by: BusinessWorld, October 5, 2017
Maria Estela “Maritel” Nievera
President and CEO
Cabalen Management Company, Inc.
“AS EARLY as in elementary school, I already knew what I wanted — to be successful, to be independent,” Maritel Nievera, 60, recalls about her childhood.
Armed with this ambition and a love for good food, she overcame challenges in life and in business to become one of Philippines’ leading restaurateurs.
Ms. Nievera recalls that as a child she would watch her grandmother and mother work hard to sell home-cooked goods.
As a young girl, she exhibited her entrepreneurial skills by selling rubber bands that she would win in games and renting out comic books. In high school, she upgraded her goods and sold personalized plastic rings and underwear sourced from Divisoria.
She married at 17, became a young mother and shelved her dream of becoming an artist/designer to dedicate her time to a small business, Bahay Pasalubong. She helped grow the business, expanding all over Pampanga and opening a kiosk in Manila.
Eventually, she put up her first restaurant, Ituro mo, Iluto ko, in San Fernando.
With the success of her businesses in Pampanga, Ms. Nievera decided to bring the unique Kapampangan flavor to Metro Manila. She opened the very first Cabalen restaurant in 1986, with the concept of a high-end turo-turo, along West Avenue in Quezon City.
Her next move was to open a second branch inside a mall. At the time, most restaurateurs were skeptical about opening branches inside malls. Ms. Nievera, however, saw an opportunity to explore an untapped market. Taking the risk proved fruitful as her first mall branch drew crowds.
However, the case was different when she opened her third branch in Makati City. Apart from realizing that the high-end market is difficult to please, many of her contemporaries had shifted to buffet-style dining.
“That hit us hard,” Ms. Nievera recalls.
“I knew then that I needed to innovate.”
After months of consultations and learning from competitors’ strategies, Ms. Nievera revamped Cabalen and transitioned into an eat all you can-eat all you want Filipino buffet dining venue. She also adjusted her pricing to attract a bigger market.
Cabalen claims to be the number one Filipino buffet and has since expanded to the provinces. The brand has over 50 branches — including joint ventures and franchises — nationwide and one international branch in San Francisco, California. These Cabalen-managed restaurants include Soi (Thai), Mangan (Kapampangan) and Cerveseria (Spanish).
However, it has not been all success for Ms. Nievera. She acknowledged that she had difficulty retaining her people at the start. Her inexperience led her to make hasty decisions, which resulted in almost 20% loss in her market share. But after more than 30 years in the business, she can say that she has matured.
She professionalized the company. “I’ve learned to trust my middle management,” she said.
Through strategic leadership and careful decision-making, Cabalen has developed managerial expertise, effective practices and unwavering passion, thereby enhancing its performance and establishing itself as the standard for excellent Filipino cuisine.
Ms. Nievera has diversified her business into other areas. Cabalen Management Company, Inc., as a holding company, provides mainly the strategic, marketing, operational, financial, human resource, as well as research and development support for all businesses under its wing.
She also formed FNT International Trading Corp., an exporter of Filipino products. There are also real estate, rental and other non-food businesses under the Cabalen Group of Companies.
However, food and service innovation remains constant for the Cabalen brand. She said Cabalen is continuously improving products, adding healthier alternatives to its menu amid Filipinos’ growing health consciousness.
Ms. Nievera also gives back to her community. In 1995, she started the Cabalen para sa Kabataan, as an outreach program to help victims in Pampanga affected by Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption. It has since evolved into an annual back-to-school program that provides basic school supplies to students from the poorest public elementary schools in the country, as well as funding for library restoration projects.
More recently, Ms. Nievera established a culinary school, the Cabalen Training and Culinary Institute. Accredited with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, the school supports scholars who do not have a college degree but are highly skilled and trainable.
For her, success is not about “how much you made, but about how much you gave.” She recalls that the one time she truly felt successful was when she received the Asia-Pacific Entrepreneurship Award 2016 (APEA) Philippines for the Hospitality, Food Service and Tourism category. APEA is a regional program by Enterprise Asia to recognize entrepreneurial excellence and to foster continuous innovation, best practices and growth in entrepreneurship.
Cabalen is deeply rooted in Ms. Nievera’s passion, understanding and knowledge about her core business — food. This is the reason she advises future entrepreneurs that, besides hard work and determination, they must study and master their products before going into business.
The official airline of the Entrepreneur of the Year Philippines 2017 is Philippine Airlines. Media sponsors are BusinessWorld and the ABS-CBN News Channel.
Banquet sponsors are Bench; Bounty Fresh Food, Inc.; CDO Foodsphere; Fiori Di Marghi; First Metro Investment Corp.; Global Ferronickel Holdings, Inc.; Hyundai Asia Resources, Inc.; Intermed Marketing Phils., Inc.; Jollibee Foods Corp.; LBC; SteelAsia and Universal Harvester, Inc.
Winners of the Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2017 will be announced in an Oct. 18 awards banquet at the Makati Shangri-La hotel.
The Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines will represent the country in the World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2018 in Monte Carlo, Monaco in June 2018.
The Entrepreneur Of The Year program is produced globally by Ernst & Young.
*This article is copied from BusinessWorld: http://bworldonline.com/bringing-hometown-table/