Foodie Tales: Pia Ojeda’s “Gusto” Promotes Green Eating and Living
August 2, 2018
Growing up, Pia Ojeda wasn’t too much into healthy eating. Today, she runs Gusto, a highly regarded food venture that believes in green eating and living. For Pia, balance is everything—which is why she never denies herself from her occassional lechon and fried chicken cravings.
Food lovers will love The Corner Market at the newly-renovated Podium Mall. One of the options for healthy and fresh fare is Gusto. Selling salads, smoothies and fresh produce from the family farm in Rizal, Gusto is a welcome addition to the metropolis’ healthy eating scene.
Owner Pia Ojeda says the concept came from her wanting to offer something different. “We wanted to produce clean, naturally-grown food for the everyday diner. Our goal was to make it approachable and accessible to our market.” The idea fell on her lap while helping her grandmother and sister’s farming venture. They first sold produce at weekend markets, bazaars, and agri-expos, then began supplying some restaurants. Linfred Yap, managing director of the Relish Group, invited Pia to open a stall in his new food hall.
Pia comes from a highly-regarded family in the food industry. “We are a tight-knit family. Them being around helps me gain confidence in running my business,” she says. “They run some of Manila’s favorite restaurants, and living up to their standards, quality and consistency of food, and service is something I strive for every day. It’s a challenge because in my family, we enjoy the eating and not the cooking part!” she says, laughing.
Learning by Experience
Since Gusto is a new venture, Pia is still very hands-on when it comes to the day-to-day operations. It’s not unusual to see her manning the cash register or helping assemble a dish behind the counter. “I’m pretty much on top of everything, from marketing to operations. It’s definitely a lot to handle, but I’m soldiering through,” she says. “Every day is still very new to me, and there are so many things that still surprise me. It’s a lot of learning by experience, learning from others, and learning about myself.”
When asked about the future of her brand, Pia takes a pragmatic approach. “We just opened so looking to expand would be crazy right now. But the response is so overwhelming, we’ve been offered a few spaces to branch out already.” She says one or two more stores is a possibility, but prefers to stick to the their current fast-casual approach and not a full restaurant.
“Running your own business has its perks especially with time, but it definitely needs a lot of discipline and attentiveness to make sure everything gets done,” she says.
The Meaning of Wellness
Growing up, Pia herself wasn’t too much into healthy eating. “Inihaw na baboy and a good sinigang are some of my favorite dishes,” she says. Her mindset today is that of balance. “We can’t always have lechon and fried chicken, so inserting a clean meal once in a while will do all of us some good.” Wellness is a broad definition for her. “If it makes you feel good, go for it. I work out, and I try to eat healthier not for anyone else but for myself,” she says.
With her busy schedule, she tries to get two to three hours of workout time, be it high-intensity interval training, boxing, yoga or pilates, preferably in the morning, before her day gets busy. After, she attends to Gusto for the lunch rush, before getting some errands done in the afternoon. She’s back in Gusto throughout dinner, then closes by 10pm. She’s in bed by 11:30pm and savors the next few hours watching Netflix.
Her other passions include travel, no matter the distance. “Even if it means day trips just to see the sea, count me in!” She is also currently trying to relaunch a brand she started in 2014 with friends. “It’s called Mana Manila,” she says. “We work with local textiles, which I am personally passionate about, and make them useable for contemporary use.” When asked about her favorite fruits, she says, “That’s hard, I love all fruits! Although I prefer tropical fruits to Western ones.” When it comes to vegetables, Pia tends to like them equally. “Just not okra or ampalaya please!”