Raquel Choa: From humble beginnings to sweet success
Grace Melanie L. Lacamiento (The Freeman) - December 31, 2013 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines - The lady behind the first-rate and renowned Cebu-based artisan chocolate boutique proves wrong the common misconception by many that one has to be financially rich to have a successful and feasible business.

Raquel Choa, the owner and founder of Ralfe Gourmet, shares how the country’s chocolate ambassadress has reached the pinnacle of her entrepreneurial career, pushing for her core advocacy of elevating the locally-produced chocolates of the Philippines.

What most people do not know is that Choa grew from a poor family, able to eat rice once a year during summer season and mostly have corn and crops to satisfy hunger more often.

She stayed in her grandmother’s house in the mountain barangay in Balamban where she learned the dirty works such as farming and selling crops, charcoal, brooms and coconut husks. She is also a cacao farmer herself since childhood as influenced by her grandmother.

She even had to cross seven rivers to be able to reach school but still managed to maintain flying colors academically even if it meant studying at home without electricity.

Choa further recalled that when she also stayed in Manila, she did the laundry for others, sold candles and sampaguita and even scavenged to survive the day.

She proudly cited that she has never hated her childhood life amid the poverty she had encountered as it trained her to appreciate life’s glitches. She is even thankful as her struggling experiences in the past have continuously helped her to cope with the challenges at present.

“Pobre ra kaayo mi, kinaon na namo ang problema sa una pa. Pero wala ko naguol nga taga-bukid ko. My childhood was happy and fun. My life was simple, excitedly looking forward every summer. If these were not part of my childhood, I will not be here where I am now. The more you have suffering, the stronger you will become,” the optimistic entrepreneur said.

At a young age, Choa never hoped to be rich but only dreamed of working in an office and be part of the corporate industry. She admitted she also had never imagined herself running a business like what she has been doing for four years now.

The go-getter businesswoman advised aspiring entrepreneurs and start-ups to never give up, learn to try new things, fail at times and set themselves apart from what others are usually doing.

“Create a product that is worth the value and worth the talk. Make sure there’s always a twist. If people continue to buy your product, you are on the right track,” she said, adding that the support of her buyers and appreciation of her loyal customers inspires her more to continue her passion.

She noted that when starting a business, there is no need to be bothered with the competition but instead invest more on one’s own forte and be confident of doing where he is good at.

“It is a barrier if you look on your competitors. It may be nice to consider but may distract your vision. Focus on what you’re doing and believe you’re unique. The market is big for all of you. Set your own niche and do a lot of practice,” she said.

Choa clarified that one does not need to have piles of  money to start a business. One can try putting up one with himself as the investment and his passion as capital and foundation of all.

“Whatever you have, your puhunan is yourself. Use the power of mind to come up with unique things as much as you can. It is in your hands. Do things that come from your heart. Do not just follow what is the trend. Make sure you love what you are doing and pursue your happiness. It will show in the end-product,” she said.

Ralfe Gourmet started with only three hotels as its first clients and has now grown to numerous international and national patrons. Choa has already been featured in local and national dailies and broadcasts. Her manpower has also increased to 20 employees to date from the five workers she used to have years back.

She is also eyeing the export industry to make the locally-produced chocolates more known in the global market.

Despite the advent of technology, Choa still prefers handmade-produced chocolates of an artisan rather than a machine since she believes that human touch could lead to connections and grow one’s network.

The 37–year-old entrepreneur should have been a plain housewife and a full-time mother of eight children, had she not pursued her passion for tablea making.

Her strong childhood personality made Choa stay fearless against risks and make wise decisions for her business as she leads her own company. 

She further acknowledged the guidance of her supportive husband, Alfred, her business ally, Edu Pantino and her newfound mentor and co-artist, Kenneth Cobonpue.

If her business partner were to describe Choa, Pantino said that she resembles like a chocolate fountain that is overflowing with creativity and imagination. In a month or two, the chocolatier can already come up with a new product.

In times of adversities, she also reminded the public to always seek God’s presence and grace. She believed that promoting the Philippine chocolate brand is her calling from the Divine Providence.

Despite how busy Choa is, she still manages to meditate and spend time for herself  before going back to the hustle and bustle of her real world.

She then encouraged more Filipinos to venture into the chocolate industry to further spread the word of the Philippine tablea. 

“Success means doing good. I do things that I know are good and thus, I consider myself already successful right now,” Choa concluded. /JOB (FREEMAN)

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