At Whilma’s Filipino Restaurant in Searcy, Arkansas, people come for food and stay for the cook: Chef Whilma Frogoso. Her secret sauce? Caring deeply for her customers while bringing authenticity to every dish.
A trip to the Philippines, without leaving Arkansas
Growing up in the Philippines, Whilma learned classic recipes from her father and, years later, that passion is still with her. In 2009, she was able to open her restaurant and share her food and history with all who stop in.
The warm and inviting environment of the restaurant welcomes guests and provides a cultural experience — the closest thing to the Philippines they'll find in Arkansas. Whilma’s daughter Patricia Frogoso says it best: “When customers come here, they’re in for something different.”
And it’s true. Not only does Whilma have all four of her children helping in the restaurant — particularly son Carlos Frogoso, who shares her love of cooking — but the fresh food is made to order with a personal touch. The inspiration for the meals come from old family recipes as well as experiments that Whilma undertakes in the kitchen or finds online.
Patricia says, “Our family has worked really hard to build and grow the restaurant. Especially my mom. I want people to know that. It’s all Whilma.”
After more than a decade in business, Whilma wants to be confident in the legacy she'll leave for her children. But to ensure a future for the restaurant, Whilma and her family need to find ways to grow their customer base.
Inconsistent and uninformed foot traffic
As 80% of Whilma's customers are students from nearby Harding University, school breaks affect business to an extreme: In the summer, foot traffic slows to a trickle. To stabilize sales, the restaurant needed to bring in new customers during those slow times.
Additionally, Whilma's didn't have a website, so the Frogosos were missing out on a crucial opportunity to capture interest and showcase their unique menu online — a must for any restaurant. And because of a lack of images or descriptions of the food on the existing menus, some diners assumed the food being served was Mexican or Chinese.
With challenges to overcome, the family has another thing on their minds: Whilma can’t cook forever. She wants to get her restaurant in a good place so she can be prepared to leave it to the kids. If she can't, Whilma has considered shutting her doors.
Defining Whilma's brand
When Whilma's was selected to be one of the businesses on Small Business Revolution, the Deluxe team set out to help the restaurant create a strong brand to even out sales. But the restaurant's brand had to be defined first.
The most common question from diners — “Is Whilma back there cooking?" — helped point the way toward defining that brand. The brand was Whilma herself. The restaurant needed to showcase her while letting customers know that eating at the restaurant would be a taste of the Philippines. The Deluxe team began by creating a logo to represent the brand online.
Starting with a logo
Before Small Business Revolution, Whilma's old logo was a bit generic, describing the business as just a Filipino restaurant:
The new logo makes clear, however, that Whilma and her personal touch are the actual brand. As an added dash of authenticity, the new brand colors used in the logo represent the sun on the Filipino flag:
Serving up a new website
Next, the restaurant's website would become a tool for Whilma's to share the branding as well as the experience of being at the restaurant. The new website's intent is to build relationships with potential customers and entice them to try Whilma's food. To accomplish this, the following would be crucial:
Clear, quality photos that make the food look as appealing as it does in person
A new online menu divided into categories to help regulars find their favorites
Information about the Frogoso family and Filipino culture to forge a connection with the audience
Whilma's new website showcases delicious meals that make mouths water while also featuring Whilma and her family, successfully bringing the welcoming feel to an online audience.
The homepage introduces the Whilma's experience
The homepage starts the Filipino experience online, before customers even step foot in the restaurant:
It’s important to keep people engaged on the website so they connect and interact more. The longer visitors stay, the more likely they are to take an action, such as placing an order or making a reservation. So the homepage also provides easy links to the other pages of the new website:
The Menu page invites exploration of Whilma's cuisine
With its mouth-watering imagery and descriptions, the menu page educates diners about Whilma's food. For example, Tapsilog is described as "thin slices of beef marinated and cooked in soy sauce and served with garlic fried rice, lumpia, and a fried egg."
Then, customers have the option of choosing how spicy they want their dish, from mild to very hot. The pictures and descriptions remove the intimidation of trying something new:
The Our Story page highlights the Frogoso family
Whilma's strives to make customers feel at home. To do that, Whilma's Our Story page is reminiscent of a photo album and explains more about the family's culture and journey to the U.S.:
The Contact page makes it easy to get in touch
The Contact page helps visitors and search engines (both are looking for local restaurants) find what they need. The contact form on the page can be used for reservations, take out or Kamayan — a traditional Filipino family feast. The page also allows potential diners to reach out after hours:
New branding creates new business
The Frogoso family loves the emphasis on the colors and story of their culture. As Carlos puts it, “It makes us proud to be Filipino, and we look like a professional restaurant.”
The Frogosos are also noticing more Filipino people from all over the country coming to their restaurant and saying that they’re proud to be Filipino. On top of that, the stream of customers is much more consistent than it had been, particularly in traditionally slow months when Harding University was not in session. Carlos says, “Before Small Business Revolution, we had 10 customers in the summer at the max. But now almost every day I need to come to the restaurant to help out because we’re so busy.”
Whilma now feels certain of the future because of the legacy she has built. When she retires and passes that legacy to her children, they will continue to do their parts, and Carlos will step in to cook even more.
And it’s not just her family that is connected by this business. It’s the entire Searcy community. Carlos says, “It’s great to see faces from around town coming to your restaurant. People tell us now, ‘I didn’t even know there was this type of restaurant here.’”
And if Whilma didn’t have enough of a fan club before, Carlos reports, “People keep asking my mom to come out to talk and take photos, and I’m like ‘Mom there’s no time, you have to start cooking again!’”
Whilma is managing the spotlight with grace. Yet she's always happiest to keep cooking authentic food and serving up smiles.