The tough job of reinventing the shawarma

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Shawa Wama is The Moment Group's tiniest concept, with a mere 13 meters of store space and less than 20 items in the menu. In photo: Shawa Wama's Pita (Beef). Photo courtesy of SHAWA WAMA

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — In the Philippines, Mediterranean cuisine can be either properly traditional or blandly fuss-free, but newcomer Shawa Wama knows how to let its hair down. In the ambivalent tone of your notoriously happy-go-lucky friend, the joint announces their opening as such:

“Working hard to get Shawa Wama open by next week. No idea when but yup. Next week. Sometime then.”

Real cheeky for a falafel stand — and effective at that. For along with its coy copy, the store's branding is fringed with vibrant visuals of its menu items: indulgent beef slices slathered with all-too familiar white and red sauces, a close-up money shot of stuffed pita pockets overflowing to the brim, a glimpse of the brand's vivid pink packaging. We could almost taste Shawa Wama's victory in the realm of Instagram fame.

Reinforced by their younger office peers, the group founders’ nostalgic sentiments birthed the concept into reality, and what we would have given to be in the room when Shawa Wama was conceptualized.

Said to be The Moment Group's most internally collaborated effort, the brand was a result of the company's partners — Jon Syjuco, Eliza Antonino, and Abba Napa — reminiscing about college moments of decades past spent eating casual shawarma, and the millennials in the company who echoed the exact same thing, to the founders’ surprise.

“[Shawarma] is something that's been around forever … it's kind of timeless and something that's been very traditionally done here in the Philippines. We felt that we could play around with it,” says Napa.

HUMMUS (BEEF).jpg "Shawa Wama is the group's first grab-and-go concept, and the first one that's going to do delivery. It's also the store with the friendliest price — under ₱250, you can get away with a full meal. That's half of any other The Moment Group brand,” shares Abba Napa, one of the founders of The Moment Group. In photo: Hummus (beef). Photo courtesy of SHAWA WAMA

All the nooks and crannies that activated Shawa Wama were the result of pure company synergy, a display of The Moment Group's organizational powerhouse. From creative branding, business development, kitchen R&D, brand, PR, and operations — Shawa Wama was truly an in-house concept, where research was replaced with a sharing of personal shawarma moments and memories by everyone from the staff.

Shawa Wama is the company's tiniest concept, with a mere 13 meters of store space and less than 20 items in the menu. But it's the concept's manageable size that gave the group free rein to dabble with a more daring business model, using practices they have never been able to do in the past.

"Shawa Wama is the group's first grab-and-go concept, and the first one that's going to do delivery. It's also the store with the friendliest price — under ₱250, you can get away with a full meal. That's half of any other The Moment Group brand,” shares Napa. “We've also created Shawa Wama to operationally be user-friendly — you don't have to be a chef or have any F&B experience to open a Shawa Wama store."

In fact, the group is already in talks of opening the Shawa Wama concept up for franchise, following an overwhelming number of calls, emails and social media inquiries even prior to its launch.

PITA (CAULI).jpg The concept also aims to go green, as part of its franchise expansion plans. As of now, the packaging is 90 percent plastic-free, and the group aims to reach 100 percent as they grow the business. In photo: Pita (Cauli). Photo courtesy of SHAWA WAMA

Naturally, the brand's penchant for play extends to its food. Unlike other Mediterranean concepts wary to introduce variety in its food formulations, Shawa Wama took detours in many directions, red beet is incorporated into its falafel recipe, while fried cauliflowers, whole wheat pita breads, and a diverse falafel menu (soon to launch) give even the strictest healthy eaters a reason to be excited about a mall-based food stall.

The concept also aims to go green, as part of its franchise expansion plans. As of now, the packaging is 90 percent plastic-free, and the group aims to reach 100 percent as they grow the business. Indeed, Shawa Wama isn't your mom-and-pop shawarma stand; Napa even stresses that the concept is “not classic at all.”

But do we really expect anything less tantalizing from a restaurant group who was never afraid of new concepts? This is The Moment Group we're talking about, propagators of hugely successful 8 Cuts Burger Bar, culprits behind the daunting local acquisition of Michelin-starred Din Tai Fung, and owners of Manam, the only Filipino restaurant that thought of having Small-Medium-Large size options for Pinoy ulam favorites.

In the midst of launching multiple restaurant concepts since they began in 2012, they even managed to open a small bar, Bank Bar, without much fuss — a luxurious tippling chamber only passable through the narrow storage room of a standard 7-Eleven. In a food and beverage industry wont to stick to tried-and-tested tactics, The Moment Group has proven that brazenly playing your way through is an equally delicious recipe for success.

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Shawa Wama is officially open at the lower ground floor of Power Plant Mall, in their words, “near the piano thing.”