The brisk business of food delivery
- Ching M. Alano () - November 28, 2001 - 12:00am
It opened 12 years ago as the only outlet dedicated solely to food delivery. Its popularity simply spread by word of mouth – make that "contented mouths."

"It’s food freshly cooked and tailor-made to your utmost desires," says seasoned hotelier Leo Wassmer of Singkit, now a byword among Makati’s harried working populace for whom food delivery is a godsend.

"It’s a la carte, not fast food," Wassmer gingerly points out, "because food is cooked only when you call up and place your order. It’s really more like a mom-and-pop type of operation."

This to-go Chinese food in boxes came about at the height of road constructions that resulted in unsavory traffic jams around the metropolis. Those were frying, er, trying times when office people would think twice about stepping out to grab a bite for lunch. The traffic was bad and parking was worse. And to make things worst, the queues in restaurants were long and often, service took long, too.

Wassmer, a wide-eyed dreamer, saw the problem and thus, Singkit was born. "Singkit was conceived to be just a delivery service," says the proud "father." "And you can be sure that the food delivered at your doorstep is always freshly cooked."

Food is cooked to your heart’s desire. "Once, a woman called and ordered pancit canton but asked us not to put vegetables, please," Wassmer’s wife and business partner, Joy Wassmer, relates. "She pleaded that we just had to do it because she was naglilihi. That was a tall (heavy?) order and at first, any chef would naturally get disoriented. Because without the veggies, the pancit would have no taste. But our chef had discovered a technique to give the pancit the same taste even without the veggies."

"They also tell us if they’re vegetarians so we can adjust our cooking accordingly," Wassmer elaborates on Singkit’s meaty offerings. "Like somebody called up and ordered beef broccoli but without the beef, just the broccoli with oyster sauce. What we do for vegetarians is we just steam the vegetables, we don’t even put spices and let them do the spicing up themselves. And certainly, we don’t use MSG or vetsin in our food. If we can’t do it the way they want us to, we tell them so. For instance, we may not have the kind of oil that they want. Yes, we do use cornoil for cooking."

Ever sizzling with activity, Singkit’s kitchen is manned by an all-Filipino staff trained in Chinese cooking. "It’s more like Chinese food with Filipino taste," asserts Wassmer, who’s of Swiss ancestry and has worked more than half his life in hotels across Europe. "Other people, even the Spanish, love the taste. I used to run executive clubs like the one for San Miguel Corporation. We used to train Filipino cooks for Andres Soriano and send them to Hong Kong to learn the basics of Chinese cooking and adapt it to Filipino-Spanish taste. When ASEC was redone and eventually became dormant, these people had nowhere to go so I said, ‘Maybe Joy, this is the right time to start this.’ We do have a pretty good staff. And we use the best ingredients and the freshest vegetables and meat."

Wassmer is certainly proud of Singkit cooking. "We use original high-pressure Chinese burners and cook our food in the old-fashioned Chinese wok so we can cook food as fast as possible with the right intense heat and without it losing its freshness."

To make lunch even more convenient and save customers in a hurry the trouble of having to decide, Singkit offers a menu list of its top 20 favorite Chinese dishes.

Wassmer notes with concern: "A typical Chinese menu would be at least four pages long with some 500 items that it boggles the minds of customers. And you need to plan what dish would go well with the other."

It’s really a balanced meal to-go, say husband-and-wife team Leo and Joy Wassmer, whose children Irisa, 12, and Leo Joseph, 8, are Singkit’s best critics. Among the bestsellers are Beancurd Szechuan, Kangkong Curry, Pancit Canton, Glass Noodles, Chopsuey, Singkit Mixed Vegetable, Chicken Cantonese, Chicken with Quail Eggs, Chicken with Bamboo Shoots, Chicken with Asparagus Tips, Singkit Hoisin Chicken, Lumpiang Shanghai, Mandarin Balls, Sweet and Sour Pork, Spare Ribs, Lechon Macao, Pata Tim, Bitter Melon with Beef, Beef Broccoli, Beef Mushrooms, Squid Rings Saute, Sweet & Sour Shrimps, Shrimps with Peas & Cashew, Fish with Pickling Sauce, Fried Siopao, and Siomai.

For a regular box, dishes range in price from P60 to P150.

A regular box is good for two persons and a large box for four. "The more you are, the cheaper it gets," says Wassmer. "It’s social eating, pang Pinoy talaga! And it’s mass pricing that’s just right for the hard times. We have a line called budget boxes – ideally, your rice box is your personal plate, where you put your food like your beef broccoli, whatever. We’re educating Filipinos in this type of eating."

If you’re a Singkit suki, you must have gotten hold of its flier that’s small enough to fit into your pocket. Aside from the menu list, the flier also includes Singkit’s buffet to-go packages. "Singkit has created a menu that can serve from one person to a group of 50 persons," Wassmer describes. "They’re priced from P200 plus to P5,000 plus. They’re ready in a snap, and you may eat them straight from the box or serve them in platters." (Call Singkit in Makati at 892-25-51, 892-28-56, 816-12-69; or Singkit in Pasig at 631-78-77, 633-34-82.)

Singkit food is neatly packed in biodegradable New York-style carton mixed with a special wax so as not to affect the taste of food. "The box is handy but it contains a lot, you won’t equate looking at it with what it can really hold," says Wassmer. "The box actually keeps the food hot – or cold. It’s very typical of American living – it’s good for TV dinners and instant parties. You don’t need plates, you just close the box and put it back in the ref to eat the next day. Over the years, we’ve learned to do this – we undercook the food if it’s going to be delivered because while it’s being delivered, it’s still cooking in the box so perfect na pagdating sa ’yo. There’s a lot of skill in that. On the other hand, if you’re going to eat in the place, we cook the food a little longer because kakainin mo agad."

Wassmer is, of course, talking about Singkit’s outlet in Pasig where you can go in, eat or take food out. Or you can call and have food delivered. "We’ve received a lot of inquiries for franchising so we thought of putting up this prototype," he says. "It’s very quaint, it can only seat 12 persons. When we do decide to franchise and talk to future franchisees, we can tell them to go to Pasig and see it they like it."

Wassmer further muses, "It’s a little bit of a labor of love and every franchise would have its own kitchen. That’s the way I envision Singkit as growing. I’d probably franchise it to people who are retired and want to do something else. Like they’ve been in banking all their lives and now, they want to do something more sosyal, more exciting. Other franchisees could also be married couples who can pass on the business to their kids, newlyweds who want to start their own business or overseas contract workers who have no place to go after coming home. Our future plans include different pockets in Metro Manila where the quality of delivery service is lacking."

Wassmer heartily looks into the future and hastens to add, "Now, we’re trying to see in which direction we’re going. Do we want to remain a mom-and-pop business and be happy with what we have? Or do we want this to grow?"

One thing Wassmer knows for certain is this: "In the future, every household would have a working dad and mom. So food delivery would really be a service to households. When the wife comes home tired from work, she’ll just order hot food for her family."

Excuse us while we order food for delivery.

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