall, Cagayan de Oro City in December 2015.
TAHO ATBP faced many business challenges and setbacks. As her friends dropped from the business and she having her first child, the business was put on a halt.
But Elena persevered, believing in the potential of Taho and pursued her passion for taho this time with the help of her mother.
With Elena’s leadership, determination, and dedication, TAHO ATBP revamped its operations, branding, and started operating under new management under Soy Lab Corp. together with her husband, sister and brother in-law.
On May 2017, the company started the rebranding process by changing its name to HOUSE of TAHO, even the color theme, logo, cart/kiosk designs were improved to cater and meet to the needs of the growing customers.
This risk proves to be worthwhile as sales and customers following started to increase after the rebranding. On July 2017, the company accepted a lease offer as an exhibitor at SM Uptown CDO but later converted to short-term tenant due to the overwhelming support of the customers.
The business continued to grow as it opened new branches. It opened its fourth branch and first in-line concept store in Limketkai Mall CDO. The new in-line store features a long bar counter that can cater to multiple customers at a time with a seating capacity of 10 for a better Taho experience.
Achieving this feat was not an instant success for HOUSE OF TAHO, however with hard work, determination, and passion of each and every team member makes this feat possible to grow from one to four branches in CDO City in just a span 7 months.
HOUSE OF TAHO continued to expand with presence in more mall locations in CDO.
In 2018, HOUSE OF TAHO encroached other regions as it opened its first branch in Cebu, which immediately gained a huge following among Cebuanos that led to the opening of two more branches in the city.
Elena believes in the potential of taho. It is rich in protein. Taho is called “tao hey” in Chinese and is considered a staple food in Taiwan.
Soya bean aside from being very nutritious is also known to help lower bad cholesterol and is called a wonder food. The soya itself can be eaten without the arnibal.
“The concept grew in me and it is a passion I have learned to love,” says Elena. She persevered and innovated the taho.
“I see it as a simple product that we can see being peddled on the streets, but everybody loves taho because it is a healthy option,” adds Elena.
With that, she believes taho’s potential as a business. Most of all, taho is not a hard sell because people from all walks of life love it.
But no one really gave enough attention to the potential of taho because the process is laborious and it is a skill built by the “magtataho” over time.
Taho makers have to wake up very early in the morning around 1 or 2 to grind the soaked soya beans. Those that do not have machines will do the grinding manually.
If there is no power, even those with grinding machines have to grind it manually and cook it to be ready first thing in the morning. Processing taho is also a skill because you have to ensure the right temperature to come up with the silky and smooth taho because it is a very sensitive product.
Because it is high in protein, taho spoils easily. “It is super tedious to make taho because it is a very sensitive product. It requires a very hygienic process and skill,” says Elena.
“The magtataho is also territorial as they operate in an unspoken kind of zoning. So, if the magtataho got sick or just got lazy, there is no taho in one area,” says Elena.
The magtataho are getting instinct as no one would like to do this laborious work. The children of taho makers do not have the patience to follow their father’s footstep. As such, taho has a remained backyard and home-based.
This gave her the idea to make taho available everywhere, especially in the mall to make it available every day.
To differentiate from other soya beans, Elena said that HOUSE OF TAHO is not using GMO soya beans.
“We can assure our customers that we are using non-GMO soya beans, our arnibal is also pure sugar, and we have a very clean process and our place is commercially sterile as certified by a private third party,” she adds noting that the current generation is sensitive to cleanliness and how a food is prepared. Her requirements are high because these are the same standards she would demand as a consumer.
“If you are selling food, it should be something that I can let my children eat,” she adds.
Elena also pursued innovation for taho stressing, “I want something more out of this product.”
Passion led her to innovation, enabling her to come up with flavored taho, although the most popular is still the classic taho with the simple arnibal.
Since soya bean is seasonal, Elena decided to import soy beans and is using only the non-GMO Canadian soya bean despite it being 70 percent more expensive than the price of American soya bean to supply its growing number of stores.
Elena also trained its people on the skills in the processing of taho because there is a particular heat that they have to maintain to come up with the silky taho.
“Taho is boiled in a very high temperature to make it silky,” she adds.
