Updated 19:50 PM PHT Tue, February 7, 2017
Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Everybody has a favorite after-hours hang-out place to go to to relieve the stress of the day. For Filipino-Chinese entrepreneur Andrew Chan, post-work hour refuge came in the form of an Italian restaurant in Singapore, called Peperoni Pizzeria.
“Singapore is really fast paced,” says Chan, who worked immediately after graduating from university. He landed a job in banking. “That’s when I first tried out Peperoni in Singapore,” he says. “I loved it. I was a regular customer. Every month, or every other week, I would go there.”
The relaxing atmosphere in the pizzeria was a breath of fresh air from Singapore’s frantic urban rhythm, and this was exactly what made Chan come back to the restaurant time and time again. It wasn’t long before he went back home to the Philippines to help with his family’s shoe retail business and to secure a deal that was burgeoning at the time. It only took Chan a couple of years to cross paths with a serendipitous opportunity that would change the course of his business in the months to come.
“It so happened that the group behind Peperoni Pizzeria in Singapore, which is Les Amis, were looking to expand around Southeast Asia,” Chan recalls. “They sent a team to Manila [for] a trade or business mission … There [were other] business groups, and my dad was part of it. That’s where they first met, but I was still in Singapore then.” When he received a call from his dad saying that the Les Amis group were interested in bringing Peperoni to Manila, Chan knew what he had to do. “Why don’t you try talking to them and see how it goes?” his dad said. “No commitment, just hear them out.”
For Chan, closing the deal for the franchise came like a breeze, because he was “a fan [of the pizzeria] from the beginning.” Add to that the zeal allowed by youth and being a fresh graduate: “You want to do everything, you want to get your hands dirty.”
Now the president of CMG Restaurant Concepts, Inc., a new branch under his family’s business borne out of its first food and beverage venture, Chan does get his hands dirty. It shows in how closely he mans his staff, and in how Peperoni prepares its food, which Chan describes as “classic and no-fuss.”
In line with Peperoni’s “laidback and homey” atmosphere is an honest business goal: “What we try to balance is good quality [and] at the same time, value for money,” says Chan. “We’re not competing on being very affordable or being the lowest price. We want a balance where we have a price which is reasonable.” With bestsellers like the calamari fritti (deep fried squid rings with lemon mayo and arrabbiata sauce, ₱355), the carbonara pasta (₱445), and the diavola pepperoni pizza (₱1,250 for 21-inch), Peperoni’s repertoire, as Chan ultimately describes it, is “simple but good.”
But there’s nothing simple about what goes on in the kitchen. “We use a lot of fresh ingredients,” he says. “Some examples [include] the dough, which we make in house every day or every other day depending on the volume — from flour, we mix it on our own until it turns to dough. The tomato sauce is also made in house. We use whole peeled tomatoes, we crush it, we mix it, to produce our tomato sauce.”
As for the servers, Chan always makes sure to keep them smiling. “Because that’s what Peperoni is all about — it’s really a very friendly and cozy atmosphere. And the guests need to see that from the team. We can’t just say that we are a homey and family friendly restaurant and then the staff aren’t smiling or whatever….”
Chan adds, “[Peperoni] is where you would go hang out with your friends on a weekday night. With your officemates or your barkada.” In the end, it’s this casual dining experience that Chan wants to continue to bring to Manila.
“What I want the customers to feel is the same thing I experienced in Singapore, says Chan. "When they come here, it’s comfort food, it’s very easy to enjoy. It’s classic food but done the right way.”
And what is Chan's secret to success? Though many Filipino-Chinese entrepreneurs believe in feng shui and harnessing one’s luck, Chan puts his faith on patience, perseverance, and conviction. "It’s really [about] understanding the market, the product, or what makes your restaurant or your brand unique or special to the market, and really focusing on that. Don’t go left or right, if you started with something, stick to it. It’s gonna be challenging but it’s something that will guide you even in those hard times. Good or bad, you know this is what you plan to do, don’t keep on changing," he says.
"It’s gonna be hard but you really have to have patience and perseverance. It’s not really in the first sign of defeat or problem when you jump ship. Success doesn’t come easy. You really have to put the time and the effort in doing it."