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  • Writer's pictureArmand

The Heart (and Humanity) of A Successful Food Venture: Part 1

Updated: Jan 5

Entrepreneur RIA LAUS PUNO CORONEL hails from Pampanga. Now in her forties, she is both proud and grateful for what she has accomplished in her personal and professional life. She and husband Alex will soon celebrate twenty-five years of married bliss. They are blessed with two kids, daughter Alexandra (21) and son Alexander (18). They own a logistics company and also have equity in a number of commercial food ventures.

Aside from husband and business partner, Ria also regards Alex, who is thirteen years her senior, as a mentor. Asked to elaborate on their respective roles in their business ventures, she explained that he is mainly responsible for strategy and policy, while she takes care of execution and management. Ria attributes the success of this arrangement to the fact that their decisionmaking process is based on mutual respect.

We sat down with Ria one rainy afternoon last October and had a fascinating conversation about her lifelong romance with food. For this she credits her mother, who belongs to the prominent Laus clan of San Fernando City in Pampanga. What could partly account for this is the fact that Ria is the eldest and only girl among five siblings. Their family owns the Hungry Neighbors restaurant, which features a Western-Asian fusion menu. As in the case of many Kapampangans who are much renowned for their local cuisine, they parlayed their passion for good food (they love cooking for family and friends) into a lucrative commercial venture. The resto has gotten consistently good reviews since it first opened in Angeles City, Pampanga in 2015. It remains a favorite among foodies, especially among their Cabalens; it now has several branches, the latest along popular food avenue Tomas Morato in Quezon City.

Ria is also a franchisee of JT’s Manukan Grille. She opened her first store in Bacolor, Pampanga in 2017, followed in the same year by another branch at the Caltex Drive and Dine along the southbound portion of the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) in Valenzuela City. The former is a 50-seater with seven staff, the latter is an eighty-seater with seventeen. She is looking forward to opening another store before Holy Week of 2024 at the northbound portion of the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) in Dau, Pampanga.

The year 2017 was certainly a significant one for Ria, a watershed, as it were. Their family experienced a major crisis when her mother suffered from a brain aneurism. It was also auspicious, as it was the same year that she became a part of the JT’s Manukan Grille family. Her fondest memory of that time was the day when her mother was discharged from the hospital after her convalescence at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). On the drive home from the hospital, they drove by the newly opened JT’s Manukan Grille at Bacolor. The mother’s recovery, and her wholehearted approval for the new food venture, was a moment of rapture for the daughter with whom she shared a passion for good food. For Ria, the roll out of her first JT’s Manukan Grille was personal, describing it as something akin to giving birth to a child.

Prior to 2017, Ria, her husband and their two kids were already regular diners at the first ever JT’s Manukan Grille at Granada St. in San Juan City. With her “educated” palate, she recognized the quality of the food. But more than that, what really impressed her and made her a regular was the total dining experience. It is that “thing” that would – without even being aware of it – make an ordinary person come back, and what a genuine foodie would immediately recognize and truly appreciate. In this particular instance, the word Ria chose to describe it was spot-on. “Authentic.”

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