They have one in-house food tech and a supervisor. They partnered with Northern Mindanao Food Innovation Center which linked them up with a Department of Science and Technology (DOST) program to fabricate a perfect machine that would enable them to produce taho for distribution nationwide.
“It is custom made machine from Mindanao for our specific needs,” says Elena.
It was expensive for her part as they have to go through a trial and error phase. “We’ve wasted several tons of soya to achieve the perfect recipe,” says Elena.
For the financing, they pooled the resources from her husband, brother-in-law and sister-in-law.
“Thank God, we did not incur any loans but we invested millions,” says Elena.
After several attempts, they have perfected their products. The flavors are ube, buko, pandan, chocolate and strawberry. The classic taho with the arnibal is still the most popular. Elena is looking at producing other taho-based products.
The process is so tedious that it took them three years to finalize the franchise manual.
Last year, HOUSE OF TAHO launched its franchise during the Franchise Asia with the help of Francorp Philippines. Now, they are all over including Cagayan de Oro, they have four in Cebu, one in Laguna, two in Dumaguete and one in Bohol.
Franchise applicants are lining up but they are also carefully selecting their partners to ensure they have successful franchises.
A turnkey kiosk franchise can be had for ₱575,000 with return on investments in 12-16 months. The price of taho is ₱60 per 12 ounce cup. They had to adjust the price recently because of the increase in sugar taxes and the price of soya has been fluctuating.
“It pays that we pay premium for our non-GMO soya beans and we use pure sugar not magic sugar or added sweetener,” say Elena, a nurse by profession and clearly understands the health aspect of their raw materials.
HOUSE OF TAHO, a unique innovation, has been growing every year. One store in CDO has increased sales by 54 percent. On the average, stores post 30-50 percent increase in sales.
While doing well financially, Elena said that the goal is to take it one step at a time.
She is looking at countries with huge OFW concentration because Filipinos love and miss taho, but overseas expansion would take time.
For now, they have more than enough demand in the local market.
“Our market is not just the mall goers but tenants of the mall,” she says stressing the health benefits of taho. “You can have taho for breakfast.”
They have no direct competitor in the Philippines. One taho store already closed because it failed to adapt to the local palate.
This year, the company sets its eyes for the opening of 30-50 House of Taho kiosks and 256 branches in the medium term.
“We aim high because we either have to go big or go home,” adds Elena.
Without trying, Elena is now dubbed as the Taho Queen.
“It’s fulfilling because it is like my baby because I nurtured it and it has grown amid many difficulties,” says Elena.
“It is a promising concept because it is healthy,” says Elena, who personally checks every batch of taho they make.
“It helped me in some ways but it is really my passion,” says Elena, who also would like to inspire those who are aspiring to go into business.
Now that they have automated their operation, it would be easy for their franchises.
As operation is running smoothly and on a clearer path towards higher growth, Elena has more time with her two kids, age 2 and 6 years whom she brings to school every day.
As a manager, Elena has also learned to designate tasks to the staff. “I can get angry but can easily calm down,” adds Elena, who is open to all suggestions by her team.
The common stereotypes that look down on products or people from the provinces do not hurt her.
“I have no problem with discrimination,” Elena says confidently that no one can beat her product.
One thing that concerns her though is logistics for the Luzon franchises. Visayas and Mindanao have easy access, but Luzon is quite a struggle.
Already, they are thinking of putting up a warehousing facility in Metro Manila. Its taho is so stable that it can be stored for 6 months at room temperature.
For now, Elena has her eyes focused on the goals they have set.
Her advice to would be entrepreneurs: “You just have to stick to your goals and chase your dreams. Have a burning passion because if there is no passion you’ll give up easily.”
Her mission is to provide quality and silky hot taho all day to customers. It seeks to be part of the snack industry at reasonable prices. It sets a high goal to become the country leader in the industry by following a well-planned expansion through franchising.
It also seeks to bring a positive change in the community and with a social dimension to become a company that provides a haven for those wanting for healthy and wholesome snacks.
Certainly, Elena is on her way there. She has done proud to the lowly taho and made the taho vendor a respectable name.