How traveling around the world inspired this OFW’s gourmet pandesal creations

Published October 13, 2020, 8:34 AM

by John Legaspi

It’s Japan, Italy, and Seoul in a bun

Traveling around the world, that’s the ultimate dream. Everyone just wants to have that feeling of excitement of seeing a new world, being immersed into other cultures, and discovering something new.

That’s the life lived by overseas Filipino returnee Don Romulo Gregorio Orense.

He has gone to five global hubs, traveled across four continents and 38 countries, and experienced more than 100 cities around the world.

But as the pandemic put a halt on the world’s activities, it also marked a stop sign on Don’s travel map. He stayed in Manila and started to pursue something new and outside his comfort zone as an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW).

Nothing could transport you well to another place than food. With that, Don and his friends thought of bringing their favorite food from different nations to the Philippines. Their recently launched food brand Don Bakes Manila is positioned to introduce some of the world’s best cuisines, starting with freshly baked breads inspired by their travels to Italy, Japan, and South Korea.

An expert on luxury dining and world travel, Don chats with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle and shares what it’s like to build a food business amid the pandemic, and what makes the Philippines home even after seeing most of the world.

Why did you decide to pursue a food business among other industries?

I was supposed to take a new role overseas right after Chinese New Year (CNY) early this year. Unfortunately, the pandemic started spreading overseas just before CNY. After the holiday period, I decided to stay in Manila because moving into a new expatriate role is not ideal in an unstable global setting.

As the lockdown extended from weeks to months, my travel buddies and I started to miss riding airplanes and eating our favorite food from around the world. This is where my pivot to being an entrepreneur started, and we thought of bringing the taste of our most-coveted cravings to the Philippines. 

Who are you working with in Don Bakes Manila?

My co-founders are my travel buddies. Most of us lived abroad as the new generation of professional OFWs, expatriated to do marketing work in various multinational companies. We’re very passionate about traveling and seeking the best culinary experiences in each destination we visit. We’ve developed our list of favorites as we journeyed together across Europe, Asia, and the Americas. These helped us put together the food we miss from destinations we love around the world.

How was the operation during the pandemic?

With the pandemic happening, there is conscious effort to automate, reduce human contact and  physical interaction with customers, employees, and stakeholders. Finding the right location to set up our business was challenging. The periodic lockdowns made it harder to seek suitable local office and production areas. It was harder to meet with lessors and schedule site inspections since everyone is extra careful of the situation.

On our day-to-day operations, we do a lot of our raw material and packaging material sourcing through online channels and community groups. Our sales and marketing efforts are geared through digital platforms. We also use an online distribution network and social media platforms to help develop the market for our brand. 

‘Pan de gustare brings the best combination of East and West with a box including both pan de aji and pan de buono.’

With so many food brands now, what do you think is it that Don Bakes Manila has that makes it stand out?  

Don Bakes Manila brings some of the world’s best tasting flavors to the Philippines. It offers high-quality products that bring the flair of best international cuisines we’ve tasted overseas.

We take pride in freshly baked gourmet pan de sal. Taking inspiration from travels to Kyoto, pan de aji has the perfect balance of matcha and creamy white chocolate. Naples is the home of Pizza Margherita’s fresh basil, sundried tomato, and cheese. It inspired the creation of pan de buono. Pan de gustare brings the best combination of East and West with a box including both pan de aji and pan de buono

We couldn’t miss the Korean craze after falling in love with Seoul and so many K-dramas. Our brand offers a filling, hearty, garlicky, creamy Korean cream cheese garlic bread suited for the discerning palate.

With travel-inspired freshly baked breads as its market entry strategy, the business aims to expand with exciting products that will cater to other segments and will include mains, snacks, desserts, and many other food formats.  

After seeing the world, what do you think is it that the Philippines has that makes it unique?

The Filipino people are the most unique component or feature of the Philippines. The people are genuinely warm and welcoming. Filipinos are the epitome of true hospitality at its finest. There is natural care to other people and there is always passion to deliver outstanding service. The locals go out of the way for visitors, doing their best to be flexible and adapt to whatever the situation requires. Filipinos bring these characteristics when they travel, work, live, or migrate overseas. We are excellent in adapting to different cultures.