To mark our sixth anniversary, Jess Santiago, Buku-Buku Kafe manager and partner, talked with Donna of South Snippets and waxed nostalgic about some of the milestones, mistakes, and memories we've made as a small community café and why we're still doing what we do, even in the midst of COVID-19.
What a journey it has been! And we're glad we're still standing to be with you all today :)
It’s no secret that I have always been a fan of Buku-Buku Kafe since my living-in-Las-Piñas days: the food, the interiors, and the friendly vibe. But recently, my team and I have come to admire these SOUTHIEpreneurs even more for their resilience and tenacity throughout this pandemic, and especially for their newfound candor on social media. It’s undeniable that they serve excellent food, but we also saw how important their knack for running their business plays in their success. This prompted us to reach out to Jess; their manager, partner, and communications person; to sit down and talk about Buku-Buku, so we can share their story and these 5 lessons which many SOUTHIEpreneurs can draw encouragement and inspiration from during these difficult times.
5. Setbacks happen and will keep happening; the quicker you accept this and find ways to adapt, the better your chances for survival and success will be.
Like so many others, the past year has been extra tough for Jess and her family to keep their business afloat. They had to shut down operations for 3 months after the first lockdown announcement was made. They spent this time working on their online platforms, as growing safety concerns pushed IATF to impose that dine-in transactions be temporarily suspended. This allowed them to strengthen their digital operations through their socials and website, plus it opened up opportunities for them to reach customers they wouldn’t normally reach pre-pandemic, such as those residing outside Las Piñas and even beyond the South!
4. It’s okay to slow down and restart small.
One of the hardest decisions they ever had to make for Buku-Buku was closing down their branch in Dasmariñas, Cavite, and moving all operations to their SM Southmall Las Piñas branch. It was sad because, although they wanted to keep all their employees in the company, their Dasma people decided it was better to stay in Cavite for work, especially with the border restrictions and transportation constraints. Despite this tough transition, it helped them cut down costs, streamline their operations, and recalibrate the direction for their business, like offering more options for cashless transactions and training their people to do CSR via phone or chat.
3. Get deliberate and go the extra mile when it comes to communicating and interacting with your customers these days.
I think this was such an important point Jess made: with our dining experiences being conducted mostly virtually these days, she realized that you have to make that extra effort to make customers feel as if they are still dining in your resto and speaking with you in person in each phone call or chat message you make when they order online. It’s a simple concept, but when you’re transacting almost everything digitally, this helps create that genuine connection and gives a lasting impression on the person on the other end.
2. There is no shame in acknowledging that you get bad days, and that you need and want to ask for other people’s support.
Let’s admit it: most of us are struggling these days, but many of us also struggle with being vulnerable and asking for help. I think we should all follow Buku-Buku Kafe’s lead on how this is done, especially through social media. They recently experienced getting a prank order worth PHP 3,000 and it was a huge blow to a business trying to make ends meet, but how they handled it was quite admirable. They shared the experience through their socials and asked everyone to be kind and support small businesses who are just trying their best to survive. They highlighted the fact that we often forget there are people behind the scenes who are greatly affected by incidents like these. This approach helped humanize their brand and shed light on the struggles the food and beverage industry are going through during the pandemic, and how much we, as consumers, can help ensure their survival.
1. Never underestimate the impact of family and community.
As someone who has seen how our Southie community has thrived over the years, I feel this was the most important takeaway I got from my conversation with Jess. It may appear as if Buku-Buku Kafe is a big company due to it being situated in a big mall, but they are actually a homegrown brand that’s family-owned: Jess, her brother, and her mom share the responsibilities of the day-to-day operations, while her dad supports them by providing business advice and guidance. In addition, much of the support they received during the pandemic was from past customers, friends, and neighbors, who would regularly order their food from the early days of the quarantine period. This active and loyal support they received certainly helped them sustain the business, despite the long and abrupt periods of lockdowns they’ve had to endure since March last year.
The hour-long chat with Jess really gave me so much perspective on what it means to be fully committed to your family, your employees, your community, and your business: that it takes a combination of hard work, a good understanding of the digital landscape, genuine passion, and great humility to ensure survival and achieve long-term growth and success.
Source: Donna Santiago of South Snippets
To know more about South Snippets and the local businesses they support, check out their online ordering site and socials below!