Palabok Antipolo: How Nanay Jenny turned her passion for cooking into a business

Niki Payuyo

What started out as a random social media post turned out to be a gateway of opportunities for Nanay Jenny Navarro, the woman behind Palabok Antipolo.

Two years ago, Jenny made bihon-style palabok for her husband and decided to post a photo of the dish on social media. Little did she know it would be the start of a new business that would fuel her passion for cooking, a skill her mother passed on to her.

“Passion ko kasi ang pagluluto. Gumawa lang ako ng palabok since favorite ‘yon ng asawa ko. ‘Di ba pag natutuwa tayo sa niluto sa bahay, usually pino-post natin yun? Tapos nagulat lang din ako. Hindi ko naman akalain na may mga o-order, na may naghahanap pala ng ganoon,” Jenny, 46, recalled.

(Since cooking is my passion, I made palabok for my husband because that is his favorite. You know how sometimes you take photos of what you cooked and post it on social media? I was shocked because I didn't expect people would think I was selling. I didn't think people would crave for that sort of dish.)

Jenny was dumbfounded when more and more people were buying her palabok, so much so that it pushed her to start a food business from home. Her children helped her set up a Facebook page, and soon, more orders kept coming.

Jenny's bihon style palabok is generously topped with shrimp, eggs, crushed chicharon, calamansi, tinapa, tofu, and spring onions. Jenny said she made it a policy for customers to pre-order to give her enough time to buy and prepare fresh ingredients.

Where it all started: the palabok Nanay Jenny made for her husband in 2018.

When asked what her secret ingredient was, Jenny said: "Wala naman pong special ingredients. Ang magpapalasa ay yung pinaghalong sahog na kumpleto plus habang ginagawa mo siya ay niluluto mo siyang masaya ka."

(There are no special ingredients. What makes it flavorful is the proper mixture of ingredients and the act of cooking it with a happy mood.)

A major challenge Jenny encountered was finding time to juggle business and family, especially since she had been running Palabok Antipolo from her home. It's also one of the reasons why she dreams of eventually having a physical store.

"Diba ang mga nanay kasi usually talagang ang buong oras mo nasa pamilya eh. So, kailangan mo talaga ng magbibigay ng specific time sa pag-oorder. Kaya ang ginawa ko hindi ako pwede yung pag nag-order sila available na agad," she said.

(Since mothers like myself usually devote their time and energy to family, I need to set a specific time for food orders. I've made it a rule for customers to pre-order instead of making it readily available.)

Despite her busy schedule, Jenny still has time to care for their six dogs and calls them her "babies."

Palabok Antipolo’s menu gradually grew as customers requested for other food usually paired with the popular pancit dish.

May nag-request ng spaghetti, lumpiang shanghai, pichi-pichi, puto, ganyan. So nadagdagan yung binebenta ko online (A customer requested for lumpiang shanghai, pichi-pichi, and puto. So these were added to dishes I sold online),” she said.

Tatay Francis, Jenny's husband, would help out with deliveries to customers. He was an Angkas rider before the height of the COVID-19 lockdowns forced the ride-hailing company to suspend operations. Francis, 50, eventually did deliveries for Lalamove. This allowed the couple to work hand in hand in growing Palabok Antipolo.

Ang nangyayari, kung wala siyang byahe natutulungan ko din siya. Kasi yung delivery fee, kaysa i-book sa iba, sa kanya na kung wala siyang byahe. Nag-team up kaming dalawa. Manghihiram kami ng motor sa pinsan niya tapos ga-gas-an ko na lang pag malapit lang yung delivery," Jenny explained.

(I'm able to help him on days when he doesn't have booked deliveries. Instead of paying delivery fees to a different courier, my husband does our deliveries. We teamed up. We would even borrow a motorcycle from his cousin, then I would shoulder gas expenses if the delivery is within our area.)

A hardworking mother to three children, the eldest now 23 years old, Jenny is not new to the changing world of retail. Long before she started Palabok Antipolo, she had already been selling food items like peanut butter, breakfast meals, as well as street food like fish ball and kikiam. Apart from joining bazaars, she also got into direct selling of beauty products.

