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Priest helps students build pizza business

LEGAZPI CITY --- Aside from his priestly duties, Fr. Vladimir “Vlad” Echalas of the Society of the Our Lady of Most Holy Trinity, hits the road every day to deliver pizzas cooked and sold by a group of students in an oven made of bricks.

Echalas is helping the students led by student-chef John Paul “Paul” Bolino, 21. Paul and his fellow students, who are affected by the imposition of the modified general community quarantine (MGCQ), sell a variety of pizza cooked in a brick-oven as their way of generating money while combating boredom due to coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

Paul, a resident of Barangay Bonga, Bacacay town is a graduating student of Mariners Polytechnic Foundation College in Legazpi City taking up Hotel and Restaurant Management (HRM).

Paul was undergoing internship at Loews Hotel Universal Orlando in Orlando, Florida, USA as part of school requirements before graduating from his course. But due to the occurrence of Covid-19, he was sent back to the Philippine, while the hotel he was working for his six months internship closed down temporarily due to the pandemic. Upon his return to the country. he and his friend Symon Blaire Bellen, 22, a graduate of Marine Transportation, partnered together by chipping in P3,000 each or a total of P6,000 as their start-up capitalization.

Symon has applied to join the Philippine Navy, but while the recruitment is on hold due to pandemic, he works with Paul in making pizza.

The two are both residents of Bonga, Bacacay, Albay, where Fr. Vlad is currently assigned at the Trinitas Home for Contemplation, a retreat house in the same village.

PIZZAS Students turned pizza makers, work together to meet the increasing orders from customers. (Rhaydz B. Barcia)

At first, Paul and Symon were cooking pizzas manually, but Fr. Vlad came in and helped them buy a customized brick-oven worth P15,000 aside from promoting the pizzas in his Facebook account and volunteering to deliver them to online buyers.

From Bonga village, the group moved to Legazpi City at the residence of Fr. Vlad so they can easily buy the needed supplies for pizza making.

Paul said that while waiting for the pandemic to end, so he can continue and finish his internship in United States, he decided to cook pizzas using a brick-oven.

Aside from Symon and Fr. Vlad, Paul is working with John Xavier Bigol, 20, an incoming 3rd year Political Science student in Bicol University, and John Rick Begoria, 20, also a 3rd year Custom Administration student of Mariners Polytechnic Foundation College.

Xavier, an aspiring chef, helps Paul cook pizzas, while Rick acts as a runner and delivery boy along with Fr. Vlad. “I adopted the universal pizza with lots of toppings and several kinds of cheese cooked through a common oven. Fr. Vlad helped us as he purchased the customized brick-oven for our pizza. From an order of 15 pieces daily in our first week of operation, we are now receiving 25 to 35 or so daily orders with the help of Fr. Vlad,” Paul said.

Aside from purchasing customized brick-oven, Fr. Vlad also bought an electric mixer machine to expedite pizza productions following increasing demand from customers, specifically local businessmen, Bishop Joel “Bong” Z. Baylon, and priests of the Diocese of Legazpi.

From P4,000 daily sales, the students are now earning P6,000 to P8,000 daily as majority of the customers are friends of Fr. Vlad.

The income generated by Paul and Symon is added to the initial capitalization for increase production and purchase of other tools. The pizza business also enable the two to pay Rick a daily allowance of P400 rolling the capitalization for pizza production including purchase of other tools while Rick is receiving P400 daily allowance as delivery boy and P200 for Xavier as Paul’s assistant. “While we are in a pandemic, we are doing this as our source of livelihood as our way of fighting boredom. Next month, we will get a business permit for St. John’s Pizza,” John Paul said. He said that they will continue the operation of St. John’s Pizza even after MGCQ and school opening.

Fr. Vlad said that he helped Paul’s group in terms of capitalization as they don’t have enough money to buy equipment. “I’m just making use of my time during the lockdown. The students are using coconut shell charcoal for cooking pizzas through the brick-oven. We start the preparations by 10:00 AM. It’s home-based. It’s cooked in brick-oven in our home. It’s owned by some Bonga students. I’m just helping them,” Fr. Vlad said. ‘I helped in the preparations and in delivery. We also hired extra riders to deliver pizza as we have an average of 25 boxes daily orders. Most of the clients are my friends in Legazpi, Old Albay and Daraga areas. We also deliver in Sto Domingo and Tabaco,” the priest said.

He said the average gross sales is P7,000 to P8,000 daily. “We are grateful for supporting our youth as they used and poured in their talents together during Covid-19. One of them is working at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. He used to cook pizza there. He came back during the lockdown,” he said.

Among the pizzas the group are offering are: Choco Pili; Margherita; Manager’s Choice; Jerk Chicken; Hawaiian Overload; Pepperoni; Meat Lover’s; and Kid’s Cheese for kids.

To recall, Fr. Vlad did a well-received photo exhibit dubbed as “A Grey Journey” held at the Ayala Mall in Legazpi City, wherein the generated funds was used to build a 3-story retreat house in Trinitas Home for Contemplation.

He showcased photos from Peru, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Vatican City, Australia, Indonesia, Norway, France, and New Zealand without using any long-lens cameras or DSLR.

Fr. Vlad is a missionary for the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT). The exhibit’s name was inspired by the grey color of the group’s missionary attire.

The photos exhibited in “A Grey Journey” represented the most memorable moments of his journey as a SOLT missionary priest.

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