Fil-Am single moms happily juggle family and business | Inquirer

Fil-Am single moms happily juggle family and business

Fiona Hilario’s teenage daughter, Noelle, has expressed an interest in being involved in her mother’s business one day. AJPRESS

LOS ANGELES – It’s often said that running your own business is like raising another child. Entrepreneurship is already a massive undertaking, and for some mothers, there’s an extra layer of being a single parent on top of all these responsibilities.

Juggling multiple roles, however, hasn’t detracted some “mompreneurs” from recognizing their expertise and creating brands, while running their households and attending to their children’s needs.

“Being a single mom is not a handicap. In fact, that status comes with an inbuilt capacity for business success. Operating on a budget; multitasking; delegation; management; and problem-solving are both general skills for a successful mother and a successful entrepreneur,” writes success coach Toby Nwazor in the Huffington Post.

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In time for Mother’s Day this weekend, Asian Journal spoke to three Filipina Americans about how they simultaneously manage these 24/7 roles as business owners and single parents.


Play on your strengths


For Caroline Kostiuk, who has gained a sizable following with photos of her cake decorations and family table spreads under online persona Caroline Adobo, baking has been a life-long hobby. What started off as baking birthday cakes for close family and friends turned into accepting people’s orders. She now has a full-fledged enterprise making custom cakes for any occasion and doing special pop-up events.

Caroline Kostiuk, better known as Caroline Adobo makes made-to-order cakes, such as halo-halo tres leches and ube flan. AJPRESS

“My husband, who passed away 20 months ago, was always very supportive of my cake baking ventures and he was the first to cheer me on, especially when I would have cake pop-ups and events,” Kostiuk said. “Now that I am a solo parent, I learn every day about myself: my capabilities and strengths, knowing your limits or when to ask for help. I think that’s essential for being an entrepreneur.”

Charina Vergara can recall when her entrepreneurial drive kicked in at an early age — from selling snacks to classmates to making her first million at 23 as an account executive for a travel agency.


When she separated from her husband and moved to the U.S. with her two daughters in tow, she worked in sales and marketing for a media company and then a grocery chain, before being let go last summer.

This moment led Vergara to make a transition as a real estate agent and then venture on her to open Titas of Manila restaurant in West Covina, California earlier this year.

Charina Vergara recently opened Tita’s of Manila, a Filipino comfort food restaurant in West Covina, California. AJPRESS

“After I was laid off, from July to December of last year, I just relaxed and took a much-needed break because I had been working since I was 17. Then I started baking and cooking for fun, which included developing a recipe for crinkles I was really proud of,” Vergara said.

“At the same time, I was going back to real estate because I am a licensed realtor and was asked to find a tenant to occupy this vacant space in West Covina, even for a short period…Long story short, my sister told me to get it, which was around December 29 and we closed the deal on December 31. I publicly posted that I took over the restaurant in January. We are in an exciting time wherein the Filipino food movement is gaining traction.”

Charina Vergara recently opened Tita’s of Manila, a Filipino comfort food restaurant in West Covina, California. AJPRESS

Vergara said that it’s easy to dwell on the “what ifs” and the past. “I was already enjoying entrepreneurial life, but it was a setback because my marriage failed,” she said. “But at the end of the day, I believe it was not a failure — it was actually a set-up for a comeback. I have come full circle after 12 years.”

“People ask why I don’t date. I’m in love with my kids and my family. I know what I want and I have goals and I am trying to really live up to my dreams,” she added.


Own your single mom status

While Fiona Hilario was a human resources specialist at the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office, she and her siblings thought of starting a side venture of body waxing services using natural products, which became known as Lay Bare.

Today, Lay Bare has 50 company-owned and 74 franchised locations across the Philippines. Hilario and her 16-year-old daughter Noelle moved to Southern California in 2012, where Hilario operates one location in Studio City and is overall president and managing member of the franchising side of the business.

Hilario, who had her daughter at 28, said that being a single mom shouldn’t be an obstacle to success.

Caroline Kostiuk and her sons, Luri, Andre and Evan. AJPRESS

“One of the reasons I moved to the U.S. was because there was still a stigma around being a single parent back home in the Philippines,” she said. “People here admire single mothers instead of being looked down on and treated like second-class citizens. The first step is getting out of that thinking that single moms are at a disadvantage.”

She added, “I actually feel that if I were married, I wouldn’t have been an entrepreneur and would have probably prioritized being a stay-at-home parent. Being by myself made me more ambitious to achieve something greater to make sure my daughter surpasses everything I have done myself.”

Take charge of your schedule, put a system in place

For Hilario, prioritizing and dividing tasks is key to running things as smooth as possible.  “Our business is very simple and doesn’t really require a lot of thinking. It’s more customer service and I can delegate most of the tasks,” she said. “There would be weeks where I would go without a single day off but I think now it’s a matter of proper planning.”

Vergara shared, “Every day starts with bringing my daughter to school and going to the restaurant once rush hour settles down. When you work here, time is really fast and we have a slow period in the early afternoon from 2 to 4 p.m. and that’s when I do my realtor stuff. I used to work on my computer when I got home but now I don’t. I shut down everything…and that’s when I get to chat with my daughter about our day. I’m also more conscious about getting seven to eight hours of sleep daily.”

