It’s not easy getting into the food business, especially if you have no background in food or entrepreneurship. Even more so if you’re doing it on on your own. But Hannah Ramos, owner of mozzarella cheese sticks food stand Chizmozza, has proven that having a keen eye and a willingness to adapt to customer needs can lead to success.
What was your concept for the business?
Chizmozza is the first fried mozzarella cheese food stand here in the Philippines. Aside from our witty and catchy brand name, our product speaks for itself. Not many people would think about shaping cheese into bite-sized sticks, cover it with crunchy coating and sell it as their main snack product. You’ll know it’s 100 percent mozzarella cheese when you stretch it. Our brand name, Chizmozza, originated from combining the words: cheese and mozzarella.
Why decide to get into this business?
I don’t have a background in entrepreneurship, but I have been doing “business ventures” since I was a kid. It included reselling “chichirya,” selling live tutubi or dragonflies, one-peso bananacue, “one peso per inom sa water jug” (after PE class), ice candy, selling used clothes and CD burning services. It was a business that I did in front of our house or at our school. I really love thinking of unique and easy ways to earn money through selling. In high school, I dreamt of having a food cart business because I believed that it would require small capital and it is easy to expand. My initial concept was to have a to-go pancake stand but my mother disagreed with this idea.
How did you start?
I resigned from my regular job to start working towards my goal of having a business. I came up with Chizmozza when I was browsing my Facebook newsfeed and saw a video about mozzarella sticks. I looked for recipes online and tried making my own version of mozzarella sticks. After this, I conducted taste tests with my friends and family to help me finalize the recipe. To promote my products, I decided to take pictures of the mozzarella sticks that I cooked. I made the Chizmozza page to start garnering likes and promote the store that I was planning to put up. Unexpectedly, there were inquiries about how to order the products, even though I really did not plan to sell online. This gave me an idea to try online selling and I continuously received orders from different places. After the success of my online business, I became more confident that Filipinos would really appreciate fried cheese products.
How much was your starting capital?
My starting capital was P350,000. This amount covered the security deposit, fabrication of kiosk, initial supplies, equipment, business permits, etc.
When and where did you first open your business? Why this choice of location?
I opened my first branch at Fisher Mall in Quezon City back in 2016. This location catered to the market that I was targeting—families and young professionals.
How many locations do you have now?
Now, Chizmozza has 36 locations, and we are planning to open 20 more branches this year.
What market need or issue were you trying to address when you established your business?
Fried mozzarella sticks are commonly available in restaurants as appetizers with prices ranging from P250 to P400 per serving. Because its availability is limited and the price is high, I decided to introduce more affordable fried mozzarella cheese snacks to cater more to the market without sacrificing quality. Currently, the product is available for as low as P32. Because of the concept’s success, more restaurants are now also offering these products, but Chizmozza remains cheaper.
What were the challenges you encountered when you started out, and how did you overcome them?
The initial stage of starting this business was not easy because I needed to do everything from scratch, and I cannot refer to any existing businesses. I quit my job and worked full time and developed everything, from the logo and recipe to the system. I was very passionate and eager to start this business, even though I was a one-woman team.
My first branch located at Fisher Mall opened in May 2016. I faced many problems and challenges in opening this branch. The commencement date of my store was delayed for five days because the contractor of my kiosk lied to me about the status of the construction. To make sure that they were working on the project, I decided to stay in the construction area and stayed there almost 24/7 for five days. It was tiresome and I felt really exhausted. This was the time that I said to myself, “baka hindi para sa akin ’to, dapat hindi ko nalang sinubukan.” When we opened our store, the total sales were three times higher than what I expected.
How do you see your business growing in the coming years?
In five years, we aim to be one of the leading snack food carts in the Philippines and remain to be the only fried mozzarella cheese food stand in the market. We target to operate 100 branches in all parts of the Philippines and increase profitability of business by distributing frozen mozzarella products to supermarkets. Currently, we have 10 franchisees and some of them have two or more branches. Our franchise operations were just based on general ideas and systems and I believe it needs to be improved. Even though we cannot guarantee success to franchise applicants, we want to improve our overall system in franchising.