Marami na akong pinaggalingan eh, marami na akong sinubukan. Lahat na yata ng direct selling pinasok ko na pati mga Tupperware ((I've already tried selling all sorts of items. I think I've explored all sectors in direct selling. I even sold Tupperware),” she said.

Her advice to aspiring mompreneurs: Follow your passion.

Kapag nag-business ka, talagang dapat passion mo, since passion ko ang pagluluto. Para hindi mo nararamdaman yung pagod. Isipin nila kung kakayanin ba in terms of capital, yung lugar, tapos sino yung kanilang market. Humingi rin ng feedback sa customers para mas ma-improve pa yung product,” Jenny said.

(When you start your own business, it should really be something you are passionate about, since cooking is my passion. So that it's not as tiring. Would starting your business be feasible in terms of capital, location, and your target market? Ask for feedback from customers to further improve your product.)

Jenny also underscored the importance of building relationships with customers, many of whom have become her friends.

"Alagaan nila yung relationship sa customer as much as possible. Karamihan ng customer ko naging friend ko din tapos sinu-support ko yung business nila (Maintain relationships with customers as much as possible. I've become friends with most of my customers and I also make it a point to support their businesses)," she said.

It was in 2020 when Jenny, along with 32 entrepreneurial mothers, joined Iskaparate and became one of the platform’s pioneer members. The platform calls them Nanay, which is the Filipino term for mother.

All 33 pioneer Nanays are members of the Kabuhayan sa Ganap na Kasarinlan Credit and Savings Cooperative (K-Coop), a partner organization of Iskaparate. The cooperative aims to help urban poor communities by using microfinance and economic support initiaives to empower its members.

Jenny said Iskaparate widened her network and became an opportunity for her to sell several boxes of calamansi juice extract—one of the many food products she sells. She also witnessed the bayanihan spirit within the platform.

Mayroon kaming group chat sa Iskaparate, binibigyan po kami ng mga insights doon, tapos parang encouragement, tapos may mga nanay din kaming nakikilala ang mga iba’t ibang products. So, ang nangyayari kung kunyari may kailangan ka, pwede ka tumingin mismo dun sa mga binebenta ng mga nanay kasi para nagtutulungan din kayo.”

(Iskaparate has a group chat wherein members receive insights and encouragement. It has also become an avenue for members to meet fellow nanays and be more aware of each others' products. So if for instance you need a certain product, you can simply check within the group chat for nanays selling that product. That way we're able to help one another.)

Beyond Iskaparate, Jenny also had an initiative of her own. As the country grappled with strict lockdowns last year, Jenny said she was "amazed" how her family was able to manage at a time when the pandemic crippled several businesses and forced millions of Filipinos out of their jobs.

"Since nasa online selling kami, dun ako mas nag-boom kasi ang mga tao takot lumabas. Mas maraming nag-order, mas napansin yung page ko nung nag-pandemic. Kaya nung time na yun ang ginawa na lang namin, nagkaroon kami ng pagkakataon makatulong," she recalled.

(Iskaparate has a group chat wherein members receive insights and encouragement. It has also become an avenue for members **to meet fellow nanays and be more aware of each others' products. So if for instance you need a certain product, you can simply check within the group chat for nanays selling that product. That way we're able to help one another.)

At the same time, Jenny realized that the food packs distributed by the government during the enhanced community quarantine lacked milk and diapers for households who have babies. Our hour-long talk with Jenny was mostly a light conversation, but when she suddenly teared up, it became clear that this subject was something close to her heart.

Jenny said she saw social media posts of mothers crying for help, unable to get out of their homes to buy supplies for their children due to COVID-19 restrictions. This compelled her to rally her friends, relatives, and colleagues and raise funds to buy baby supplies— a move that caused worry for her husband. "Kahit na yung asawa ko nagagalit kasi baka mahawaan ako, nakikipagsiksikan ako para bumili ng diaper ((Even if my husband got so worried about me catching the virus, I would brave crowds and long lines at stores just to buy diapers)," she said. Jenny had a list of recipients, all of whom were grateful for the baby supplies.

Jenny knows it is risk to go out for sure. But for her, what's most important, especially in these times, is to pay it forward.

Check out Palabok Antipolo at 🌱

(Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect the English translation to the quotes in Filipino.)

Published date:
April 8, 2021
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