How failed businesses made Ara Mina a successful entrepreneur

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
How failed businesses made Ara Mina a successful entrepreneur
Ara Mina turns her passion for baking into a business.

MANILA, Philippines — Failure is no excuse to quit trying. That’s one of the lessons one can glean from Ara Mina’s journey from actress to entrepreneur.

To date, Ara operates different businesses — a beauty and skincare line (Ara’s Secrets, as well as Ara Colours in partnership with makeup brand Ever Bilena), a chain of café-restaurants (Hazelberry Café), a fine dining place in Tagaytay (Evergreen by Ara), plus a commissary that she said kept her busy and her mind off anxiety over the pandemic.

Her entrepreneurial streak was put on the spotlight at the launch of PhilSTAR Media Group’s latest campaign dedicated to supporting local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), Nakakalocal: Love Local, Grow Global.

In an interview after, The STAR learned that before her successful ventures, Ara had experienced six failed businesses. “Marami rin akong pinasukan,” she recalled and these included a video rental store in the late ‘90s which she eventually closed when pirated movies proliferated. She once operated a talent agency, Posh Models, that lasted for four years.

She also either owned or co-owned F&B ventures, namely, the Italian restaurant Osteria Italia (which ran for four years, but which she wasn’t able to focus on because at that time, the 2000s, she was at her busiest in showbiz); Bubble Gang Toppings (with Bubble Gang co-stars but only lasted for around six to eight months); as well as Cosmopolitan Bar and Café and Café Mina in Marikina, which stayed for a little over a year and was closed just before Ondoy happened.

The actress’ food business venture, Hazelberry Café, now has six branches, including one in Tagaytay. It’s also open for franchising.

But 11 years ago, on her seventh business venture called Ara’s Secrets, she finally found success. Online selling wasn’t prevalent then, but the actress pursued this route, instead of putting up physical stores.

“Before that kasi nagtayo ako ng (mga) three kiosks in popular malls, and then mga one year lang ako dun tumagal kasi hindi talaga, for me… I decided to close it and someone suggested why don’t you put (your products) on a website? Ang mahal pa ng mga website nun, almost P100,000. Now, you can do websites for free. After (I set up the) website arassecrets.com, I created an account on Instagram and Facebook around 2012 or 2013 (and sold products with the help of social media),” she shared.

This business venture saw her being more hands-on than the past. She had no office and staff, and managed the website and took orders herself. Her companions at home would help her pack the items and ship them to customers, including those living overseas.

“I don’t ever regret starting online because I was able to reach the international market. I now have resellers in California, Japan, Canada and the UAE,” said Ara.

Among her other businesses online are the Ara Mina Shop, which sells her signature and pre-loved items, and Ara Home which offers home essentials and decor handpicked by Ara herself.

Ara’s best-selling Red Velvet cake.

She didn’t give up on the food industry either as she established the Hazelberry Cafe, which is considered her most successful venture to date and her first-ever F&B business named after her real name Hazel.

Hazelberry simply channels a passion that Ara had since she was a teenager. “At 14, I was already into baking. This was before I even entered showbiz.”

When she dove into the entertainment scene, she lost the time and interest in baking. In 2012, her passion was rekindled when she had the chance to take a short culinary course that included pastry classes at the International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management (ISCAHM).

But one time, her sister-in-law asked her to bake Red Velvet cupcakes for her niece’s baptism. The dessert was a rage at that time in the States. “I googled five kinds of recipes but all of them ‘di um-OK sa panlasa ko. Yung isang recipe, para akong vampire, ang pula-pula ng ngipin ko kasi sa sobrang dami ng food coloring, yung isa naman ang sakit-sakit sa throat sa sobrang tamis, ang isa naman sobrang pait because Red Velvet has cocoa, but it has to have a distinct taste or hint of chocolate… I customized the recipe according to my taste and based on the description of the Red Velvet cupcakes — after seven tries,” she said.

