Dining at restaurants has always been a regular part of many people’s lives. Whether it’s for a casual meal with friends and family or for celebrating special occasions, most of us are bound to have treasured memories associated with our favorite restaurants. But the pandemic has made the act of dining out more complicated than ever, with restaurants constantly being bogged down by the numerous restrictions and health protocols that they have to strictly adhere to. There’s only so much profit you could earn by relying on deliveries, and the process of transforming your establishment into a safe place for diners can often be costly as well. As a result, many restaurants closed down, but plenty of other restaurants were also able to adapt to the changing times.
The goal of the first ever Modern Tao Ke List is to honor the 8 entrepreneurs who exhibit the values of a Modern Tao Ke–especially those who have managed to turn their businesses around and helped them thrive even amidst the pandemic, and one such example is Eric Teng.
Teng is the CEO of Mother Spice Food Corporation, a group of companies that includes well-loved restaurants such as Mango Tree, Genki Sushi Philippines, Kureji, and Sen-Ryo. He grew up learning how to build and make things, and this interest has given him a keen eye for problem solving. “We expect problems in business, that’s part of our job–to be problem preventers, but if necessary, to be problem solvers,” Teng says.
The pandemic has given Teng a fair amount of problems, especially since most of his businesses revolved around the restaurant industry. “Like everyone else, we were confused on how to go about navigating through the lockdowns. Luckily for the restaurant industry, we have the newly formed RestoPh group, which is the Restaurant Owners of the Philippines association, where members exchange ideas and best practices to help each other make less mistakes and surmount obstacles. The key learning for us is, we must work together and help one another. The Bayanihan spirit is strong for us Filipinos,” shares Teng, who also serves as the president of RestoPH.
This demonstrates the resilience and no surrender attitude of many restaurant owners, and to Teng, these are the most important qualities a Modern Tao Ke should have. “Before the pandemic, we valued not only education and experience, but also character and attitude. During the last 2 years, we see resilience of spirit and drive to overcome difficulties as healthy attributes that can only be seen during the worst of a crisis. Luckily, we see that a lot amongst our people, and when we see people of like mind and attitude get together and work together, I believe we will achieve great things.”
RestoPH, and other remote work arrangements would not have been possible without technology, and this is why Teng thinks it’s important for Modern Tao Kes to embrace digitalization even outside of pandemic times. “We are lucky that the worst pandemic to hit our planet happened during the digital age, when information can be exchanged in seconds. Digitalization connects the minds of everyone, and we need everyone’s brain juice to help us through any crisis, especially this one. We have Zoom meetings to allow work to continue even when we stay home. We can order food and necessities from our phone and have goods delivered in a short time. Indeed, the pandemic spurred the growth of e-commerce for the Philippines. Through our phones, we stayed connected even when we were isolated,” Teng points out.
“Technology is very much a modern tool for any restaurant owner today. You can’t live without it. It cuts distances, it saves time. It also allows us to keep in touch with our people to make sure that they’re safe, not just during this pandemic, but during typhoons and other disasters,” Teng adds.
Teng also has further advice to offer other Modern Tao Kes who might be struggling because of the pandemic or those who are just starting out with their businesses. “Help one another. We need everyone to work together for our future and our economic recovery. Let’s not just focus on profits but also about how we can contribute to help our community and our country.”
“COVID is not a permanent problem for us. It is just something that we have to go through, but once we survive this, we will be a better society. For now, we have to think as one, we have to heal as one. We can’t go our separate ways. We can’t do it alone, we have to do it together,” Teng says.