Focus on family relationships

In Kostiuk’s household, spending time together, especially during dinnertime, has been a central part of her family life. Her sons are now 19, 17 and 15 years old and have grown up with an emphasis on being independent and contributing to the household.

“They knew from an early age that there are rules set at home: school and piano practice before video games, chores like washing dishes and taking out trash that every family members contribute to,” she said. “We also make sure to have our meals together without outside distractions every single day. I think that helps us connect as a family. When I have longer work hours, we plan to have at least one meal together like breakfast before I head to work or a late dinner after.”

Hilario added that mother-daughter activities at least once a week and having open communication have helped strengthen their relationship as her daughter has gotten older.

“We’re inseparable and have a great relationship…[because] my daughter and I have spent so much time together. With her being an only child and me as a single parent, we kind of grew up together. We have an open relationship and she tells me anything. I’m lucky that she enjoys being with me. I’m not a strict parent and would rather lead by example. I tell her the consequences of actions but I leave her to make her own decisions. I’m not a helicopter parent and won’t hover over her. I know that she’s very responsible and mature.”

Charina Vergara (middle) with her daughters Missy and Isabella working at their Filipino street food stand at 626 Night Market. AJPRESS

Daily check-ins are simple ways to keep constantly up-to-date with her daughters, Vergara said.

“Every chance I get, I always say ‘I love you’ to my kids. I get my strength from my girls. They fuel me and keep me going because everything I’m doing right now is for them,” Vergara said.

“America is a great place to live so you have to make the most out of what you have here.”

Make kids involved in the business

The three mompreneurs shared that their children have naturally gravitated and voluntarily take part in their businesses after school or during school breaks.

Kostiuk’s three sons help out by “preparing baking equipment, measuring ingredients and most of all they come up with great cake flavor combinations. It usually starts out as their birthday cake and becomes part of my cake menu.”

For Hilario, her daughter, Noelle, was still a toddler in the early days of Lay Bare and would have to tag along while she handed out fliers and promoted the business. Now that Noelle is 16, Hilario has entrusted her daughter with administrative and assistant work for the Studio City salon.

“I feel that she’s a very reliable assistant and she gets what I mean the first time I say it because she’s had the exposure since she was little,” Hilario said. “She’s very active and actually her goal after college is to be able to take over and bring Lay Bare to greater heights by branching out of the United States and the Philippines. She’s very excited about running the business.”

Similar to her own upbringing, Vergara instilled early on that her daughters would have to work if they wanted to buy something. “Being a single mom, the No. 1 hurdle is the financial aspect. I’ve trained them that you have to earn your keep,” she said.

Last summer, when she had a Filipino street food-inspired stall at 626 Night Market, she employed her daughters, now 19 and 12 years old, to handle the sales and was surprised to observe their work ethic and appreciation for putting in the effort toward their financial goals.

Allow yourself to take a break

There’s constant talk about how to achieve this idea of work-life balance, of which many entrepreneurs have their own definitions. While it may not be feasible to take frequent vacations, finding ways to reset and have some solo time on a daily basis is important as running both a company and household can take its toll.

“I try to make time for myself any chance I get!” Kostiuk said. “It may be a simple matcha latte at a cafe or enjoying a treat with my sons. Also, cake-making for me is very therapeutic: the measuring and mixing put me in a calm zone while the decorating part lets me be more creative. So being around cakes in a way is time for myself.”

Recognize your support system

Fiona Hilario, president and managing member of Lay Bare Franchising — a waxing salon that originated in the Philippines — and her daughter, Noelle.

The three mompreneurs acknowledge that it takes a village to raise a family on top of the demands of the business. Fortunately, other family members, whether their own mothers or sisters, have helped these moms along the way.

“When we first moved to the U.S., we lived with my sister so that was a big plus and up to now, my sister helps out with picking my daughter up. Her school doubled up as a daycare so I had the opportunity to leave her until 6 p.m.,” Hilario said.

“But once she turned 13 and it was legal to leave her, I started leaving her at home so that worked out for us and that taught her how to become very independent and responsible. That’s what we’ve done for the past seven years.”

Vergara credits her mom, sister and brother-in-law with stepping into the responsibilities as well.

“My brother-in-law is retired and I owe half of it to him because he stood up as a physically present father to my kids. He is there emotionally and physically by driving and picking them up from school,” she noted.

“My mom prepares meals for my daughter Missy still. All the support that I could ever think of, they are within reach. That is why I am thriving and flourishing because my wings are fully spread. I know I can always count on their support financially as well.”


Best advice for other single moms and mompreneurs

“Best advice I’ve received as a parent is to focus on the positive, relax and take it one day at a time. I find that also applies to having a business,” Kostiuk said.

For Hilario, she said, “What I’ve learned is that being a single mom strengthens your ‘why.’ Your why has to be bigger than your fears. First focus on your kids and find a passion that you think will change the world and everything will flow in from there.”

Vergara said, “Keep praying, pray unceasingly…and with all your heart. We may not have a partner or a husband but God is with us. He is directing all our ways. Every good gift comes from Him. Make Him first place and you will go places.”

“If they have it in their heart, it is only a matter of time before they can achieve it. Just be patient — try and try and try. Never be afraid to fail because you learn more from your failures. Always put passion, excitement, fun and love to it,” she added.

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