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Pursuing A Family Dream: Manila Kitchen’s Story

The pandemic was a rude awakening for many people. It was a period where everything changed: work, social interactions, and more.

But if there was a silver lining, it was also a period that pushed more people to pursue their goals and passions.  

For Natasha Acuba, it was the moment she finally honed in on to make her dreams a reality.

Working in retail for the past 12 years, the pandemic made Acuba realize just how volatile and important time is, especially as she watched case numbers and hospitalizations rise. “The year 2020 really made me realize life is short and, if I’m going to be waking up everyday to do something, I want it to be something I’m proud of and call my own,” she says.

It’s why, after years of contemplation, she turned her dream into reality by opening Manila Kitchen with her mother during the 2020 holiday season. The new business would highlight her cultural roots through food. 

“I started having conversations with mom and we were brainstorming what products we could come up with. We knew it was going to be food, and the idea struck that it should be something that the Vancouver/BC community has never had,” she says. “This where our Adodo Flakes came about and my vision for the packaging and the branding adds that homemade artisan gourmet feel to it.”

While Acuba took the steps to turn this into a business, she was heavily inspired by her mother who was also going through a rough patch during the pandemic. Immigrating from the Philippines to Canada years ago, it didn’t seem so daunting in a pre-pandemic world to be separated from family back home. But when COVID-19 swept the globe, borders seemed more defined and her family and friends felt farther away as travel and safety rules restricted travel.

“[My mom] was missing my grandma, who was not doing well after she suffered a stroke,” Acuba explains. “So we decided to dedicate this brand to her. [She’s] an empowered woman who started as a fish vendor in the market, but because of her business savvy, [she] created multiple businesses. Among them is a beach resort in the province of Cavite.”

Being a daughter of immigrants, representation is an extremely important part of Manila Kitchen. A lot of that representation is demonstrated through food and recipes that remind them of home. 

“Representation is very important to me as someone who came to Canada as an immigrant. Typically we get to be stereotyped and from the get-go,” she says. “I wanted to be different in the sense that I do not want to be placed in a box based on my background. Growing up I was empowered by my parents to do what I am passionate about.” 

By taking on a leadership role and owning her own company alongside family, she also wants to pave the way for others like her. 

 “If I can even just inspire one person by being a Filipina entrepreneur and owning a company that is 100 per cent women-led, that would be such an accomplishment,” she says. 

It’s also important to Acuba that their products allow second and third-generation Filipinos to reconnect to their homeland. “If they are able to connect to their heritage, then it’s an honour for me to help them do that.”

Acuba admits that she did face a series of challenges in the early days. Overcoming them was a part of her growth. “In the early days of building and establishing my brand, I had to overcome imposter syndrome,” Acuba says. “I just really had to understand why I [was] doing this.”

There were plenty of roadblocks along the way, particularly when it came to understanding the technicalities of business ownership. “As an entrepreneur, it’s hard to navigate the ins and outs of owning your business and find resources to get answers to business questions,” she says. “This where Ownr came in. It made it so simple for me to incorporate my company and get the documents I needed to do things like open a business bank account.” 

Ownr’s website is full of resources that are explained in a simple way without a lot of jargon. “As a starting entrepreneur who doesn’t have a team of lawyers or business managers, it helped me understand it more.”

Now with years of entrepreneurial experience under her belt, Acuba has no regrets. Everyday, for her, is about constantly improving and learning more to grow the business.

“My advice for anyone who wants to start a business? Go for it! Find a product, service, or anything that you are truly passionate about and sell the heck out of it!” she says.

Secondly, she shares the importance of getting official business documents in line using Ownr. “Even if it takes you years to launch your business or products, register it already so you have secured the name. I had to do it the other way around and it’s a lot of work.” 

Finally, the most important part of her business is the people she serves. It’s also the best way to receive feedback, which is a vital part of improving a small business. 

Clients are your best asset so always take care of them from the time you interact with them to when you finish a business transaction,” she says. “In return, they will [remember] the experience and will be excited to share with other people.” 

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