Kuya Chito's Takuyaki

When Edgino “Chito” Bogayong asked his estranged wife Junith to join him in managing his fledgling food cart business in 2001, he didn’t realize it was the start of better things for them and their relationship.

Kuya Chito (as we his brothers & sisters at the PREX Church Ministry call him) was selling Takuyaki (a Japanese delicacy formed in a ball with vegetable fillings drizzled with chicken or fish flakes and topped with mayo) in food carts at leading shopping centers in General Santos City and South Cotabato.

From a mere initial capitalization of P40,000 borrowed from friends in 1996, he has expanded his business from one to three outlets by 2001.

Although sales was quite good, he felt something was amiss.

“Sales of my takuyaki balls have somehow plateaued,” he recalls. “I knew that my balls could perform better than this. Repeat orders were not that frequent as before. Finally, I tried asking around.”

He got a common reply. Most of those who have tried it liked it knowing it was healthy for them but were not so taken by the taste.

“Somehow I had to adjust the flavor to suit the Pinoy taste,” he explains.

This was when he remembered that his wife who was then running her own Video Rental business in the nearby municipality of Polomolok is a good cook who used to prepare savory dishes for them when they were still together. Maybe she could help him out in this aspect.

Luckily, Junith at that time was also thinking of giving up her shop in view of the entry of big newcomers from Manila. When Chito appeared at her doorstep with a peace offering and the request to help him out, she agreed albeit cautiously.

She laughs at the memory. “My husband has tried venturing into a couple of business, all of which failed in the end. But by some means, I couldn’t refuse him on this one even though we were on trial separation. I felt just then that the takuyaki holds a lot of promise. I just had to look for the correct blend of flavors, which was my forte being trained to cook since my childhood by my Waray parents.”

Finally, after a series of experiments in the kitchen of Chito’s rented room along downtown Papaya Street, and numerous taste tests conducted among the lodgers in the same compound, she finally came up with the right mix.

This eventually turned the tables for Kuya Chito’s Takuyaki.

Word got around that the new Takuyaki was tastier, sweeter and tangier somehow getting the approval of more people.

Kuya Chito's Takuyaki Balls

This enabled Chito to open up another branch at the Gaisano Mall OF GenSan and then another one in Koronadal. The balls were really hitting their mark.

Ultimately, franchise inquiries from interested parties started pouring in.

In 2003, their first franchise outlet in Cagayan de Oro opened at the Lim Ket Kai Center.

At around this time, Chito and Junith have moved back in again, together with their two daughters.

The couple’s foray into franchising was another lucky stroke.

“In 2004, months after we opened our first franchise in CDO, we still held off adding more. We first evaluated our situation and although the franchise was doing great as expected, we stopped and asked this question- could we do it ourselves?” recalls Junith.

Sensing that expansion was really inevitable but with their hands full, they turned to an expert, the Rudolph Kotik Franchise Consultancy.

This is when the balls really started rolling non-stop.

From only 3 outlets in 2001, the couple now has 36 outlets scattered all over the country, including 13 in Metro Manila and 5 in Cebu, all franchises.

Chito says, “My goal is that within 2 ½ years, I should have opened 80 outlets in Luzon. That’s an average of 3 outlets a month.”

Not a far-fetched idea considering that he is about to open 20 more outlets in the Metro Manila alone not including the rest of Luzon (Baguio, etc.) till end of this year in addition to the ones recently opened at Robinson’s Galleria, Market! Market! and SM North, among others.

Currently, Junith takes charge of Production overseeing things at their commissaries in Gen. Santos and in Metro Manila. A few years back, she opened “Kakanin Atbp.” putting into good use her fondness for cooking native delicacies which used to help tide them over during the early days of their marriage.

Chito for his part handles the Marketing, Planning and Research and Development.

Their two teenage daughters have also joined the fray, helping their parents during their free time. Eldest daughter Ehlaiza, 20 who just graduated in Marketing at the Notre Dame of Dadiangas University enjoys her supervisory role to the hilt, checking their outlets within the Socsargen Area.

Younger daughter Eugeremi prefers to help out in the operation of their stall at the KCC Mall of Gensan while entertaining customers waiting for their orders.

Chito & Junith with daughters Ehlaiza (left) and Eugeremi (right)

“The fact that this business have helped reconcile their mother and I and have greatly improved our lives together is not lost on our children. That is the very reason why they value it so much and have learned to operate it themselves when my wife and I have to go on a trip,” Chito proudly says.

Indeed, Chito owes much of the success of his business to the support his family have given him.

“Apart from them, I couldn’t have done it. They have inspired me to do all these things but not without their approval.”

As Chito further explains, he holds regular meetings with his family, briefing them on business updates, seeking their comment on various issues and constantly brain-stormed on better ways to serve their customers..

At the recent Tuna Festival, he rolled out his Takuyaki-On-Wheels and parked it at the middle of the Gensan Oval Plaza, the center of the festival’s celebrations. It was such a sensation that even at two o’clock in the morning, his 4-man staff was still serving his delicious balls to lines of tired revelers…. a sight which keeps on repeating itself in his various outlets in the whole country.

Chito explains this phenomenon with a chuckle. “What happened to my takuyaki was simply what happened to Jollibee. When it was just starting, it came up with a burger that was truly Pinoy. The burger per se is an American invention. What Jollibee did was to adapt it to suit our liking.”

“In our case, we just “filipinized” the takuyaki,” he adds.

In October of 2007, things came into full circle for Chito and Junith when they won as “Innovator of the Year” and the top plum of “Entrepreneur of the Year” at the Yaman Gensan Awards 2007, besting all over SMEs, given by the Gen. Santos City Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc. and the local government of Gen. Santos City. Along with the trophies were cash prizes worth P160,000.

Even at this point in their lives, Chito and Junith feel that they have not exhausted all the possibilities in improving their business even farther.

“We are looking into more economical ways of manufacturing the takuyaki without scrimping on its ingredients. We were immediately patronized early on not only because we offered a healthy, delicious snack alternative but because we were very much affordable. We want to hold on to that strength,” Chito says.

Right now, the couple spends most of their time shuttling back and forth between Manila and Gen. Santos. Would that mean relocating to the big city soon?

The couple replies, “Gensan will always be our home. This is where we had our initial taste of success before replicating it in other cities. These are the people who challenge us to improve even further.”

In fact, adds Chito, “I have always explained this thing to whoever cares to know about the history of our balls: ‘Kuya Chito’s Takuyaki is proudly Gensan’s gift to the rest of the country and hopefully, the world.’ ”

BARILES NOTE: I tried other Taku’s I could find here and outside the country, even testing the ones I saw at Midvalley Megamall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia last month but nothing really beats Kuya Chito’s balls. As of this writing, franchising inquiries have come as far as Australia, Hongkong, and the US of A.