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  • Pasco was an OFW for 11 years before he decided to go home and put up his own business

    In 1999, Ben Pasco, a Filipino, started working in Taiwan as a maintenance engineer. It was his first job as he had just finished college from the Technological University of the Philippines, with a degree in Electrical Engineering.

    Ben returned to the Philippines when his contract expired three years after. He stayed for only three months before he decided to try his luck again and fly to another country, this time to Italy, where he stayed for 11 long years.

    However, Ben’s story in Italy is far different from his experience in Taiwan.

    “Domestic worker talaga. Literal, nagta-trabaho ka sa bahay sa loob ng anim na taon na hindi naman ako makalabas kasi nga at that time ako ay TNT** na. (I was a domestic worker. I was literally doing domestic chores for six years. I couldn’t even go out of the house at that time because I was already a TNT),” Ben told Entrepreneur Philippines.

    This meant doing jobs that had nothing to do with his engineering degree: housekeeping, babysitting, taking care of the pet dogs, cooking, and even cleaning the toilet. Ben admitted these are the things he just learned while on the job, since he didn’t have any related work experience beforehand.

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    Thankfully, the Italian government granted amnesty to immigrants six years after Ben arrived in the country. With the help of his employer, he was able to obtain the necessary papers he needed to stay and work there as a legal immigrant. At last, he could step out of his employer’s house without the constant fear of being caught and deported.


    During peak season, Ben's Halo-Halo sells about 500 glasses of halo-halo in a day

    This opened new doors for Ben, as he was finally able to accept more jobs that helped him save up faster. One of those jobs was for a regular post at a restaurant owned by his domestic employer. “Akala ko, cook. Inalok sa akin taga-hugas ng plato. (I thought they were offering me the position of assistant cook. Turned out, it was for a dishwasher post.),” he said with a light chuckle.

    But because he really wanted to learn, he made sure to finish all his work early so that he could ask the assistant cooks in the restaurant to teach him basic cooking skills. This drew discriminatory remarks at first, especially because of his race; there was a notion among them that Filipinos are good only at domestic jobs. But he persevered and later on convinced his colleagues to teach him.

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    Ben's hard work paid off. After spending three years as a dishwasher, he was then promoted to assistant cook. After a year, he eventually became the head chef of the same 150-seater restaurant.

    Instead of being contented with his position in Italy, Ben decided to come home to the Philippines a year after his promotion. He said he really had no intentions of staying in another country for the rest of his life anyway.

    Sabi ko nga 15 years lang ako [sa ibang bansa]hanggang doon lang ako. So ‘pag gusto kong umuwi bago mag-15 years, ano ‘yung gagawin ko? So nag-ipon ako nang nag-ipon (I already had a mindset that I would only stay abroad for 15 years. If I wanted to leave in less than 15 years, I knew I had to really save up),” the 43-year-old OFW said.

    Kasi mahirap naman talaga ang buhay sa Italy. Doon kasi wala ka talagang ibang gagawin kundi magtrabaho nang magtrabaho—kung may pangarap ka. Kasi kung wala at kuntento ka lamang, sapat na yung isang trabaho mo, pero pangsarili mo lang. (Because life is really hard in Italy. You have nothing else to do there but work and work—especially if you have bigger dreams. If not, having only one job would do but it could only sustain your personal needs),” he added.

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    Failure before the success

    Pasco’s dream was to be an entrepreneur in his homeland so when he came back in 2013, he immediately put up a business using his hard-earned savings—a small neighborhood bakeshop.


    Ben's Halo-Halo's menu is quite famous for its adventurous take on food. Aside from the classic halo-halo, they also offer spicy halo-halo and salted egg halo-halo

    Using Php250,000 as his capital, he transformed his family’s old house in San Pablo, Laguna into a small store and bought equipment for baking cakes and pastries which he learned while he was still in Italy. Unfortunately, the business shut down after only six months of operations.

    Kasi sa sobrang excitement, nakalimutan kong i-consider ‘yung market at ‘yung shelf life ng mga products, so nag-fail ako at that time. (Out of excitement I failed to consider the market in the area and the shelf life of the products. That’s why I failed),” Ben admitted.

