Meet Paco Magsaysay, founder and owner of Carmen’s Best.
Carmen’s Best is one of the top premium ice cream brands produced in the Philippines, famous for their 34 classic yet ingenious flavors like “Brown Butter Almond Brittle” and (my personal favorite) “He’s Not Worth It.”
Is your mouth watering yet?
Named after his only daughter, Carmen, the brand never skimps on ice cream quality because of Magsaysay’s father duties. “[Cutting] back on ingredients to save or to earn even a bit of money… means I am not being true to Carmen,” he says on his website.
Here’s an adorable picture of Paco and Carmen:
Although they are relatively new to the ice cream scene, they are already a clear household favorite. I’ll admit that I’ve eaten almost entire tubs in one sitting, unable to control my appetite because of how delicious their flavors are.
But my love for Carmen’s Best left me wondering whether it was all glitz and glamour when it came to making and selling ice cream. How was running an ice cream business really like?
So I contacted Paco Magsaysay who kindly accepted my request for an interview. His answers shattered some of my preconceptions of what running an ice cream business took, and illuminated aspects I didn’t even think were important.
Spoon: Why did you join the ice cream business, and why did you settle on the name “Carmen’s Best”?
PM: I got into the ice cream business by accident, actually. My father had set up a dairy farm in 2007 and was doing fresh milk pasteurizing. Since fresh milk only lasts 12 to 14 days, they were throwing away spoiled milk. This was when he approached me to help him with this problem.
Naturally, I just looked at selling the milk to help him get “rid” of it. But when I got Amanpulo Resort (a high-end destination) to buy our milk on a regular basis, I figured our milk must be really special to pass their strict standards.
That’s when I put up a company called Carmen’s Best Dairy Products. That was in 2009. Notice that we did not have the name “ice cream” in the incorporation papers. This is because we did not know we were going into ice cream. All I knew was, we were going to do something with the fresh milk.
I named it Carmen’s Best as I knew it had to be a woman’s name, like Betty Crocker (a fictional character), Mrs. Fields, or Aunt Jemima (a fictional character).
Spoon: What were your expectations when you started this business?
PM: Our main goal in setting up the business was to make use of the excess milk, and not just throw it away. Also, we initially just wanted to offer the ice cream in our village.
Spoon: That’s crazy thinking about how widely distributed Carmen’s Best is now! But what are some past and present difficulties you and your business have encountered?
PM: We have many past and present problems, but what comes to mind is our ongoing change from being a small-scale ice cream business to a medium-scale one.
As a small business, we have less capital and less risk. When we grew into a medium one, we hired more people and invested more into machinery… we also have a wide customer base, so we have more to lose. The stakes are clearly higher.
A major setback we had during our first three years was that many people weren’t sure if we were in it for the long run. A lot of restaurants and coffee shops didn’t even consider putting us on their menu. They wondered if we’d even be there the next day. But after our third-year, people started taking us seriously, knowing we were here for the long run.
Spoon: On a lighter note, what’s the best part of your job? And what’s your favorite memory with Carmen’s Best?
PM: Well, the best part is the people. The suppliers, the resellers, the people I meet randomly… they all have nice stories that you can’t put a price tag on.
My favorite memory happened during our second year of business when I was still working on ice cream has a part-time job and kept my full-time day job. One day in church, a total stranger leaned over and asked me about our new flavors. That made me realize we were starting to make a dent – people were talking about us, and more than that, a total stranger recognized me and asked us about our flavors. That was when I started thinking about leaving my day job for Carmen’s Best.
Another favorite moment happened earlier this year when a gentleman came up to me and told me that his kids gave our ice cream to him as his birthday gift. It was a special feeling knowing that ice cream was part of such a special moment in his life.
Spoon: How difficult is it to invent new flavors? Can you talk us through your creative process?
PM: When I first had to come up with new flavors, I dug into my past. I created flavors based on ice creams that aren’t offered anymore but were my favorites as a kid, of flavors I ate in other countries that were memorable, and of desserts I’ve always liked. For example, our Turkish Baklava flavor.
(Side note from me: Here’s a picture of one of my favorite international flavors, Green Tea):
Currently, my inspiration comes whenever I travel. When I travel, I get ideas and try to turn them into new ice cream flavors.
Spoon: I’m so hungry for ice cream now! What’s your personal favorite ice cream flavor?
PM: It really depends on my mood. There are times I want pistachio, or there are times I want Vietnamese coffee (which is one of our new flavors). Or, really, whatever production is making at the time – recently they reformulated Pralines & Cream, and I ate an entire bowl of it.
Spoon: Do you have any advice for students who may want to venture to the ice cream business?
PM: Well, the reason I got into it was because we had a dairy farm. Without the dairy farm, I probably wouldn’t have gotten into the ice cream business. So it really depends what types of business or talents you have access to, and how you use them!
But, more importantly, you REALLY have to enjoy what you’re doing and not just do it for the money. If you do it for the love of it, you might be surprised with the money that comes from it. Also, if you’re really passionate about what you’re doing, you can work 600 days straight without getting bored or tired.
Spoon: Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
PM: Make sure to do good business. We pay our suppliers, we treat our resellers with respect, and just do good business with good people. In the end of the day, the people you interact with are your supporters and can help push your products. This helps grow your base and doesn’t stain your brand with bad blood. Good business also allows people to offer you sincere help when you need it, which is always good for any business.
More so, pick a cause close to your heart about and support it. To date, Carmen’s Best has given over 180,000 pesos (around $10,000) to the PGH Medical Foundation, specifically to help adults with leukemia.