Behind Little Asia’s big success

() - November 14, 2005 - 12:00am
"We’re probably the only restaurant chain here in the Philippines that doesn’t have a supervisor or a manager – all we have is a captain waiter."
A tribute to entrepreneurs
Small and medium-scale businesses play a vital role in sustaining a country’s economy. SMEs contribute heavily to the country’s economic growth by providing investments and the much-needed employment.

It is in cognizance of their contribution to business that Entrepreneur Philippines recognizes the entrepreneurial achievements of small and medium-scale Filipino businessmen through Entrepreneur 10, which awards 10 small-and medium-scale entrepreneurs who have blazed a trail in local and international business.

Starting this week, Business As Usual runs a 10-part series on the 10 Most Outstanding Filipino Entrepreneurs of 2005 starting off with this week’s feature on Charlemagne Lim of Little Asia. The outstanding entrepreneurs were feted last Oct. 25 by Entrepreneur Philippines in awards rites at the RCBC Plaza, Makati City.

The other Entrepreneur 10 2005 winners are: Rommel Juan of Binalot, Victor Tan of Bobson, Janice Koa of Papyvore, Brian Tiu of Teriyaki Boy, Paolo Tibig of Vintel Logistics, Cristopher Tan of Ideal Minds Corp., Robert Palomo of Great Image, Joel Callao of Media Pool and Alfredo Escalona of Fruit Magic.

I set up my first business venture in 2000, when I started supplying liquor to a hotel in Malate. It didn’t do as good as I’d hoped and had to close it down after a year, and then a cousin, now my partner, invited me to open a restaurant.

I agreed because I had some experience in that area, having worked at a burger joint when I used to live in the United States.

I’ll never forget the day we opened Little Asia on Tomas Morato in December 2001. My geomancer had told me that, for good luck, we should open it at 7 p.m.; but as early as 4 p.m., we already had customers lining up outside, so by the time we opened, we were packed! I didn’t expect that at all because I had only texted a few families and friends to come, but we had a lot of walk-in customers that night.

We were similarly packed when we opened our second branch in Promenade, Greenhills, in December 2004, and I think we were fortunate because we had opened during the Metro Manila Film Festival, when Mano Po was showing, and groups of Chinese families came in to eat after watching the movie.

I think people keep coming back to us because the dishes we serve here are unique, but the amazing thing is, we don’t have a Chinese chef and never did; we developed all the recipes ourselves from the memories of the food that we ate during our travels abroad. Plus, our service is our best asset: We have a lot of regulars–politicians, celebrities, and even ordinary people–who have become very good friends.

We don’t take out advertisements, but if you go around our restaurants, you will see that our walls are full of framed write-ups from newspapers and magazines.

I’m very hands-on. I visit my two outlets every day and talk to all my customers. We’re probably the only restaurant chain here in the Philippines that doesn’t have a supervisor or a manager–all we have is a captain waiter. And my staff and I are like barkada: We play basketball every Sunday, and, when business is really good, I even take them out to drink.

I consider myself lucky because most people think opening a restaurant these days is not a good idea, and you can’t fault them. A lot of restaurants are closing down, especially in the Tomas Morato area, where the three restaurants that opened across from us have all closed down.

I think putting up a restaurant is really all about hard work and common sense. I make sure my bathrooms are always clean, my cooks wash their hands, and my waiters always hand something to a customer using both hands – the Chinese gesture of respect.

Interview by Jaclyn Lutanco-Chua

Little Asia

Telephones: (02) 373-0609; (02) 410-4937; (02) 727-5265; (02) 757-5785

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