These 20-somethings went from food park to Megamall in two years
The Lost Bread started out as a small space in a street food fair along Maginhawa some time in the middle of 2015, and it has shown impressive and aggressive growth since then, with four branches up and running in the metro. With the opening of their latest branch SM Mega Fashion Hall, one wonders how the hidden hipster spot was able to transition from a stall into a formidable millennial hangout at a mall without losing its cool. To give you an idea of how millennial the concept is, their store inauguration activities included a lecture on “How to Flatlay."
Fans would be glad to know that the owners Patty Marabut and Emil Ongchuan have stuck to their roots and the familiar “hashtag-able” elements are still there, along with the crowd-pleasing and infinitely instagrammable offerings of their French Toast and mad Milkshakes. The best-selling bread at Lost Bread is cut up in cubes and served with syringes filled with three kinds of syrup. The milkshakes are meant to give that satisfying sugar hit, with their creamy concoctions combined with cotton candy, swirly marshmallow lollipops, and yes, in the case of their DoughFee (Doughnut + Coffee) shake, an actual donut speared through the straw.
The two proud proprietors share how they were able to go thus far, and we get to know more about the inner workings of the millennial mind that have helped launch this venture into greater heights. Here, Patty, 25, and Emil, 26, share their tips for other millennials who want to take a leap into entrepreneurship that even Generations X and Y can learn from.
1| Find your comfort zone. “We’ve always loved French Toast,” shares Emil. “The thing is, there are only a few breakfast-themed restaurants that serve them, and when they do, it’s only just one version while their pancakes can come in different varieties. That is why we decided to start with our own version of French Toast. It was something we were familiar with and really enjoyed eating.”
2| Grab opportunities. The couple was already lightly looking into launching a start-up, when they came across a sign that invited food businesses to join the StrEAT food fair in Maginhawa. They immediately thought of their dream to offer a different take on toast. “It was a fairly easy decision for us to make. We submitted a proposal and we got in,” Patty shares.
3| Take a leap of faith. They are both engineering grads, Emil graduated with a degree in Engineering Robotics and was already working a corporate job as a supply and demand planner for light bulbs. He told his dad about their business idea and his decision to quit. “My dad laughed at first, thinking I wasn’t serious, but by the time we started getting a lot of customers and when we opened our Lost Bread HQ, he was really impressed with how we were able to grow. Patty took up Biomedical Engineering and was a fresh grad when they decided to open the business. “I always knew that I was not meant for corporate,” she shares. “Even in college I would bake and sell my products. My mom supported me from the start because she knew that I really wanted to own a business.”
4| Start small, dream big. Their first space was only a few square meters small. They decided to open up something bigger just a stone’s throw away, expanding to about 200 sqm., on a two-story structure. “It was meant to fill a demand, and it was also because we wanted to offer more food choices. We also put up our commissary and R&D there, so we could play around with more items for our menu, including our milkshakes.”
5| Go against the grain. At the time they opened, milk tea was the big craze. Everybody was doing it, they said. This was precisely why they decided to go into a different direction. “We wanted to make a new product countering milk tea,” Emil says. They still wanted to keep the formula familiar and not too outré though their presentation might stun those born earlier than 1983. This is why their flavors are creamy comfort food material using ingredients like Choc-nut or cookie dough.
6| Tap new markets. With the opening of the Megamall branch, they are certainly catering to a wider market, both numbers-wise and age-wise. What they did was to expand the menu to include the dads and the, ahem, “titas”. “We added coffee to our menu for the dads,” Emil grins. “Since our soft opening we noticed that we also get the titas in here too. We also get more families, even on weekdays. In our other branches, the families come in over the weekends lang. the new market is a good fit for the other items in their menu that include truffle carbonara, and the teriyaki fish sandwich. Even the food items are presented in a new way – for take-out packages, owing to their limited space. This is why the toast is cubed and easier to eat on the go.
7| Seek mentorship. They couldn’t do it alone, they say. “If it were up to us, the whole business side would be a mess! We have no knowledge of food or running a business.” Emil says. This is why they are thanking their lucky stars for Patty’s tita Tet Dulay, who is a consultant for other, bigger restaurants. “We don’t even get charged for all her help! We just treat her to buffets!” he grins. “So, what we are saying is that it is not only about us being millennials, we would also like to give credit to an expert who is helping us.
8| Get into social media. One of the reasons why their idea took off is that people were sharing about it on their social media accounts quite enthusiastically. “We understand how social media works and we utilize it. The older people try to play safe, and don’t use social media as much to promote their business. The interest we got from the social media buzz was really able to help us expand,” Patty shares.
9| Have solid partnerships. The couple says that they are officially “a couple” and have been together for six years, since college. There is friction because of the business, they admit, but their long-standing relationship has helped them to arrive at sound decisions. “Since we know how the other thinks and reacts, we can balance everything out,” Emil smiles.
10| Evolve but stay the same. The look of their Fashion Hall branch is a little bit different from the interiors of the other Lost Bread outlets. Here, it is a brighter, almost tropical look interspersed with the underlying industrial chic sensibilities of the older siblings. The goal is to stay instagrammable, as a cool hangout to indulge in whimsical youth-themed faves.
Through it all, the secret to success remains the same through any generation—hard work. The couple stays hands on in the business, working long hours at work on Research and Development and keeping track of deliveries. They say that they are thankful for their youth, because they still have the energy to stay on their toes despite their grueling schedules. They also say that another branch might be set to open by the end of the year—after they take a just a little break.
The Lost Bread is open mall hours at the 4/F Mega Fashion Hall, SM Megamall.