    But his desire to stay in the country was stronger than his failure. “Kasi ayoko na talagang bumalik sa Italy eh (I really didn’t want to go back to Italy),” he simply said.


    Thus, after only a month of the bakeshop’s closure, Pasco opened Ben’s Halo-Halo. Little did he know that his ingenious idea of mixing gelato in the shaved ice would result in 28 franchises of the brand all over Luzon in just four years.

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    Ben’s Halo-Halo’s rapid expansion

    Using the proceeds he got from selling all the equipment he used for the failed bakeshop, which amounted to about Php100,000, Ben decided to put up a halo-halo store in the same spot.

    Kasi ‘yung gelato, sabi ko bakit nga ba doon sa Italy, lahat sila kahit naka-scarf, pila talaga [sa gelato]? So sabi ko, bakit sa atin tropical country, bakit hindi? Nag-isip ako, sabi ko siguro papatok ito kasi nga unique ‘yung product (I realized people in Italy line up for gelato even when the weather is cold. So I asked myself, why not try it here, in a tropical country? I thought it would be a hit because the product is unique),” he explained.

    And it did get popular. When he first opened the store in San Pablo in March 2014, Ben shared he was able to sell up to 50 glasses of halo-halo in a day. Today, that number has reached 500. The original halo-halo was sold for only Php29 back then, and now it’s priced Php75 per glass.

    Pasco shared they also have their own commissary located near the San Pablo branch. This is where they produce their own gelato, milk, and other ingredients, which they use in all their products and supply to all their franchisees.


    Aside from halo-halo, they also offer sandwiches, pasta, rice meals and snacks. It is also quite famous for its adventurous take on food, such as its spicy halo-halo, salted egg halo-halo and burgetti (a hamburger bun filled with spaghetti).

    In 2014, Ben got a franchising inquiry from a loyal customer. But it wasn’t until 2015 when the first franchise was opened in General Trias, Cavite, because he had to firm up his franchising manual first, which took one year.


    Of the 29 branches Ben’s Halo-Halo has today, only one is company-owned—the first and original branch in San Pablo, Laguna. Since 2015, the brand has been growing at an impressive pace with an average of six branches opening each year. In the first half of 2018 alone, Ben’s Halo-Halo has already opened six new branches and secured reservation contracts for two more stores.

    Of course, not all of Ben’s Halo-Halo branches have thrived. There have been a few that closed. “Meron kami sa Tanauan, Calamba, Los Baños, Kalihan. Ang mga kadalasang nagiging problema noon, matigas ang ulo. Mahirap kausap ‘yung may-ari, kasi ayaw niyang i-address ‘yung issue (We have closed stores in Tanauan, Calamba, Los Banos, Kalihan. The usual reason is because the owners don’t comply with the manual. They are even hard to talk to, because they do not want to address the issue),” Ben explained.

    Still, Ben’s Halo-Halo is open for franchisees. According to Ben, the branding would cost around Php25,000 while the complete package of a store with a 50-person seating capacity would amount to more or less Php1 million.

    Despite all the achievements of Ben’s Halo-Halo, Ben does not want to rest on his laurels. He is set to open the new one-hectare commissary later this year to cater to the needs of his growing business, which is located two towns away from the existing one. He also checks up on all the franchisees routinely, from Laguna to Tarlac and Cabanatuan.


    More than that, he also aims to inspire his fellow OFWs to come home and put up a business on their own.

    Maraming taga-ibang bansa nga ang nag-iinvest dito, naisip ko bakit hindi tayong mga Pilipino ang mag-invest at magnegosyo dito? (I thought, if the Philippines has a lot of foreign investors, why don’t we fellow Filipinos invest and put up businesses here ourselves instead?),” he said.

    Images by Jam Mariano, except those from the Ben's Halo-Halo Ice Cream Facebook page


    Pauline Macaraeg is Entrepreneur PH's data journalist. Follow her on Twitter @paulinemacaraeg


    This story originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com.ph.

    * Minor edits have been made by the Smartparenting.com.ph editors.

    **A Filipino slang word that means “tago nang tago,” which literally translates to “hiding and hiding.” It refers to Filipinos who go to other countries as tourists and then stay there, often for work purposes, without obtaining proper documents.

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