Kuok-ing up a storm
WRY BREAD - WRY BREAD By Philip Cu-Unjieng () - October 9, 2005 - 12:00am
Food, shelter and clothing – three basic necessities that form the core of our existence and our striving in this world as social beings. And if you talk social, then you implicitly talk of competition and one-upmanship. To socialize is to instinctively compare and rank oneself against the rest, and hence, social status is born.

So just as there’s food (fast food and snacks) and there’s Food (haute cuisine, caviar and Wagyu beef), there’s shelter and there is Shelter – if one is talking about hotels, resorts, business and residential developments that put on the mantle of luxury and social status with undeniable and enviable ease, the Kuok Group and Shangi-La names rank at the very top. In Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and the Philippines, the Shangri-La equity brands the projects and developments found within these countries with a certain cachet and standard that’s hard to resist or not admire.

Here in the Philippines, what immediately come to mind are the Makati and EDSA hotels, the resort hotel in Mactan (and its spanking new Chi Spa Village), the Traders Hotel and the Shangri-La Mall. Of the more recent additions to the roster, the Shang Grand Tower in Makati (near the Enterprise Center) and the Shangri-La Resort and Spa in Boracay we’ve heard and read about; and come October, their newest project is officially launched, the St. Francis Towers in Mandaluyong.

Located adjacent to the mall and across the EDSA Shangri-La Hotel, the St. Francis consists of two 60-story towers, housing 1,200 units. There are studios, one and two bedroom units, garden duplexes and penthouses. An air-conditioned walkway will connect the twin edifices to the hotel. The St. Francis will boast of WiFi facilities, an internet center, a mini-theater, a videoke room, a sky lounge, function rooms, a clubhouse with a gym and aerobics room, a games room and sports lounge, a spa and jacuzzi, a laundromat, a 24-hour convenience store, concierge services, two pools (one for adults and one for children), direct access to the MRT and I’m running out of breath.

Tom Zita is president and head of the Kuok Group here in the Philippines. Basically publicity-shy, he repeatedly insists that the focus and spotlight should be directed to the projects, and not himself. In his "reluctant" features printed in People Asia and the current Metro Society, Tom proudly proclaims that projects such as the Shang Grand Tower and the St. Francis Towers are entirely self-funded; as opposed to the majority of real estate projects here that rely on pre-selling. Self-funding also helps ensure completion of projects by "projected date." On its own, the P3.5-billion project cost of St. Francis is proof positive of the kind of commitment the Kuok Group is placing in this country. You add to that the Boracay project and the nearly completed Shang Grand Tower and you realize the breadth and scope of this money up-front commitment.

When one considers the current economic and political climate, one wonders if such faith and commitment is foolhardy; but Tom would cite confidence in the economy and our nation’s human resources as the main reasons for remaining bullish. Wryly, he even observes that "the Philippines has been lagging compared to other Asian countries, so it has nowhere to go but up. Our aim is to continue to provide the Filipino consumer with quality alternatives in their choice of residential or office developments, as well as our hotel and shopping mall services. In fact, we continue to look for projects that will enhance our portfolio of properties."

Given that the gloomy climate does truly exist, it’s heartening to know that a group with overseas equity is truly supportive of this homegrown CEO, daring to stay true to a path when some of our own "kababayans" have taken flight and have placed more of their "eggs" in countries like China, Taiwan, Singapore and Guam.
The Zen-t of Success
At the Glorietta rotunda, directly across the Shangri-La Hotel, you’ll find one of the institutions of the Glorietta Mall – the Zen Japanese Restaurant. It’s been standing there for 10 years now, quietly watching the movements and changes that have transpired and created "turnover" within the streetfront area of this mall, silently knowing that end of the day, it’s quality food in spades, good service and subtle innovation that spells success with the letter Z.

This is the same group that brought us Furusato so many years ago, so you know they are blessed with a true and deep (Zen-like?) understanding of Japanese cuisine and how the affordability of Zen and their bento box concepts do not have to detract from the quality and taste of the dishes on offer. Whether for lunch or for dinner, a steady stream of clientele proves that before Japanese fast food outlets and overpriced coffee shops made their marks, Zen was already ruling the roost (okay, does the connection between roosters and a Rising Sun mean metaphorical serendipity?).

Come Oct. 11, Tuesday, a new concept for Zen nights will be born. The panic nights of Alessandra Tinio and Benjo Marquez usher in late night DJ and live music entertainment at the Zen; and 10 p.m. is the bewitching hour for these panic nights to commence. To be perfectly frank, this is nothing new or ground-breaking; but as proprietor and proud mom Mary Ann Cuenca-Tinio explained, "Alessandra is into putting together nights of DJ music and live bands and when she and Benjo were looking for a venue where they could stage these events, I simply told her that rather than break her back looking for a venue, just do it here at Zen. Our dinner crowd dissipates between 9 and 10 p.m., we have the advantage of street access so the closing of the mall is a non-issue, and why pay rent when you can take advantage of mother!"

From such thoughts are ironclad logic and common sense born, so mark Oct. 12 on your calendar. While I know most of the people heading to Zen will be calling me Tito, that age group is what’s happening right now, and like some modern-day Pied Pipers, Benjo and Alessandra will be leading the way. Hey, it just makes a lot of Zen-s!

ALESSANDRA TINIO AND BENJO MARQUEZ AT THE GLORIETTA AUSTRALIA AND THE PHILIPPINES BENJO AND ALESSANDRA KUOK GROUP ONE SHANG GRAND TOWER SHANGRI-LA HOTEL ST. FRANCIS ZEN
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