Korean fried chicken has become the go-to comfort food for many people. It’s perfect for a solo snack or for sharing with friends and family. No other type of fried chicken compares to it, with its shatteringly crispy skin drenched in various flavorful sauces. However, despite its uniqueness and appeal, introducing a new concept like Korean fried chicken isn’t always guaranteed to be a success, but Mark Gerald Ong was one of the few who took the risk.
Mark Gerald Ong, known as “OMG” by his friends and colleagues, is the President of Qinghua Foods Corporation and one of the founders of 24 Chicken. Like many Chinoys, he also comes from a family of entrepreneurs, but he wanted a career that was separate from his family business. He briefly considered becoming a pilot after high school, but the influence of his parents ultimately convinced him to take up export management in De La Salle College of Saint Benilde.
It turns out Ong has always had the business gene in him, and for the longest time, his dream was to own a Jollibee franchise, but he eventually realized that he wanted to create a brand of his own. This ended up coming true, as he met 24 Chicken’s co-founders, Jeff Sy and Jefferson Uy while they were studying at a Chinese language program. They quickly became friends, and when they went on a trip to South Korea for fun, they came back with the idea of bringing Korean fried Chicken to the Philippines.
The first 24 Chicken branch opened in Leon Guinto near De La Salle University in 2017, starting out as an 11-15 square meter stall. It’s called 24 Chicken because they originally wanted it to be open for 24 hours to cater to students from De La Salle, St. Benilde, and St. Scholastica who are often looking for late night snacks. Although they weren’t able to be open for 24 hours like they originally planned, their unique concept and flexible business model allowed them to expand nationwide.
“We started from ground zero with 24 Chicken,” Ong said when asked about the initial struggles he encountered. “We learned everything–the recipe, the system. The perseverance has to be there, and you have to be consistent. [From] a young age, [I was] disciplined by my parents, especially my dad, to grow up as a businessman, [and] at first, my dad was like ‘bakit ka nag bukas ng ganyan. We have our own family business. Nagpapakahirap ka lang’ but I wanted to pursue it. I want to be independent, which is typical Chinoy culture.”
“As the founders of 24 Chicken, kami yung frier, kami yung taga-dispatch, cleaning the grease trap, cleaning the whole shop, up to changing the lightbulb. Personally, yung mga maliliit na bagay na kaya niyong gawin ng sarili niyo, gawin niyo na rin. Hindi na kailangan i-utos pa sa ibang tao. At least you fulfill something na kaya mo, hindi ka na umaasa sa iba.”
Their hands-on approach paid off, as they now have almost 40 branches across the Philippines, with stores in Cebu, Tacloban, General Santos, Tagum, and soon in Cagayan de Oro. When asked what makes 24 Chicken stand out from the rest, Ong said their success is due to food quality, customer service, and the brand name itself. They kept 24 in their name despite not being open for 24 hours, since it’s an easy number to remember because of how often it appears on the signs outside fast food restaurants.
“Maybe it’s the specialty of the sauces [as well],” Ong adds. “Especially the Yangnyeom sauce, which is more of a sweet and spicy blend. [It’s very] in demand, but we adjusted it to the local palate of the Filipinos, [since we can’t tolerate really spicy flavors]. You need to adjust to the environment of your market.”
The pandemic forced them to adjust further, but luckily, 24 Chicken had always specialized in takeout and delivery, which became beneficial to them back when dining in restaurants wasn’t allowed. “It’s a bit challenging during the two year period, medyo dinapa tayo lahat, but we are resilient. During the lockdown period, [that’s when we expanded because] we saw the opportunity. Even way before, [we already knew what we wanted for] 24 Chicken. We want it to be flexible, resilient, and [not very complicated.”]
Despite the success, what Ong considers as a personal achievement is the help that 24 Chicken is able to extend to its employees. “One of our biggest achievements right now is we are employing over 200 plus employees. That’s my biggest goal–to help Filipinos and to give them the standard of employee rights. I’ve heard a lot of other businesses giving below minimum salary with no benefits and practicing endo, but I always tell my people that here in 24 Chicken, you’ll always receive the standard. Happy na ako diyan.”
Getting 24 Chicken to where it is right now took quite a journey, and for all aspiring entrepreneurs who wish to do the same, Ong emphasizes the importance of translating ideas into action, getting involved in the business in every possible way, and being both respectful and transparent..
“Everyone has a dream. You dream, you aim, you plan it, but at the end of the day, you need action. [If there’s no] action, your dream is just a hallucination, so action is always key,” Ong says.
“When you’re starting, micro manage [first] because if you don’t know how to micromanage, [how can you] macromanage? That’s my piece of advice because usually new entrepreneurs right now, frankly speaking, you guys have money to spend. But at the end of the day, [if you leave everything] to the managers, just to say that ‘I’m the investor–I’m the owner,’ it won’t work for the start-ups. [Even if it’s hard], you really have to get your hands dirty, “ Ong points out.
“My father always told me not to compare [myself with others,] just work hard and smart. Huwag mangangapak ng ibang tao, help others if you can at your little way, and respect others.”
The last point is especially important for Ong. “[To business partners,] a piece of advice is to never put personal while discussing about the business. Trabaho lang walang personalan. [What’s] important is everyone should be transparent, hindi yung siraan type of culture. If you guys have problem related to business, then discuss it. [There’s] nothing to be ashamed of.”
Starting a new business might seem complicated, since it has a lot of moving parts to manage and factors to consider, but Ong still encourages those who have the means to take the risk. “Sometimes there is a risk, but if you don’t try it, how will you know [if it will pass or fail? If you fail], then just try it again. There’s nothing wrong with learning. [You’re just exploring yourself and your strengths and weaknesses,]”.