For chef N and Anne Rovillos, the nth time’s the charm.
The couple created several food ventures in the past—catering, a pizza station, a bar and grill and a restaurant—all of which they’re not afraid to admit had failed.
It was Illo’s Party Trays, the food business they created out of their home kitchen in Parañaque, that turned out to be their biggest success despite all odds.
Before creating Illo’s, N was ready to give up on the food industry. He was considering just going abroad. But he and Anne thought they’d give it one last shot—their attempt at redemption.
They had been thinking of creating another bar and grill, but instead started a ghost kitchen business that offered freshly cooked gourmet food meant to be served at home.
They launched it in December 2019, just a few months before the pandemic would disrupt everyone’s lives. In February, a month before lockdown, they introduced their Dine At Home concept—perfect timing, considering that’s all people could do in the coming months.
Using social media
Like many other home-based businesses, Illo’s used social media for promotion. What kicked things off was an order from events host, lifestyle blogger and influencer Patty Laurel-Filart. Their Instagram followers grew from 29 to 1,500 overnight. More celebrities and influencers started ordering their food and today, Illo’s has a flourishing business and over 230,000 followers on social media.
But to say that timing and being social media-savvy are the only secrets to Illo’s success would be a disservice to the couple. Both N and Anne are food connoisseurs, said Illo’s business development director Maq Agapito. “They have extensive experience in the food industry and have high standards when it comes to taste, quality, and customer experience.”
Illo’s does offer good food and great service. They have an extensive menu of pork, chicken, seafood, beef, pasta, paella and pandit, all served in party-sized portions.Bestsellers include N’s Beef Salpicao, Kare Kare ni Lola Remy, 40 Cloves of Garlic Chicken, Chicken Galantine, Mozarella Meatballs Pasta, Lasagna, Crispy Pork Binagoongan, Ribs Bicol Express, Chicken Biryani, Singaporean Prawns and their different paellas.
Their Baked Salmon and Cordon Bleu are must-tries—that creamy cheese sauce is divine.
They serve dessert, too—Dark Chocolate Mousse, Halaya Cream Rolls, Alcapone Cinnamon Rolls, Eggnog Flan Cake, and our favorite Strawberry Shortcake.
One-stop party shop
Their Celebrate At Home packages even include balloons and banners, making them a virtual one-stop party shop. No need to contact and arrange pickup or delivery from multiple places for a celebration—something that can be a pain for customers, especially on crazy busy days like Mother’s Day or Christmas.
What the Rovillos wanted was to elevate the experience of their clients, whom they call “loveys.” “Since many families cannot go out and celebrate, Illo’s has encouraged people to continue celebrating in the new normal, and has allowed families to bridge the distance, gap, and wonderful memories through food,” said Agapito.
Chef N said, “Our recipes are born out of a recollection of childhood nostalgia. We take great pleasure in serving personal favorites from our kitchen, turning ordinary meals into extraordinary experiences.”
In its first year, Illo’s served 5,000 families. Many OFWs from all over the globe order from them as well as a way to surprise their loved ones in the country on special occasions.
Their number of celebrity clients has continued to grow and includes Marian Rivera, Claudine Barretto, Ruffa Gutierrez, Karen Davila, the Kramers and Carmina Villaroel.
Like all other businesses, Illo’s Party Trays was disrupted by COVID-19, as well. But the Rovillos turned the challenge into an opportunity. They kept going, introducing new offerings like gourmet boxes for virtual parties.
Their success has become a way for them to help other people as well, and not just by donating food to front-liners. “The demand for this experience and food quality has enabled Illo’s to help several people who have been displaced from their jobs. While the effect of the pandemic for other industries has been severe, Illo’s has been blessed to bless other people with opportunities,” said Agapito.
What started with four people in 2019 has now become a team of 40—a team they make sure they keep safe with protocols. “Illo’s has also established their own fleet that will deliver their products from Parañaque to anywhere in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal Antipolo, Cavite, Tagaytay and Batangas,” said Agapito.
N and Anne’s advice to business owners who are struggling? “Stick to your passion. It is important to have faith, to remain humble, kind and grateful.”
www.illospartytrays.com; Facebook illospartytrays, Instagram @_illospartytrays, Tiktok @_illospartytrays, Twitter @illospartytrays and YouTube ILLO’S Party Trays.