Whether you are looking for fresh fruits, tangy tamarind, or cozy horchata, home-based business Melito’s is bringing a variety of unique refreshing traditional Mexican and Latin American beverages, Agua Fresca to the local food scene.
When six-year-old Ilyas Ricardo Abdul Hakeem who is also known as Melito, is not working on his schoolwork or attending lessons, he enjoys spending time in the kitchen with his serial entrepreneur parents, experimenting with different fruits and flavour combinations to make the classic drink.
“Aguas Frescas”, which literally translates to freshwaters are popular flavoured water and are quintessential Mexican street drinks made from fruits.
“Melito’s is a fun place. Like our main business, Ricardo’s, Melito’s is bringing another area of Mexican culture that does not exist in Brunei,” said Melito’s mother, Mari Lin Gonzalez
Fresachata beverage, the combination of Melito’s favourite fruit, strawberries and horchata (a blend of white rice and cinnamon) which started off as experimental, has become one of the staples on the menu.
After Mari posted photos of the colourful Agua Fresca on their Instagram, friends and family started coming by to show support.
Things came together in August when the family turned the beverage experiments into a business, and it has received positive responses since its inception.
The home-based business is currently offering seven vibrant flavours of Aguas Frescas, including Sandia Loca, Pina Alegria, Banana Daiquiri, Cocomango, Ferschata and more.
Mari further shared that those flavours are only going to expand as the business grows, and the family plans on expanding its menu.
She added that the birth of the business came when her husband Hakeem Abdul Rahim wanted to teach their son about entrepreneurship.
“Our son has always enjoyed being around the business and so this presented an opportunity to teach him some basics,” said the mompreneur, adding that online learning caused her son to be restless and hinders creativity.
“So, we incorporated school lessons with business teaching in a more practical way. He can be more hands-on and mobile while he learns,” she explained.
With 10 years of entrepreneurial experience in the food and beverage industry, Hakeem and Mari are trying to pass it down to their son.
According to Mari, Melito loves to mimic his parents’ entrepreneurial spirit. Under their guidance, the enterprising six-year-old would slip on his gloves and get to work by prepping the customer’s orders.
“Like most parents, we want to give our children everything they want, but we wanted to give Melito something much more invaluable, knowledge. My husband and I have grown so much from business but a bit late in our lives,” Mari said.
She added: “We want to give Melito a head start, so he can have the best future possible. Melito’s belongs to our son. It’s his business. But like every young mind, he needs to be molded. And he must learn that success is earned not given.”
Mari shared that she wants her son to learn more about the ins and outs of business and Melito is learning fast, he has learned some key things about making profits and how to save. He also learned basic skills such as prepping the drinks and making toasts.
“For now, we will manage Melito’s (the business). He’ll grow with it and once he is old enough and confident to take over the company on his own, he’ll do so. At the same time, we want to teach entrepreneurship to as many youngsters as we can.”
Building business through family
Melito’s parents learned the lesson of entrepreneurship from a series of business adventures.
However, running a Mexican food delivery service, Ricardo’s has been the starting point and highlights of their journey.
The idea of introducing authentic Mexican food and drinks came out of Mari’s love for the vibrant Mexico-Los Angeles food scene. Moving to Brunei from the United States in 2011, Mari left part of her heritage and home behind. Still, she never lost her love for its colourful and bold flavors.
“A few years later, after Hakeem and I were married, we decided to bring in the first authentic Mexican food to Brunei, Ricardo’s from our little home kitchen and the rest is history. It has been one adventure after another ever since,” Mari shared.
The family had no background in the food and beverage industry when they founded Ricardo’s.
At the beginning of their journey, it was not smooth as they had to endure setbacks in their quest in opening a food business. As someone with no background in business, the founder admits she had a lot to learn.
“I have had to learn so much from scratch. The most progress I’ve made is learning how to be a better leader. In the beginning, when it was just me and Hakeem, we only took care of each other. With a full team of about 20 staff members, we have now taken on the responsibility for so many lives,” she shared.
Now, Melito’s the new business that bears their son’s nickname has become part of the family’s series of businesses.
When asked about the business’ future plans, Mari said that the family is eyeing to open Melito’s first outlet soon, while at the same time expanding Ricardo’s brand.
“Starting a business from nothing was not easy. I hope that we can continue to make a positive impact on the community, establish more relationships, and give back and share with those who have supported us over the years,” she concluded.
This article was first published on 20 November 2021 in our Weekly E-Paper issue 168|More stories here
THE BRUNEIAN | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN