CEBU CITY, Philippines - It was the early 90s. Fresh from finishing a degree in economics at the Ateneo De Manila University, Silvia "Bunny" Ludo-Alcordo thought of putting up her own coffee and dessert shop in Cebu.
There was nothing grandiose with that idea. She just wanted a small coffee and dessert shop in a space where people can eat, chat, unwind and go.
"When I told my mom about it she told me to study culinary first. It was early 90s and cooking was not popular yet so I started to research for culinary schools. I applied and got accepted," Ludo-Alcordo said.
Being enrolled in a culinary school for 16 months in San Francisco, California unleashed her creative side and made her more determined to actualize the mere idea of coffee and dessert shop.
After finishing the course, Ludo-Alcordo did not immediately go back to Cebu and establish her dream coffee shop. Instead, she decided to venture into investment banking, where she worked for a fund manager.
"This was something I like to do as well so I thought I'll gain experience first then come back to Cebu to put up my business," she told Cebu Daily News.
Three years later, she came back.
In 1998, she opened Oh! George, a 52-square-meter restaurant located at the ground floor of Ayala Center Cebu.
She was 26 years old then.
The actual restaurant, however, was more elaborate in terms of menu compared to her very first idea of a coffee and dessert shop.
"I was told it will not click because Cebuanos want real food so I added sandwiches, pasta then some cakes and pastries to my menu. The restaurant was for light snacks," she said.
The business started slow, as she expected.
The economy was just recovering from the 1997 Asian financial crisis. People did not go out that much and malls were not the "in" thing and still have spaces to fill for probable tenants.
"I only had a few items. Around three to four sandwiches, three to five pasta varieties and some cakes and coffee. I did not advertise but slowly people started coming in and they liked it."
In 2000, about the time the Ludos developed a family-owned property in barangay Banilad for commercial purposes, she decided to open a bigger café.
Café George, which sits in a 225-square-meter space, was born.
Today, both restaurants employ a total of 45 employees. Busy hours for Café George are during lunch and dinner time, while Oh! George enjoys a good flow of customers any time with its mall location.
Name and location
Contrary to what most people think, George is a female. Ludo-Alcordo named the restaurants after her younger sister, Georgia.
"We are roommates and I like her name. When we were both working in Manila, I bake brownies and she brings them to work. People who taste the brownies would often say, 'Oh George! Lami lagi ni, (This is delicious)," she said.
George is the one who currently manages Oh! George.
Before she opened Oh! George, Ludo-Alcordo already decided that the restaurant will be located inside a mall since it can get the necessary foot traffic any business ventures need.
Looking around Ayala Center Cebu, she found a corner space located in the ground floor. It is near the mall's entrance and exit.
When she inquired, the space was already reserved. She was given another space in the third floor, but it was too big for a business.
"But you know the feeling when something is meant for you. A year after, the management called and told me the space I wanted was vacant because the one who reserved it backed out."
For Ludo-Alcordo, the year she joined the business was a perfect timing.
But timing is not all that counts for the business to succeed, she said location and having good employees are two important factors as well.
"Business is not just about putting the money. You have to know it inside and out. In our case, I really tell them (employees) that you need to be people-oriented. Having a good personality, being friendly and smiling is part of the job," she said.
Love & passion
Ten years of operations has been very productive for Ludo-Alcordo. The secret is on employing the right people, developing distinct products and practicing good values in the workplace.
Most of her employees are graduates of the Banilad Center for Professional Development (BCPD), a technical-vocational school for the less privileged young women.
"Important to me is not just the skills of the employees but also the values. I like to employ BCPD graduates because they have the basic skills and they have good values," she said.
Going in prepared is one of the business philosophies she adhered since day one.
"There should be love and passion on what you do. Don't think of making money first because if you do, you'll probably take shortcuts. Focus on the products first and be sure of them."