Lester Pimentel Ong: The Kapamilya series Bagani has given him significant success that has led him to where he is today.
From Wushu to WangFu
Chuck Gomez (The Philippine Star) - October 14, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — This is not a mere adage to restaurateur-Wushu champion-director Lester Pimentel Ong. To him, staying true to the core of any endeavor that interests him is the real recipe for victory. And his core — evident in almost all of the projects that he gets involved in — is his Chinese lineage. Whether as a former national athlete representing the Philippines for Wushu, an action director in films, as a restaurateur specializing in Asian cuisine, or as one of the directors for ABS-CBN’s recently-concluded acclaimed hit primetime series Bagani, multi-hyphenated Lester always finds himself immersed in something that hearkens back to his heritage. To a third generation Chinese immigrant, the desire to honor his parents and grandparents who emigrated to the Philippines from China forms part of Lester’s mission to bring only the best of his beloved culture — through martial arts, creative arts and food.

This is why his latest undertaking, WangFu Chinese Café — which began as a Singaporean-Cantonese bistro — is now a full-fledged restaurant serving authentic dishes that are diligently curated by Singaporean Chef Zhang Jing Dong. In Lester’s quest for genuineness, he often invites his Singaporean friends to try the food at WangFu. And to add to the restaurant’s credibility, a Malaysian chef also flies in regularly to train the local chefs in the art of the dim sum. The open and airy ambiance of WangFu pays homage to what the word roughly translates to: “courtyard for the emperor’s son.” As a family-friendly daily diner, Lester envisions WangFu as a place where one can enjoy great food and make even greater memories, too.

Cereal Prawns

WangFu is not Lester’s first crack at the restaurant business. And as any real entrepreneur will tell you, he has had his fair share of challenges. His start in the food business was in year 2000 with Rice In A Box, which aims to open 300 new stalls all over the country in the years to come. Lester is also the proud owner of Luna J in Il Terazzo, Tomas Morato. Today, WangFu has a total of seven branches, and Lester is keen to set up more. “When you know you have something good to offer, you want more people to experience it,” says Lester. WangFu is looking to expand out of Manila southwards into the neighboring towns, with at least one to two branches being opened every year.

Being a successful restaurateur was not Lester’s first love, however. Growing up, he greatly idolized Jet Li and Jackie Chan and grew to have exceptional passion for martial arts. This is how he became involved in Wushu. His profound experience as a gold medalist in all major international Wushu competitions, representing the Philippines in various countries, has led him to his current career path on TV and in films. And although it took him 20 years to realize his dream of becoming a director — having dabbled first in teaching martial arts to actors for action films and choreographing fight sequences in major action productions — his foray into the small screen with Bagani has given him significant success that has led him to where he is today. Lester is set to spearhead an upcoming major film. “In the end, it was still my love for martial arts that brought me here. I just stayed true to who I am, even when action films declined and I had to find other means to earn a living, I didn’t stop loving martial arts. And I think that’s why I’m still here today, making things that I love — whether food or films,” Lester remarked.

Salted Egg Fried Chicken

On TV, Lester has found a creative outlet for his martial arts roots. In WangFu, he channels his passion for authentic Chinese food. Two of his greatest interests intersect in his newfound path as a restaurateur and director both. And he gives only the best of what he has to each of these endeavors in equal measure.

And how does he do it? “Good time management. I set aside Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for television; and my Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays are for my other business ventures. I keep my Sundays for family.” Truly, Lester is a big believer in the balance of life.

This balance is evident in the way WangFu operates. “The quality of the food must not be the only consideration. Value for money is also important. But don’t ever compromise authenticity. It’s what keeps your patrons loyal,” Lester says.

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