Wakaba : A sambal is born

Text and photos by Jojie Alcantara, published in SunStar Davao on June 6, 2018

Andrew Fel Rene Dedal, otherwise Choi for short, was supervising a team in a call center when a different calling beckoned. Having studied culinary arts in St. Albans, he wanted to pursue his passion for cooking and left the corporate world.

Fel in a culinary school

In January this year, huddled in his kitchen with girlfriend Darelle, he started to experiment with his own chili sauce.

“We were kind of unsatisfied with the ones that are available in the market. We thought there is something lacking with the chili garlic sauces that are readily available here in Davao and that the sambal oelek (fromThailand) that we tried has something overpowering with it. So I did my research and tried to combine the best characteristics of chili garlic sauce and sambal oelek. I brought it when we attended parties. Soon my friends started asking me to make more. Then they began ordering from me. And that’s basically how Wakaba was born,” Choi explained.

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Wakaba Chili Sauce

One of the eager users was my family, since my son Meric was his childhood classmate in SPED School and has been supporting him in marketing the product. Wakaba, according to Choi, is a coined word for “way kaba”, in our dialect which means, no worries. Further research prompted him to check what it means in Japanese, and it is “simple” or “a young leaf”, which seems to bring a good beginning for him.

Andrew and childhood classmate Meric

“I am really inspired by the story of David Tran, the man who introduced Sriracha in United States through his brand Huy Fong Foods. He is the perfect example of someone who ‘started from scratch’. Imagine somebody who just started out selling his hot sauce in his neighborhood and now owns a factory that makes millions of bottles of hot sauce every day to ship all over the world. That is crazy inspiring!” Choi’s enthusiasm may well be inspiring as well, as he sets a nightly duty of cooking and packaging each bottle, to be delivered the next day in his bicycle.

Wakaba delivery in a bike

While they have a good number of bottles sold in a very short time with barely a marketing strategy apart from word of mouth among good friends, Choi accepts the challenges, trials and errors that come along with this choice.

Wakaba Chili Sauce packaging designed by Fel himself

“We actually celebrate whenever we get an order, so every day we are winning. Everyday new challenges come up and it’s just part of the game. There are times when supplies of the ingredients that we use are low, so we just go the extra mile and look at other places,” he said. Part of this challenge is trying to fix all the papers to make it into a legit business ready for expansion.

Chef Choi's early post
Chef Choi’s early post

Currently, he is selling the original version of Wakaba Spicy and Savory Sauce. He is working on a few versions (the Indian customers are requesting for the extra hot kind). The focus is to establish Wakaba as a staple hot sauce in the region, and the whole country next. He agrees that there is a lot of fun stuff to do with something as wacky and unforgettable as its taste and name – as we played around with the relatable hashtag #WakabaForever.

While these days he seems to get a high from good reviews and posts on social media (Wakaba seems to be a favorite mix with popular meals, but be warned of your diet), as well as orders from other cities, he continues to strive while keeping his feet on the ground.

Introducing Wakaba to influencers
Introducing Wakaba to influencers

“The best advice that I got when I started Wakaba was the one I received from a really drunk aged man I met at a gathering of some sort. He told me, ‘You should not rely on the support of other people to keep on doing what you are doing. The worst is when you stop just because your parents, friends or other people don’t seem to support you. Don’t be weak. Learn to support and motivate yourself’. That was a very punk rock advice and it stuck with me. I think that is the perfect advice for anybody who wants to become an entrepreneur,” he pondered.

Davao has another star in the making; a sambal is born with pride. You can check the official page on www.facebook.com/wakabasauce or contact 09293450472 for orders and inquiries.

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Published in SunStar Davao



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