The company attributes its success to the good intentions that guide their business endeavors, which includes creating more jobs to help those in need.
The COVID-19 pandemic was undoubtedly detrimental to the growth and activities of many businesses. However, one company decided to turn a period of hardship into an opportunity to bolster the meaningful ethos behind their enterprise.
This is none other than Illo’s Group, a fairly young yet already established brand that offers buffet dining through Illo’s Buffet and ala carte dining through Illo’s Home, as well as catering services for a variety of events through its private dining and premium catering segment, Privè.
However, the company didn’t initially have physical restaurants. It actually began as a small food business that delivered premium gourmet meals in “party trays.” This way, people could enjoy a delicious celebration without leaving their homes.
“We started back in December 2019, in a literal house. It was a makeshift home kitchen that began with three people,” shared Illo’s Group COO Maq Agapito in an exclusive interview with Lifestyle Asia. “We actually didn’t think that it was going to grow this much.”
Grow it did, as Illo’s began receiving orders from celebrities who promoted their food on social media—and the rest, as they say, was history. Their party tray service became a necessity of sorts, with quarantine restrictions limiting the kinds of events that could be held.
“We worked on our value proposition, because businesses need a unique selling point to be anchored onto something. During that time, it was our intention for families to continue to dine at home and celebrate life every day, even prior to the pandemic,” explained Agapito. “Once the pandemic hit, and we were under lockdown, our value proposition was further magnified.”
“No matter what the situation is, you cannot stop Filipinos from celebrating birthdays, baptisms, and whatnot. Celebrations continue because it’s innate in Filipino culture,” he continued.
Chef N Rovillos, the culinary mastermind behind Illo’s Group, attributes much of the company’s success to its core belief in good business practices. In fact, creating more jobs for people was a big part of the group’s drive to grow and expand.
“What really inspires me is the team,” shared Chef N with Lifestyle Asia. Upon seeing the sumptuous and premium treats served by the group’s franchises—which includes Paella Negra, prawns thermidor, and rib-eye steak, among others—one would think that the hardworking chefs in the kitchen had years of professional experience.
However, many of Illo’s Group’s team members come from different backgrounds, most of which weren’t culinary in nature. That said, Chef N saw their potential and offered them a chance to take on careers that could help them flourish professionally and financially. This was especially important at the height of the pandemic, when many people were displaced from their jobs.
“So we looked for ways to survive and at the same time, we also realized that it’s an avenue for us to help a lot of people,” explained Agapito.
Chef N and his team put in the work to train the new hires, fund additional learning opportunities for them, and even provide them with joint housing. Employees were enrolled in culinary programs to gain certifications while remaining under the tutelage of Chef N.
The skilled culinary professional emphasizes learning by taste, rather than strictly going by the book. Besides ensuring that only the best and freshest ingredients are used—down to seasonings like salt and pepper—the chef makes certain that the kitchen staff serves food that tastes exactly like how it’s supposed to, each and every time.
To the team of leaders at Illo’s Group, trust and a willingness to learn are crucial to the success of a business, as well as the overall satisfaction of its employees.
“The thing is, whether or not they have titles, accolades, or a degree, it all boils down to one thing: the quality of the food. And making quality food is something that you can teach people to do,” stated Agapito. “That’s a testament to the human spirit. If you set your mind into something, then you can accomplish it. As long as you can get the job done, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. Your abilities and determination are what truly count, and they will carry you through even the toughest of challenges.What matters is the output, and that you give people chances to go beyond what they thought they could achieve.”
What Makes a Home
The team at Illo’s Group was initially hesitant to open a restaurant or catering service, even amidst the success of their party tray business, since such ventures tended to be costly and labor-intensive. However, they eventually made the decision to do so when the opportunity presented itself to them in February 2022.
It was then that they opened their first dine-in restaurant. During the process, they searched for a suitable name that would still encapsulate their first value proposition—that is, to allow families to enjoy freshly-prepared, international cuisine from the comfort of their abodes. This is how the restaurant’s name, “Illo’s Home,” came to be.
The first branch of Illo’s Home was in BF Homes Paranaque, but the restaurant quickly gained traction, as the group’s past efforts had turned the brand into a household name.
“We really worked on the brand itself because we want customers to associate ‘Illo’s’ with the word ‘quality.’ And when we say quality, we mean not just the product, but the whole dining experience as well,” Agapito told Lifestyle Asia. “We want our customers to know that they can always expect the best from Illo’s –the best dishes, the best service, and the best value.”
As a result, its leaders felt that it was time to open another iteration of their hit ala carte establishment. This gave way to a spin-off of the brand, Illo’s Home Buffet, which is located at the lobby floor of Greenhills Elan Hotel. Since then, they’ve established two more buffet branches in Makati and Manila, followed by a catering business and a 90’s-inspired concept bar in Makati called, 1998 Roofdeck Lounge.
Although customers dine at Illo’s restaurants instead of their homes, the group strives to recreate the cozy feeling of enjoying a hearty meal in the comfort of one’s own dining room. “While it’s not your actual home, we want it to feel like an extension of our home. So even though you are dining out, it still feels like you are dining ‘at home’,” shared Agapito. The attention to detail is evident in the ambiance of each establishment, including the interior design, decor, choice of dinnerware, and even music.
Continuing to Grow
Illo’s Group already has an extensive list of flourishing dining establishments and services under their name, but they’re not stopping just yet.
“We’re in a position to bless people with opportunities. And that’s the reason why we would always want to grow,” explained Chef N. “We have a business to run, we have families to feed, and the families of our employees depend on our success.”
Currently, the brand plans on opening 6 branches, which include two commissaries, four restaurants by the end of 2023.
For more information on Illo’s Home, you may visit their official website at https://illoshome.com/ or follow its Facebook page and Instagram. You may also visit https://dinewithillos.com for Illo’s Party Trays, and Illo’s Home Buffet’s Facebook and Instagram.
Photos courtesy of Illo’s Group.