Inside the offices where Manila's top restaurant concepts are born

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The office of The Moment Group, the team behind restaurants such as Manam, 8 Cuts, Phat Po, and Din Tai Fung has a lot of pocket spaces where employees can hold quick meetings or simply work in. Photo by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — "They always say ‘The Intern,’" says Maita Quesada, the Moment Group's public relations head, about the company's headquarters. "People say Abba should get around in a bike!"

Abba Napa is one-third of the team behind what is arguably Manila's most dynamic restaurant group. As founding partner for creative development, Napa and her fellow founding partners Eliza Antonino (managing partner), and Jon Syjuco (business development), have brought excitement to the local dining scene with a collective of restaurant concepts with sharply defined brand identities, consistently delicious food, and dynamic growth. Mecha Uma, Manam, 8 Cuts, Ooma, Bank Bar, Phat Pho, Din Tai Fung, and Linguini Fini are all concepts under the group.

It doesn't come as a surprise then, that when we meet Napa on a Friday afternoon, in the Moment Group's new office on Pasong Tamo Extension, she's walking around in workout gear. Wearing one of those lightweight, water-repellent, two-way stretch workout jackets, with sneakers and compression pants, it seems the bike suggestion was off the mark — a bike would only slow Napa down.

moment group A massive shelf across the office space displays products from the different Moment Group restaurants. Photo by JL JAVIER

moment group The Moment Group's test kitchen is located on the first floor of the office space. Photo by JL JAVIER  

Nancy Meyers, the director of the aforementioned Anne Hathaway career woman vehicle “The Intern” and movies like “Something's Gotta Give” and “It's Complicated,” has sometimes been accused of peddling what her critics call "mom porn" — pleasant, inoffensive rom-coms featuring women of a certain age living in Architectural Digest-worthy homes, targeted towards the fantasies, architectural or otherwise, of a certain generation of women. And if Nancy Meyers is peddling "mom porn," looking at the Moment Group's airy, spacious office — where an industrial shell has become the space for a warm, community-oriented work space — it's straight up yuppie porn, #officegoals if you will.

"It’s really borderless," Napa explains. "We’ve been building the restaurants for four years, one after the other, we never really had that house. We just grew out of our old space. Our old space, if you had seen it, we were all next to each other. It was crammed, it was crazy. There were no walls so we kind of got used to that."

"It was really practically like a warehouse. We kinda wanted to keep that vibe. We really didn’t want it to feel like an office," she says. "It feels relaxed and chill." And like bees to honey, millennials — a generation notorious for an aversion to traditional office environments, the 9-to-5 grind, and hierarchies — seem very well represented in the company, crowding communal office spaces and working side by side in collaboration with each other.

moment group "I think we really like the open plan better," says Abba Napa, one of the three founding partners of The Moment Group. "We don’t really like the walls. We have to be kind of collaborative when we’re creating a restaurant, and so having no walls or cubicles will lend itself to that sort of collaboration." Photo by JL JAVIER

"It doesn’t feel bureaucratic," Napa says. "It doesn’t feel like there’s so much structure, and it also helps people to kind of think out of the box. I guess that’s why it looks like that. It doesn’t feel stifling." True enough, there's a giant Jenga set from an 8 Cuts launch in the partners’ office, a giant teddy bear on the shelf of the communal area, and open shelves with knick-knacks of all kinds, and wine from the different restaurant taste tests. ("Sometimes, they have bottles of wines as samples and I ask if I can get one,” Quesada tells me, laughing.)

One of the truly amazing things about the Moment Group office is the fact that the partners don't have huge, imposing desks of their own. They work together in a big desk in a room with glass walls — you can see right through the Moment Group office from any point inside it, whether you're boss or entry-level employee, as if to say no one is exempt from check-and-balance. There's a real sense of democracy and meritocracy at work.

"I think we really like the open plan better," Napa says. "We don’t really like the walls. We have to be kind of collaborative when we’re creating a restaurant, and so having no walls or cubicles will lend itself to that sort of collaboration."

moment group The Moment Group team works together in a big desk in a room with glass walls — you can see right through the whole office from any point inside it, whether you're boss or entry-level employee, as if to say no one is exempt from check-and-balance. Photo by JL JAVIER

moment group The Mess Hall is the office's cafeteria but is also now open to the public. It will feature a rotating array of food from the restaurants of The Moment Group. Photo by JL JAVIER

Right now, there are about 120 to 130 employees spread over the two huge floors of the Moment Group HQ, with a test kitchen, a commissary, and a cafeteria on the first floor. "Before, whenever we’d have to create new dishes and try new dishes, we’d have to go to all the restaurants — which is all fun and good, but I’m trying so many dishes now on a weekly basis that I just waste so much time traveling to and fro," Napa says. "So I said, why don’t we put up a test kitchen where we can do all that work here, and then we can just be churning stuff out all day long?"

Soon, the test kitchen will be open for private events also. "People always ask us for private events and we don’t really have anywhere to host them because all of our restaurants are very casual," she says. "So I said, okay, let’s build this test kitchen, and it can be a more luxe place, with a different kind of furniture. That way we can use it for private events and affairs, like a birthday party for 20 [people] and stuff. And then there’s a backroom that can be extended more like a foyer, you can sit down there and maybe there [could be] a small bar for drinks, like a pop-up speakeasy. So you can have a party here and have a couple of cocktails and have a dinner. One step at a time."

Of course, lately, the part of the headquarters that's garnered the most attention is The Mess Hall — the office cafeteria that is now open to the public. A stylized version of an actual mess hall, the cafeteria will feature a rotating array of Moment Group concepts. The Mess Hall opened with Manam but Napa promises that surprises await.

moment group The office is a borderless space where partners don't have huge, intimidating desks of their own. Collaboration is a key element in the success of the team. Photo by JL JAVIER

moment group Some of the curious items inside the HQ include a giant Jenga set from an 8 Cuts launch in the partners’ office, a giant teddy bear on the shelf of the communal area, and open shelves with knick-knacks of all kinds. Photo by JL JAVIER  

"We said, let’s open our mess hall to the public because, a lot of my friends were saying, 'Can we come and eat in your space? ' — the ones who live and work here so I thought, yeah, if we’re gonna cook for us, we might as well cook for everyone else. But we said, let’s expand the menu a little bit more for the public. So we said, we’d make it like a rotating pop-up of our brands or any crazy ideas we have."

If the Moment Group seems like it's growing at a rapid pace, chalk that up the restless minds of the partners. Today, the company now has a research and development team that's tasked to create and innovate dishes whether or not the company needs it. "Like, what if I try to make the best chocolate chip cookie ever, and just sell it?" she says, "I mean, no fanfare, just for fun."

"You know, we don’t need it for anything, but I think it keeps us all refreshed and excited."

moment group The office is located in a former warehouse. "We kinda wanted to keep that vibe," says The Moment Group's Abba Napa. "We really didn’t want it to feel like an office," she says. "It feels relaxed and chill." Photo by JL JAVIER