Filipino Restaurateurs Share Their Secrets About Staying Creative in a Crowded Industry
Just how long does a moment last? Six years ago, when the local restaurant industry was just starting to boom, entrepreneurs Abba Napa, Eli Antonino, and Jon Syjuco decided to strike while the proverbial iron was hot.
Restaurants were having a moment, they observed, and so they christened their trio The Moment Group. Two more original concepts followed, all in 2012, and their momentum led them to where they are now: with no less than 10 brands and 30 establishments scattered throughout Metro Manila.
'Cue Modern Barbecue, the establishment that started it all, shut down in 2017, but their next two original concepts—BurgerBar and Namnam—were rehashed to become 8 Cuts and Manam, respectively, default choices when it comes to sating a burger or sisig craving. They can get sentimental about it, but decisions have to be made in an industry as cutthroat as the one they're in.
In the past years restaurants have come and gone, from concepts that felt too forward to haphazard ideas meant only to nab a small piece of the pie, but TMG has managed to stretch their 15 minutes to something that lasts.
ABBA NAPA, Founding Partner for Creative Development
"It's different each time and never the same.
It can be as mundane as flipping through a magazine, or crossing a street in a foreign destination and spotting something that triggers an emotion. Or it can be from realizing a certain dish we've created is getting a lot of love and inspires a whole new idea around it. It can also be from realizing that there is something underserved, or even unserved in the dining scene that we believe the diner can benefit from being offered, and that we feel we can and want to create.
"The part of the creation process that excites me the most is the imagination stage"
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The part of the creation process that excites me the most is the imagination stage—when you're writing out a first-pass concept menu in the middle of the night or visualizing the look and feel of a dining experience. Our walking through those ideas with the chefs and architects, interior designers and graphic artists, operations and the brand development team, and having us all come together and build on that vision and make it that much greater is a powerful stage in the process."
ELIZA ANTONINO, Founding & Managing Partner
"We really don’t have an SOP when it comes to creating new concepts. In fact, I don’t think there has been a duplicate inspiration for any of our brands.
"What excites me the most is the collaboration that happens during the whole process."
What excites me the most is the collaboration that happens during the whole process. The teams’ reactions and opinions—whether they be different or similar—has always been the secret sauce. The trick is knowing how to stir the pot, and also, when to stop."
JON SYJUCO, Founding Partner for Business Development
"There are countless elements that go into putting together an exciting and seamless dining experience. The convergence of these moving parts builds towards a 'moment'. We’ve all felt it someway, somehow, somewhere—the look, the taste, the smell, the sound, the feel. It is this pursuit of 'the moment' that we strive for. Easier said than done, of course. And in many ways, different restaurants have different purposes, so when we come up with a new concept, we are always trying to marry the relationship between emotion and purpose.
"When we come up with a new concept, we are always trying to marry the relationship between emotion and purpose."
In the creative process, we find great satisfaction in transforming different kinds of real estate into the experience of the restaurants we build. It’s extremely gratifying to build something from a blank canvas. To be part of a customer’s day—hopefully a great part—is what inspires us to continue to want to create.
EG BAUTISTA, Brand & Business Development
"The brand and business development team has the privilege to help dream up what a guest eats and feels inside a Moment Group restaurant. The best thing about this is bringing to life ideas that may seem crazy and outrageous at the start, but in the end become pivotal to the success of a concept.
"There’s a point when we know we’ve created something amazing"
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The process begins with ideation sessions filled with inspired dining moments—personal experiences of meals that just worked. You know something’s gone right when you leave the room feeling both hungry and excited to start testing things out with the Research & Development team.
The real fun comes next—whether we’re gathered in the Test Kitchen or at one of our restaurants, tasting meals ranging from overloaded four-inch burgers to cookies of varying sizes and fillings. During all that, there’s a point when we know we’ve created something amazing and perfect for the concept we have in mind."
Bob Santos, Operations
"We see opportunities to fill in what’s missing in the market. For example, we created Shawa Wama because there was a surge in that genre and The Moment Group felt it had something to add to how people could experience that cuisine.
"We look at what’s happening in the world and what’s interesting and growing, and we adjust it to what we feel is best for the market."
