Armi S. Braga: Getting into hospitality’s food business

by janice jan

Text and Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio

Armi S. Braga, the woman behind it.

Food is more than nutrition; it is a speech that voices our senses and gathers people together.

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well,” American author Virginia Woolf once said. Julia Child added, “People who love to eat are always the best people.”

“Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate,” penned Alan D. Wolfelt. Jonathan Safran Foer also said, “Food is not rational. Food is culture, habit, craving, and identity.”

Armi S. Braga knows all these facts. This is the reason why she opened Chef Julian’s at ALU Hotel in Roxas Boulevard in Davao City. It is a dining restaurant that offers Filipino dishes, American cuisine and other Asian foods; it is open from 6 in the morning until 9 in the evening. Recently, she launched the Pay Day Buffet every 15-30 (or 31) of the month.

Even before that, she is already in the catering food business. On how she found the place, she recalled, “A good friend invited me to cater an event in the hotel. I became interested when I learned that the hotel is allowing someone to run the restaurant. I contacted a friend who’s also a good chef and asked if he was interested to co-venture with me. He agreed. We have seen the great potential in ALU Hotel considering its location and marketability.”

The name of the restaurant is derived from her co-partner. “He is a chef and known for his famous food stalls in the North,” she said. “The stalls serve great food, and he has been in the food industry for a long time.”

The restaurant prepares all breakfast meals and room orders of the hotel’s guests. In addition, it caters the needs for events and special occasions like meetings, conferences, birthdays, and weddings. “We ensure full customer satisfaction from food service and provision of meals,” Armi said.

Like most restaurants, it has its signature foods. “Most people look forward to our pork kare-kare with bagoong and our wide array of choices in every buffet meal,” she said. “It’s a traditional Filipino staple food with a unique taste or peanut and a pinch of sauteed shrimp paste which only few people can master.”

In addition, the restaurant also has a buffet, ala carte dishes, and student meals (as the hotel is very near a popular university). It also has all-day breakfast meals. “We also offer beverages and alcoholic drinks,” Armi said. “We are also available to grab food.”

The restaurant is a dream come true for her. “Ever since I was young, I really wanted to put up my own restaurant so when I had the opportunity to open up my own, I grabbed it,” she said. “I have worked in some hotels in Cebu and Davao and so I get to know the ups and downs of this industry.”

Actually, it was her mother who inspired her to go into the food industry. “My mother used to cook food and merienda and sell them to our neighbors,” Armi recalled. “She was also oftentimes invited to cook during catering occasions for our church’s special guests.”

In some instances, Armi volunteered herself to help her mother. “The moments when I helped her on these occasions, I told myself, ‘I will definitely create my own food. I am also inspired to do more and go the extra mile by watching my favorite chefs like Reynold Poernomo, Jamie Oliver and our own local chef Boy Logro.”

Now that she is already in this kind of business, there’s no turning back now. “The good thing about the food industry is it allows people to explore and utilize the resources that we have. It is a never-ending demand because the majority of the people prefer to eat outside during special occasions,” she said. “Food industry promises employment for people as well.”

On the negative side, she said, “One of the disadvantages of the food industry is the variable hours or time because the people do not come together simultaneously so you need to plot your people’s schedules. I think proper menu planning will help.

“Another challenge,” she continued, “is when you are serving buffet meals, you can never tell if people will come to dine or people will suddenly come in large groups and not enough food for your buffet. Then, there’s the challenge of managing food spoilage and food safety. One mistake can create a lot of damage, especially if people are posting complaints in social media.”

If you are engaged in the food industry, you need to be updated with what’s around and the latest craze and innovation.

“We keep up to what is the trend,” Armi said. “We are looking forward to catering student meals that are for their budget but fulfilling and satisfying. We are also trying to venture on a new twist of the traditional Filipino foods served in a different manner.”

Right now, Armi and her co-partner are planning to expand their menu “by creating more dishes to cater family gatherings and intimate get-togethers.”

When asked about her final statement, she replied, “Failure is not the opposite of success but rather failure is part of success. Everyone experiences failures but we must not lose hope. Instead we learn from our mistakes and hope for the best.

“I came to a point of quitting, but my mind and heart tells me to go on,” she continued. “Then, as we go along with our journey, I realize that people need us. That is why we exist, and we go on. Follow your dream and do your best at what you excel in.” — ###

A client getting some food at Chef Julian’s buffet
Some of the food served at Chef Julian’s

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