November 15, 2004 (STAR) If siblings relate to you so warmly on your first meeting, chances are they will offer you lunch the next time – a meal that’s their own recipe, wrapped in heated banana leaves.

"We work hard to produce home cooked quality meals," said brother and sister Mark and Jenny Robles, the siblings who manage "Balot Balot Republic: Meals in Banana Leaves."

Home cooking indeed, for even their mother is involved in the operations of the two-year-old business. Mother has every right to supervise kitchenwork as she has given to Balot Balot her twenty-year-old tasted and tested longganisa recipe. She also formulated the recipe for salpicao and the marinade for inihaw. In addition, she is closely involved in the purchasing of ingredients.

"We make the timpla ourselves," said Mark and Jenny, as they also ensure that the proportions or servings are the same for all Balot Balot branches, adding that their "trade secret is the marinade."

The siblings recall how they started Balot Balot Republic. Mark had just earned his tourism degree, but since he is fond of cooking he decided to venture into the food business.

"Mark managed [the first] Balot Balot until we were invited by Alabang Town Center to put up a branch at the ‘Food Choices at the Town,’" said Jenny, who was then working as an account executive at an advertising agency.

On October 30, 2002 the first Balot Balot Republic: Meals in Banana Leaves was launched at the Alabang Town Center. Two years later, that is early this year, Balot Balot Republic branches were put up.

"Now Balot Balot Republic is in SM Cubao Food Court, SM Makati Supermarket, SM Mega Mall Food Court, and Landmark Food Court," said Mark and Jenny. Soon Balot Balot will open in Batangas.

Still the siblings manage to do hands-on management of the branches. They personally visit at least one branch a day and make sure that they call the staff that work in the branches. They also hired an officer-in-charge to take care of the nitty-gritty of Balot Balot Republic operations and maintain a friendly atmosphere in all branches.

"People say we have the same quality of food and service from the time we started," said the Balot Balot Republic duo. People would often tell them that their food tastes good, and for Mark and Jenny Robles, this is the most rewarding compliment of all.

Balot Balot Republic prepares daily, fresh from the kitchen, 12 different viands that are served with rice, from the most popular inihaw na baboy and beef salpicao to bulalo. Other dishes include pork bistek, tapa, skinless longganisa, boneless bangus, adobo, pork binagoongan, barbecue, tocino, and adobong pusit. Prices range from P49 for pork bistek to P72 for inihaw na baboy.

"Our packaging is environment friendly, that’s for certain. The banana leaves serve as plates while the brown paper is used as placemat. After eating, our customers wrap their leftovers with the paper," said Mark and Jenny.

Two-year old Balot Balot Republic has come a long way and it is here to stay, the siblings said. Eventually, they will offer franchises to worthy future business partners. They also plan to venture into other concepts, and upgrade the look of Balot Balot.

"Meanwhile, we must first prove ourselves. Before we can be confident to open franchises, we must ensure that Balot Balot Republic is sellable," the siblings said. For these two, who left their lucrative careers to focus on providing home cooked quality meals wrapped in banana leaves, the sure way to customer-loyalty is through the stomach.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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