We want diversity. We look at what’s happening in the world and what’s interesting and growing, and we adjust it to what we feel is best for the market. Thinking of the overall concept is exciting, which includes knowing the genre or cuisine we’re getting into, who our target market is, and the average check. Everything that follows is the tougher part."
Monica Yang, Research & Development
"I think there are two specific aspects that are the most exciting and integral. First, working and collaborating with different teams in order to come up with concepts and dishes. There's a lot that goes on that people don't typically think about: from procuring different ingredients, coming up with the concept menus that best fit the market, communicating the dishes, assessing "operationability", and so on. There's a specific process and flow that we follow. It's amazing to work with everyone and to see everything come together, and finally, to see the happiness we bring to the guests.
"Sometimes we fail, and that's fine because we're constantly learning how to improve and tweak our techniques."
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Second, experimentation. The Test Kitchen is the perfect place to work with all sorts of ingredients to come up with new dishes. We get really into things there. Sometimes we get up to version 19 for some dishes. It's so much fun to tweak ingredients, ratios, and processes. We're always trying to create the best-in-class version of something. Sometimes we fail, and that's fine because we're constantly learning how to improve and tweak our techniques. The opportunity to work with so many brands really keeps things fresh and exciting."
Tara Santos, Brand Management
"We’re always so excited when there’s a new concept and a new story to share with the public. As you work on a new idea, you get these light-bulb moments that make our brands into what they are today. When you put them together, they form the stories of our brands and the reasons why you should love them.
The second part of it is bringing these stories to life—online, or even in the experience of walking down a street or through a mall. We have a lot of fun thinking of innovative ways to reach the diner and hopefully bring them through our doors. We’re involved in everything you see and experience in our stores, and it’s a welcome challenge to have to convey the story of each brand in a different way and to keep you interested each time—whether it’s through Manam’s classics and twists, the nostalgia of 8Cuts, the boldness of Ooma, or the timelessness of Din Tai Fung.
"As you work on a new idea, you get these light-bulb moments that make our brands into what they are today."
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Of course, that comes together because of the way we like to work. When you walk into The Moment Group, you’ll immediately see big and small interactions that are at the core of what we do. There are many beautiful collaborations that take place. We butt heads with the people we work with to generate innovative ideas that create a ripple effect of personal satisfaction, from us, to our store teams, to our diners. We’d like to think our diners have seen it in our brands throughout the years, reflected in every store, product, and campaign."
"As a creative, the most exciting part for me in developing a new dining experience is creating something from scratch. We start with understanding where our main dreamers—Abba, Eli, and Jon—are coming from. We get to hear the stories behind their latest ideas, and figure out how they want people to perceive a new concept. We come up with a lot of studies and go through multiple presentations. In some rare occasions, we land in a good place right away, but most of the time, it takes us a million rounds to get to where everybody wants to go.
There’s so much uncertainty involved in the process—there are things we do that might not be liked or appreciated, but at the same time it can also swing the other way, with people able to communicate with and respond to the design.
A big part of what excites me about creating is trying. We’ll never know 100% what will work or what won’t, but it doesn’t mean we’ll stop trying to make a guest’s dining experience even just a little bit better.
Maita Quesada, Public Relations
"New concepts are dreamt up several months, or even years, before the public knows about them, and those are some of the most interesting times. It can be behind closed doors, or anywhere really—it can be in the middle of the night while drinking with the team, or Whatsapping over the weekend—when we dream up a new Moment. It’s inspiring to sit down and listen to whatever the team has collaborated on. The challenge for us is to tell the story of that new concept through PR and Social Media—to capture all of that collaborative effort and live up to the creativity that went into making it.
When it’s finally time to unleash the new concept, it’s both a thrill and a challenge to be able to say something more than 'it’s new.'
"Our task is to stand out in a sea of content and hopefully create fun, compelling stories"
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Timing plays an important role. An exciting part of the job is coming up with that line or phrase that will make people curious about the next thing coming out of The Moment Group, but it’s also a matter of when to drop that line.
We’re always looking for new ways to communicate, and we need to keep abreast and listen our diners, so we know how to reach and be able to engage with them. Our task is to stand out in a sea of content and hopefully create fun, compelling stories that make people want to come and keep coming back to our shops.
*This story originally appeared on Esquiremag.ph
*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors