In just over a year, Adobo Experience successfully established four locations – three in Calgary, and one in Edmonton. The founders started out as “kitchen help”. After a few short years of working, they took a gamble in the restaurant industry. With very little capital – some borrowed from their own credit cards – they opened a small restaurant in 17th Avenue SE Calgary. The founders worked hard, working full-time jobs, raising their families, and taking turns to “grow” their restaurant. This was last year, 2015.
Fast forward today, with four restaurants under their “Adobo Experience” brand, the entrepreneurs of Adobo Experience are getting ready for more expansion in Alberta, and beyond.
FCM interviewed two of the founders to learn more about their success.
FCM: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, and congratulations on your new location here in Glenmore trail! It’s a beautiful restaurant.
Jeffrey Angeles (JA): Thank you sir for taking the time to meet with us.
George Manliwat (GM): Thank you sir.
FCM: Where are you from in the Philippines?
JA: San Pablo, Laguna
GM: Tarlac, then I moved to Manila.
FCM: When did you come to Canada and what work did you do?
JA: I arrived April 2011 as a contract worker. I was a cook at a restaurant. I worked there for 1 year. Then after I finished my contract, I worked for a pizza place. I worked there for 3 years. That’s where I learned management skills.
GM: I came June 1, 2010 with an open work permit. My wife came first then I followed her. I worked at the same restaurant as Jeff. That’s where we met. For three years I worked double job. During those times I only slept for 4 hours per day.
FCM: You guys are hard working.
JA: Yes. We still have friends who work double job to this day. Hard-working talaga tayo.
FCM: How did the Adobo Experience started?
JA: Last year, I saw the potential to start a business. I worked with an East Indian manager. If they can do it, I know we can do it. George and I met on our spare time, and said why don’t we start a business? We’re both hard working and we’ve worked in the restaurant. He said yes, let’s do it. So we started to look for a place.
Funding was a problem. Banks will not give us the loan because restaurant business is risky. We only have a small budget. So I asked George if we can get more partners to help us. So we got two more partners.
FCM: So right now who are the current partners?
JA: We started with four, but one of the partners didn’t work out. But now we’re back to four again. Me, Goerge, Ronald Nunag, and Simeon Monte.
FCM: How was it like when you started?
JA: The first restaurant opened early last year. It was tough to start. We were at the planting stage. There was a lot of work, and many sleepless nights. Many times, we didn’t know if we can continue. But we persevered.
At that time, I had very limited time with my family. Even finding the time to go to church with my family was difficult. I wanted to quit and I was at the verge of quitting several times. But I went to church one day and the restaurant was mention during the mass. I took it as a sign from God that it was meant to be. It gave me the encouragement to continue.
FCM: That’s a great story. It pays off to stick to your goal. How is Adobo different from other Pinoy foods?
GM: Our price is one of our advantages. We’re very competitive. We want to serve Filipino food. Money is secondary. We don’t want to overcharge people. We want our customers to appreciate our food. We get our reward by being able to provide salary to our staff. We might not have a lot of money, but we’re helping people. We’re very proud of that. Money will come eventually, for now we’re just planting.
FCM: That’s a great of putting it. Customers first, profit next.
JA: The way I see it, in business, there are four seasons. During winter, you create ideas and strategies on how to grow. During spring, we plant. It requires hard work. Summer is where you fertilize the ground. It requires a lot more work. During fall, that’s our harvest time. That’s when we’re successful.
FCM: That’s a great mentality about business.
JA: It takes several stages to be successful. The difference between a worker and a businessman is that a worker gets paid right away. In business, you work hard and it takes time before you can harvest. But once your business is established, you can keep harvesting and the work required is less because you have partners and staffs that are helping you and you’re also helping them.
FCM: That’s great Jeff. So specifically, how is your food different from other Filipino restaurants?
GM: Half of my life I spent in the kitchen. So I have a lot of experience in the food area. When we started we asked our customers for feedback. So our recipes came from the customers. At the beginning, we talked to the customers and asked what they thought about our food. They’re the ones paying, so we listened to them and adjusted based on their feedback. Our Filipino customers know what’s authentic or not. They’re the judge. We adjusted based on what they expect. It’s really about the people we serve.
JA: We also thought of a different way to cook Adobo so that Pinoys and locals can enjoy it.
FCM: How did you come up with the Adobo Experience concept?
JA: A few years back, I worked at a ship. Foreigners came to me and asked for Adobo. Almost everyone in the world knows Adobo. So we named it Adobo Experience. People know it already.
FCM: You started with one place, now you have four.
How many people are working or benefiting now at your restaurants.
JA: We started with four partners, now we’re supporting around 50 staff, or should I say 50 people directly benefiting from the restaurants. It can be overwhelming but we take our responsibility as business owners seriously.
FCM: That’s amazing; you guys were kitchen workers not too long ago. Now you are employers and business owners.
JA: One year and two month (smiling).
FCM: Tell us about your newest place, Glenmore? How did this open?
JA: We were looking for new opportunities. Initially, the previous owner of this place asked for a high price. But then I got a call from the owner again later on and he wanted to sell the place at a lower price so we took it. The restaurant already had a good layout. But it was risky because we just opened the Edmonton Branch. We would have too much on our hands. But we went ahead anyway. Now we’re open for a week!
In Calgary, there are forty thousand Filipinos or more. We probably need 40 more restaurants. If Vietnamese restaurants can make it, we can to.
We still have a long way in this business, but we’re willing to learn and adjust. For this restaurant, it might take a few weeks to develop a following but we’ll learn how to make our restaurant known to our kababayans and the locals.
FCM: You’re very passionate about the Filipino food. What makes Filipino food attractive to non-Filipinos?
GM: It’s a new experience, like the boodle fight. It’s a new concept. They’re curios, especially when they see people boodle eating in social media. People want to try it. Social media is where we show our work and it picks-up a broad audience.
FCM: You’re franchising Adobo Experience now given its popularity. Tell us about that.
JA: There’s a big opportunity for Filipino restaurants in the city. We Filipinos have a worker mentality. But we have tools and experience to be business owners. We just have to do it. We want to open our opportunity to other Filipinos.
We came here to work. We tell our kids to study hard so they can have a good job. But we should be business minded as well. We don’t need to live paycheck to paycheck. We can have a business which our kids can inherit. Our community has a great potential because we’re hard working and we have a lot of skills.
I want to give Filipinos the opportunity to be business owners. We started with only five thousand with our first restaurant. We were new here in Canada. But we made it work. The only limitation is in you. Some are interested, some have commitments. Those who are committed will succeed.
FCM: What’s your advice for new Filipinos who want to start a business?
GM: Have patience, work hard, and get started. If you want to get into a business, do it. Or you’ll be working forever. If you want to start, then start.
FCM: How do you balance family and business life?
GM: I have three kids. Now, there’s more time I can spend with them because I’m a business owner. That’s one of the benefits. When I was working double job, I didn’t have time for my family. Now I’m a full time business owner.
FCM: Jeff, you’re very young, energetic, and visionary. Where do you see adobo in 5 years?
JA: Within five years, we want to be international. We want to showcase the authentic Filipino cuisine. We also want to show that Filipinos have good business skills. We don’t just want restaurants. We can go into hotels, hospitality business, and so on. If we managed to open four locations in one year, imagine what we could accomplish in five years if we have the right people.
We’re learning so much now. Each lesson we learn we apply to our business right away so we can grow.
GM: Each one of the partners has their own strength. Some are marketing, some are in the kitchen. We work where we are good at. I think this is why we’ve been successful.
FCM: What’s the biggest challenge in the restaurant business?
GM: First, when we started, not having enough time was a challenge. We poured our time to our restaurant. We had bills to pay. So we didn’t make too much at the beginning. But starting out is always difficult. But once you have experience, it becomes easier. Anything new, in the kitchen, constructions, etc. starting out is always difficult.
FCM: Are people inquiring about franchising?
JA: Many people are interested in franchising. I asked them why they want to franchise. I want to know if they’re interested or committed. Getting into this business is no joke. You have bills to pay, staff to look after, and customers to serve. There are going to be changes in your life if you franchise. You need to be ready for this. You need to have time for your business. If you put part-time hours don’t expect full time return. If anyone is interested in franchising, they just need to connect with.
FCM: Gentlemen, it’s been a pleasure. We wish you more success.
JA: Thank you sir.