It only takes a Moment

Monica Araneta Tiosejo (The Philippine Star) - August 29, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Abba Napa grew up around food. When she was a little girl, her family lived abroad, where her mom, Fe, owned a bakery that specialized in Filipino pastries. After school, Abba would explain to customers what an ensaymada was.

Abba graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University with a degree in Management. She later on took up Restaurant Management and Culinary Techniques at the French Culinary Institute in New York.

When she realized she wasn’t cut out for a nine-to-five job, Abba transferred to retail. Skincare was her first venture and then she founded the country’s largest retailers of casual footwear. By that time, her father Ermil had invested in restaurants like L’Opera and his way of supporting his first-time entrepreneurial daughter was to allow her to eat and drink for free. 

“It was at L’Opera where I learned that the best restaurants have souls,” she says.

It took her a while to join the restaurant industry herself, fearful that it would take over her life. And then, Abba had a “Moment.”

“I tried to stay away from restaurants for so long, until I met Jon (Syjuco) and Eli (Antonino). The Moment Group (TMG) started out as a passion project. One day, we decided to turn a retail space into a restaurant just for fun. In the beginning of 2012, we were creating dishes out of our kitchens and interviewing employees in my living room. We were just six when we celebrated the company’s Christmas party that year. Today, we are more than 500-people strong,” she shares.

TMG is behind a collective of leading restaurant concepts like 8Cuts Burger Blends, Cue Modern Barbecue, Manam and Manam Express, Q-Daddy, Phat Pho, Bistro du Vin, Linguini Fini and Mecha Uma.

Without realizing it, Abba, who is the company’s founding partner for creative development, has opened one establishment every 45 days for the last 36 months!

“I now feel like I’ve been a restaurateur much longer than I have been a retailer, even though I’ve been a retailer for a decade now and a restaurateur for only 36 months.”

Abba admits that her relationship with food is two-pronged: love and hate. “I hardly get the chance to enjoy what I love most — a social meal with friends and loved ones. Ironically, this is one of the biggest drawbacks of being a restaurateur.”

For Abba, food is the ultimate expression of care and love. “My dad once said, ‘There are far easier ways to turn a profit than being in the restaurant business.’ You have to love it. It has less to do with being epicurean than deriving a high from wanting to give people a good time and feeding them well. Extending hospitality is completely different from receiving it!”

“I can enjoy an intellectual and technical meal from amazingly talented chefs and get moved by it. But if I had to choose, I want a meal that will comfort me as much as — if not more than — intrigue me,” Abba shares.

“We look at food differently today than we did say, 10 years ago. For one, we look at it a lot through the lenses and screens of our smartphones. Food hasn’t been photographed and shared as much…I still find it amusing to this day even though I’m already resigned to how pivotal it actually is,” says Abba.

Abba believes food has become the subject of a story we tell others, a symbol of what we enjoy and what we aspire for. 

“It’s a great time for F&B in our country. But being at this stage does come with responsibility.  There is a chance today to create the landscape and become that exciting dining destination our fellow Filipinos travel to — like Tokyo, New York, London, but uniquely our own.

“But this means collectively curating stuff of substance and value. We have to be true to our roots while also being global and current at the same time. We also have to create in context to our surroundings. We always try to keep in mind the neighborhood our restaurants are in when we are creating them,” she explains.

So when TMG wanted to build a French bistro, the neighborhood they had in mind was Rockwell. Bistro du Vin opened Christmas last year.

“We create restaurants for others mostly. We hardly ever set out to make something for ourselves personally to enjoy.  Hence, it is such a treat to be able to build something for a neighborhood and community that we ourselves frequent and enjoy spending our free time in,” she ends. Photography by RITA MARIE • Creative direction and overall styling by Luis Espiritu Jr. • Shot on location at BISTRO DU VIN, EDADES TOWER

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