It’s not easy to be a pioneer. When Igorot restaurateur Elmer Macalingay decided to open a vegetarian restaurant in Baguio City, he knew that he was taking a chance, after all, Baguio is a city where a vegetarian diet is almost non-existent.

But Elmer was determined to show people that delicious meals, being health-conscious and, environment-friendly, can go hand in handand his hard work has paid off! Health 100 and Health 101 Restoreants are now two of the most popular restaurants in Baguio City and La Trinidad, Benguet.

How It All Started

Elmer was an insurance agent when the insurance industry nosedived in 2008. He realized that it was high time to get started with his dream business — a restaurant for vegetarians and health-conscious individuals like himself. Starting with half a million-peso capital, with two of his friends, Elmer put the pedal to the metal.

It wasn’t an easy ride, though, he almost declared bankruptcy in 2011 because of poor financial management. To prevent this from happening, he worked extra hard, so hard that he even called it his kayod kalabaw years.

Literal na nangayayat ako. I (had to) work for 18 hours a day because I had to pay debts here and there,” he quipped.

Elmer did more than what a typical restaurant owner does — he served as the team leader, waiter, and delivery driver all in one. Because of his impressive work ethic and by learning from his past mistakes, he was eventually free of debt by 2014.

Due to the popularity of Elmer’s unique menu, many government offices and events firms adopted his vegetarian and healthy cuisine and became frequent clients. Customers praised Health 100 for its healthy meal options, such as salads, pasta, vegetarian meats, sandwiches, and fresh juices.

Elmer banked on word-of-mouth to boost the restaurant’s popularity. The restaurant became sought-after so that even the local government utilized Elmer’s catering services when they held gatherings and conferences. It was indeed a successful time for Elmer’s business.

How DTI Nurtured Health 100 & Health 101 Restoreants

Despite the popularity that Elmer’s vegetarian restaurant enjoyed, he felt that there was still room for improvement. For an upgrade to happen, he felt he needed more training to achieve his goals.

His entrepreneurship skills improved significantly after he attended the pilot program of Kapatid Mentor ME (KMME) of DTI-CAR in 2016. The program paired him with experienced mentor entrepreneurs who taught him valuable business skills and guided him as he applied them to his own business.

He attended several other trainings as the DTI office in Region 2 was practically his neighbor. Through these programs, Elmer was able to tap into new markets and serve more customers.

He was also inspired to franchise his business so that he could share his vision with more people. From a single diner, his restaurant became a well-known vegetarian food chain.

The Shadow of the Pandemic

One of the challenges that spoiled Elmer’s delicious success is the announcement of quarantine lockdowns due to rapidly increasing cases of COVID-19. Just like other entrepreneurs all over the world, Elmer thought that the COVID-19 global pandemic would not last for long. But boy, was he wrong!

To ease the effects of the pandemic on his employees, Elmer gave the kitchen staff PhP5,000 cash advances against their 13th-month pay. As the pandemic went on, he was forced to let go of certain employees who had gone home to their respective provinces.

Elmer decided to offer his culinary services to the frontline workers during this challenging time by converting one of his restaurants into a community kitchen — the La Trinidad version of Bayanihan Kitchen.

He used the remaining supplies from his La Trinidad restaurant and even called for donations when stocks ran out. They were able to run the community kitchen for frontline workers for two whole months.

“As a business owner, you should master all corners and aspects of your business, so in case of emergencies, your business will still operate.”

Unique Menu for Success

Because Elmer’s restaurants have a unique yet delicious menu, they easily stand out from others. The restaurateur owes it all to word-of-mouth. Elmer recalls that there were days when lines formed outside his restaurants, and they had to borrow extra chairs from their church just to accommodate customers!

Elmer has recently expanded his business to include a farm and agri-tourism enterprise, which offers organically grown food supplies like rice, vegetables, and free-range chickens, among others. He envisions this farm as a venue for celebrating joyous occasions such as birthdays, weddings, and seminars, or even for glamping.

Due to his impressive performance during the pandemic coupled with his business’ triumphs, Health 100 and 101 Restoreants were shortlisted for DTI’s Zero to Hero program.

The DTI’s Zero to Hero program aims to showcase selected micro-small entrepreneurs (MSMEs) from 16 regions who embody and manifests how one can rise up from relative inexperience (Zero) into a full-fledged enterprise that touches other lives for the better (Hero).

As far as we’ve seen, Elmer Macalingay and his team indeed embody what it means to rise from zero and become a hero. Well done, Elmer!