High School Sweethearts Use Their Second Chance At Love To Build A Thriving Food Business
What do you do when you and your husband share a love story that sounds like something out of a Taylor Swift song?
Start a business together-or at least that's what food and beverage specialist Kelly Parreño-Librojo and her husband, Dr. Miguel "Migo" Librojo, did.
The couple met, dated, and broke up in high school. Then they met again as adults and worked on their second chance at love while setting up several businesses, including the 16-branch Ta Ke Ho Me Sushi.
Keep reading to find out how this couple makes sure all is well in love and business.
A Teen Romance Worthy of Love Songs
Theirs is a meet-cute straight out of a Disney movie. In fact, we wouldn't be surprised if the soundtrack to their teenage romance featured Demi Lovato and the Jonas Brothers.
"It was my high school fair in Miriam [College]," Kelly explains. "Migo's from Ateneo, so our schools were like neighbors. I was tasked to man the soda booth. Migo was with another friend. They went up to me, and they were asking the usual questions-what's your name, may I have your number? Then I said, 'Okay, I'm going to give you information as long as you buy soda from me.' So I think he ended up buying seven sodas!"
Miguel laughs at the memory. "Yeah, because it was one soda per question!"
Kelly's unrepentant about her business-mindedness. "So he wanted my name, he would buy one soda. He wanted to ask for my number, he would buy another one."
Was it love at first Sprite? Maybe not, but Kelly says they got together very quickly. "She was my first girlfriend, I was her first boyfriend!" Miguel says proudly. "We never fought in high school," Kelly remembers. "It was like all butterflies and rainbows and all of those nice things!"
Breaking Up, Then Making Up... Years Later
Even after they broke up, the couple says, they remained friends. "Sometimes we would still see each other randomly," says Kelly. They ended up in different universities. Kelly eventually moved to Dubai, California, and Singapore while Miguel stayed in the country.
In 2015, fourteen years after they first met, Kelly and Miguel found their paths crossing once more. It was at a party they both attended while she was on a visit home from Singapore.
The serendipity didn't end there.
Kelly went back to Singapore, but she ended up deciding almost immediately to come back to Manila for good. Three months after that fateful party, Kelly was single and back in Manila. And another romcom-worthy moment happened just one month after that.
"My best friend was visiting from Canada, and we got drunk," Kelly says, smiling sheepishly. "So I drunk-texted Migo and asked him out. And then he showed up! And when I sobered up I was like, 'Oh my God, what are you doing here?' So yeah. That kind of happened."
As before, the two were quick to commit. Within another three months, they were boyfriend and girlfriend again. And one month later, they started their first business, Fair Grounds Organics, where they sold peanut butter and sugar at bazaars and online.
The next year, they started their first Ta Ke Ho Me Sushi shop, only to find themselves opening several more branches. "We were really, really so busy in 2016. And then we started planning our wedding even before he proposed to me. In 2017, on my birthday in February, he proposed."
Equal Partners in Love and Business
"Oh, it was so hard to do business together when we were starting out," says Kelly. "We started Fair Grounds Organics early in our relationship, named after the place where we first met, and it was really manual labor. We didn't have staff and we had to do everything on our own, so we would clash. Both of us were trying to do so many things at once and there was no proper delegation of tasks."
Still, with a little help and a lot of work, they managed to get on the right track. Kelly shares, "Our business mentor once told us to always have a clear distinction of tasks to avoid unnecessary conflict. We started communicating better, and we would assign tasks based on one's strength to maximize time and energy. It is also important to draw a line between being personal and professional."
The couple is also quick to point out a few perks to being business partners.
"One advantage is that we both work to achieve a common goal, we are aligned," Miguel points out. "We do goal-setting dates twice a year and it guides us on the path we want to take not only in business but also as a married couple."
"The major advantage for me is the fact that we are so comfortable and we basically know we can support each other," Kelly says.
Their history can only make this power couple stronger. For example, a shared grief and desire to honor their loved ones was the root of a winning business concept. "Ta Ke Ho Me Sushi was inspired by our late mothers' love for sushi. Migo and I both lost our moms to cancer more than a decade ago, and we wanted to honor them by starting a business together in memory of them."
Kelly goes on to share, "I remember my mom telling me that she and my dad used to save up money to go on sushi dates since Japanese food has always been pricey. We wanted to bridge the gap between cheap bilao sushi and the ones from expensive Japanese restaurants. The concept is fresh and healthy fast food that's affordable and can be consumed while on the go."
Ta Ke Ho Me Sushi opened its first branch in Quezon City in April 2016, and in the years since, they have expanded to sixteen branches around Metro Manila as well as nearby areas like Pampanga and Olongapo, Zambales.
They are known for their affordable price points (you can get an eight-piece sushi roll for just P99) and their deep-fried sushi. Kelly laughs about this, saying, "I'm a chef by profession. I was like, I would never, ever fry sushi. But we have two fried sushi on our menu! And now those are our best sellers. Two years in, I was doing all the stuff that I promised not to do."
Their businesses and the work they put into them also presented them with opportunities to expand. Miguel brought this entrepreneurial spirit to his dentistry, and the couple started a business importing high-quality dental implants from Israel. Difficulty sourcing nori (dried seaweed) for their sushi stand led to them finding a supplier and then distributing these to other businesses as well. Foodie trips that have let them indulge in the name of research also led to their latest endeavor, launching carbonated cocktail Rio Strong in the Philippines.
Finally, Kelly and a friend based in Singapore developed a line of bacon-based snacks, which they launched in 2018. Baken products include bacon chips, bacon brittle, bacon jam, and bacon cookies. Their success in Singapore has already launched in the Philippines!
While their efforts have undeniably rewarded this couple, they are frank about the challenges starting a business can pose, especially when partnering with your spouse.
When asked what they might say to other couples looking to become entrepreneurs, Miguel jokes, "Are you sure you want to?"
"It's a lot of work," Kelly says. "You just have to really put time and effort into it."
Miguel advocates discipline and knowing your priorities. "Kidding aside, it's doable as long as both of you make sure that you set boundaries. Make it a point to put your relationship over the business."
Kelly agrees wholeheartedly. "This, your business, could fail, right? And marriages can also fail. So choose your battles [and ask if you'd rather] have a failed business or a failed marriage. Or both."
She stresses the importance of talking to each other. "Communicate openly always and in all ways. Respect your partner and strive to still grow as individuals. It easier to salvage a damaged business than fix a broken relationship."
This story originally appeared on Female Network.
* Edits have been made by the Yummy.ph editors.
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