This is a classic “no guts, no glory” story.
Polsan Pangindian is a millennial who is no stranger to making ends meet—he worked as a barista, service crew, call center agent, and banker to provide for his family. He was on the verge of leaving the country with his wife to seek greener pastures in Dubai in 2016 when they took the biggest risk of their lives.
“I know I was not earning enough, and we already had a kid so we thought of taking a chance in Dubai as overseas Filipino workers. We already had our tickets and visa,” he said.
He continued, “But we saw an available space in a food park. We made inquiries and decided to take a chance on this. We used our pocket money—it was not much, around P200,000 only—but it was our hard-earned money.”
Because the couple both loved to eat seafood, they decided to serve squid with a twist in their first Above Sea Level kiosk at The Yard food park in Pasig City. They serve their giant squid skewered on two sticks and spread like a butterfly.
It was an instant hit on Facebook—with a photo of the “giant flying squid” garnering more than 250,000 likes in just a week.
“Other restaurants serve their squid calamares-style. We are the only ones who serve squid this way. And it is so tender that you can just use your hands to take a piece,” he said.
The couple’s gamble paid off—from their first food park kiosk in January 2017, they were able to open five more in other food parks, followed by two stand-alone restaurants in Taytay and on Maginhawa Street in Quezon City.
According to Mark Vidal, franchise manager of Above Sea Level, as early as a month after opening the first kiosk, there were already several inquiries on possible franchise deals.
By June 2017, Above Sea Level inked its first franchise contract. And to say that business is booming would be an understatement—in just over a year, the restaurant now has 120 franchised branches across Luzon, or about 10 new branches opening every month.
“The decision to offer franchise contracts was demand-driven. When we began franchising, we did not even have a standard design for the kiosks, a standard design for signage. But we decided to give it a go—to strike while the iron is hot, so to speak,” said Vidal.
“At least 25 percent of our Luzon branches are kiosks and restaurants inside malls. And some of our franchisees had multiple branches—one franchisee has nine branches. We had to open two commissaries, one in San Ildefonso, Bulacan and another in Caloocan, to keep up with the operations,” he added.
And this unprecedented business expansion—reminiscent of how Mang Inasal franchised branches sprouted one after the other in 2005—is not about to slow down anytime soon. Above Sea Level is targeting to reach 200 branches by the end of the year.
“We will start franchising in Visayas next month. Our plan is to have one branch each in all municipalities in the Visayas. We are also planning to expand to Mindanao by early 2019,” said the franchise manager.
Above Sea Level is proving to be in for the long run, with none of their franchised branches closing down since they began operations. The menu has also been expanded to include seafood festival (their version of seafood paella), ramen, sushi, squid fries, and bacon-wrapped prawns.
A franchise for a food cart costs about P500,000, which already covers the equipment, training for the service crew, and P50,000 worth of products. The stand-alone restaurant franchise is more expensive at P950,000, Vidal said.
“Our goal is to be recognized as the first seafood fast food chain in the country,” said Vidal.
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