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  • Writer's pictureArmand

The Heart (and Humanity) of A Successful Food Venture: Part 2

Ria’s JT’s Manukan Grille experience, however, would not remain at the level of a regular diner. It did not take long for her to recognize its value as an excellent investment opportunity. She really wanted to get a franchise and went the extra mile. In 2016, she hosted JT’s Manukan Grille principal owner, multi-awarded actor Joel Torre, for lunch at an upmarket dining place in San Juan City, and made her pitch. For good measure, she also visited Torre at the food chain’s commissary with a bottle of premium single malt scotch whisky. Whether it was the sumptuous lunch or the personal visit and mutual appreciation for quality liquor that sealed the deal, she got what she wanted - JT’s Manukan Grille franchise.

Looking back at the past five years or so since, Ria narrates that it had been smooth sailing except for a slight hiccup – the Bacolor branch had to transfer to a nearby location due to a rental issue at the first one. Her decision to become a JT’s Manukan Grille franchisee has paid off handsomely. Too modest to go into details, she simply says that her stores are “high revenue.” By our reckoning, her stores are probably among the top earners in the JT’s Manukan Grille chain.

The one other challenge that she almost forgot to mention was something that everyone is familiar with because we all went through it – the Covid 19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown. We asked how it impacted her and her JT’s Manukan Grille staff and how they coped. She acknowledged that it was certainly a difficult period for everyone. She shared with us that while she worried for her family and their business ventures, she also focused on the staff. With everything shut down, she arranged to provide on-site temporary shelter and sustenance (including food as well as a living allowance) to the staff.

For Ria, letting go of the staff was never a consideration despite the uncertainty. Especially in the early days of the pandemic when no one really knew how long it would last and how things would turn out, what was clear to her was that the welfare of the staff was her responsibility and never considered it a burden. The values she learned growing up guided this decision. Perhaps credit is also due to the Benedictine sisters and their institution of learning, St. Scholastica’s College, Ria’s alma mater from grade school to college. The declaration in the school’s website speaks for itself: “Our values of community, respect, love of learning, hospitality and stewardship reflect our commitment to lifting up others and celebrating our common humanity.”

We suspect that this mindfulness has also helped Ria become a more effective business leader. Her JT’s Manukan Grille stores are among the food chain’s top performers. Alongside the success of her commercial food ventures and Ria’s personal growth, she feels that JT’s Manukan has also grown on her. “I’m proud of the continued growth of JT’s. Being a part of it has given me more confidence; it has become a part of me and part of my system.”

We ended our interview with Ria on that note. For those who will get to read this piece, they would probably imagine Ria in a business suit and heels projecting a no-nonsense demeanor. In fact, she came to the interview wearing a striped top, faded jeans and sneakers with a relaxed but energetic vibe of a university coed.

As I watched her step into the escalator (she still had another meeting in another part of the metropolis), I scrawled a few words without even looking at them, then stashed my looseleaf notes in my backpack. On the day I sat down to write this piece, I retrieved my interview notes to refresh my memory and use them as a guide. On the top left margin of the first page of my notes, I saw the words I had written in all caps: GRACIOUS. DRIVEN. EMPATHETIC. AUTHENTIC.

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