Florabel Yatco: The Lady at the Helm

Some words of wisdom from the woman behind Filipino-inspired diners like Crisostomo, Elias, and Florabel

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“I was never an early riser. I’m more of an afternoon-night person, so I really start the day at around 1:00 PM.” These were words that came from Florabel-Co Yatco, a force to be reckoned within the local gastronomic landscape. More than a decade ago, she laid the foundation for her empire Florabel and has achieved numerous accolades, a recurring spot on premiere lists, and enviable status among her peers.

A trip back to memory lane

Back in the ‘90’s, it was a different story altogether. Florabel was a fish out of water from culinary school, and she still had a lot to prove. Thankfully enough, the stars aligned and opportunities came knocking on her door. She was privileged to have made her lucky break from renowned kitchens—under the watchful eyes of icons like Glenda Barretto, Billy King, and Jessie Sincioco. She rose from the ranks, gained her own following, and everything followed suit.

In 2005, she ventured into the track of restaurateur. Granted, it hasn’t always been a bed of roses, “When I was just starting, construction was the biggest challenge. You had to have a general idea of how things worked. For instance, paano kung nasira yung tubo? You will definitely encounter that for sure. Then you’ve got the horror stories about contractors.” On top of that, there’s the challenge of having a solid clientele base to make sure the restaurant made its returns. Then, there’s the challenge of making sure the costs were efficient enough to be able to run it full-time for the years to come.

Building the empire

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Now, it’s been 11 years, and from just one diner, her kingdom has grown to 21—and she’s not stopping any time soon. Her one-woman reign marches onward, with an endless cycle of paperwork, R&D, management, and all the little quirks that come with it. She’s got all hands on deck and doesn’t mind one bit.

Keeping up with everyone else in the game is no easy feat, but Florabel has learned to work at her own pace. It has allowed her to strengthen what she considers her strongest suit. You wouldn’t find a more personalized service than at Florabel’s. “Nagma-matter sa clients ko yung personal touch, so down to the little things, we always go out of our way to make them really happy.” This unhurried demeanor, this slow and steady mindset, has indeed bid her well.

She also credits the people who have been with her from the very start, a majority of whom stayed put and continue to sing her praises. She reckons that none of her glory days would have even seen the light of day without her beloved crew. This belief has led her to treat her people as family. To wit, “My staff would always say to me na masarap akong boss pero mahirap akong boss.” And this is where she struck gold. She has found the perfect formula for her winning streak: an iron fist combined with an earnest open palm.

Lessons from the kitchen

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When asked about what it takes to be in her shoes, she answered point-blank, “You have to be very passionate and hardworking. Sincerity is also important. At the same time, you have to enjoy what you’re doing, as if it’s not your day job, para maka-survive ka.”

One must understand that this is not a business for the faint-hearted. This is an industry where sacrifices have to be made and priorities must be clear-cut. When she says she’s never an early riser, it just means that her mornings are reserved for home life and family, to which her utmost devotion lies. It’s in the art of losing yourself but not giving in to the madness and somehow, Florabel has mastered the principle.

Florabel Co-Yatco is unapologetic as the lady at the helm. This is her element and it’s clear she’s in it for the long haul.