It became a hit with orders piling up through word of mouth. She started selling them via her website. From Red Velvet, she’d eventually include other products and get invited to sell them in bazaars. In 2017, after five years of being a regular at bazaars and upon the encouragement of her loyal customers, she put up a café and pastry shop at a food park, and the rest is history. Some signature items are her Blueberry Cheesecake and Oreo Cheesecake, but her Red Velvet recipe that started it all remains to be a bestseller. She now has six branches of Hazelberry Café and plans to expand outside Luzon. It is also open for franchising. The newest branch is situated next to her other food business, Evergreen by Ara in Tagaytay.

“Showbiz is not forever” was a primary reason why Ara became a businesswoman in the first place.

Here are three important lessons that Ara learned from running a business.

Ara with husband Dave Almarinez and daughter Mandy.
Photos from Ara Mina's Instagram

First of all, you have to be hands-on because “if you’re really hands-on, you will encounter, experience and know everything, down to the nitty gritty of the business,” she said.

Because she’s been hands-on, she had a steep learning curve when it came to customer service. “Napagdaanan ko lahat yan — inquiries and even lahat ng klase ng complaints. And ‘pag nalaman nila (na ako ang nagha-handle ng orders nila) nagugulat sila.”

Ara admitted that “most of the customers humihingi ng autograph or video greetings” when it’s Ara herself who’s dealing with them.

“I can say that being a celebrity was a big help in my business. Most of the businesses now, they get a celebrity endorser. So, it’s kind of different also when you’re a celebrity and you have a business. Somehow, nakatipid ka sa marketing and endorsement (laughs),” she said.

Nevertheless, she was quick to point out that what truly helped was the “personalized service and super hands-on ka. (That) they know that you’re the one who created the recipe, you’re the one who made the product or baked the cake, I can say it’s an added factor.”

Second is you must have the passion. The motivation to earn will not be enough to sustain you, she stressed.

“I’d advise people that if you want to do this business, you have to have the passion and not just because gusto mo kumita ng pera. Dun ka tatagal eh, yung perseverance mo, if you are passionate about it.”

Third is to be teachable. Ara is a self-taught businesswoman, but she likes picking the brains of friends in the field of business.

“I’m very eager to talk to them and learn from them. You never stop learning. And you really need to always know what’s new so you can keep up with the times. (Like right now), I also talk to a lot of millennials. I’m in my 40s and iba na rin ang approach (nila),” she explained.

Asked about her secret sauce to success, she believes it’s her willingness to take risks. “Isa sa meron ako, lakas ng loob and I’m a risk taker.”

She added, “Iba yung satisfaction (dito). Nakakatuwa nga kasi nakaka-accept na rin ako ng mga special awards for being an entrepreneur, hindi lang sa acting (laughs),” Ara added.

Indeed, it’s not difficult to see Ara as more of a businesswoman now than an actress.

She honestly expressed, “Happy na ako sa na-achieve ko sa career ko actually, but I’m very thankful and blessed because until now may kumukuha pa rin sa akin sa movies and TV.”

Her last TV show was FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano but the lock-in setup was making it tough for her to look after her businesses.

“As long as they still want to get me, I will accept, especially if maganda ang role. Medyo pinipili ko na rin yung mga roles ko ngayon but now (I’m) focused on business. Marami pa akong (naka) line up,” she said.

Ara’s next business is food carts named after her businessman-husband Dave Almarinez, daughter Mandy and youngest sibling Batching who has Down’s Syndrome. A certain percentage of the earnings from the food cart, Batching’s Corn Dog, will go to the Down’s Syndrome Association that Ara has been supporting for many years now.

Nevertheless, she admitted that ever since she got married a year ago, her priorities have shifted as well. If she used to be a workaholic, she’s now prioritizing her family, especially as she plans to have another child after Mandy.

Ara also made it clear that she doesn’t have any plans to do joint business with her husband. “Hindi kasi baka mag-away lang kami sa business,” she laughed. “Better na adviser and mentor siya. Kasi ayoko haluan ng business yung relationship namin. Better naman na mentor siya sa akin and maganda rin magkaroon ako ng sarili kong business at may ipagmamalaki naman ako sa husband ko, na ito business ko.”

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