They started out in different fields, and came together to eat. That naturally merged with their passion for business, and they launched one restaurant after another, making quite an impact on Manila’s burgeoning restaurant scene. Jon Syjuco, Abba Napa, and Eli Antonino are the Moment Group.

The name “Moment Group” comes from an expression they would use among themselves, semi-ironically, to describe a good experience, whether dining, or diving, or whatever. “I tried this restaurant, and it was excellent, I had a real moment.” Well, if this is anyone’s moment, it is certainly theirs: in just three years, the Moment Group has launched 12 brands and over two dozen stores.

Jon was the first in the restaurant business. At the age of 19, he invested in a burger joint in Cebu, called…The Burger Joint. He later sold his interest in the restaurant (it still exists), and blew the proceeds on a personal trip to Europe. He then got into retail. Jon and Abba had worked together in retailing Havaianas, the very successful upscale beach slippers distributed by Anne Arcenas.

Eli, formally Eliza, majored in Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of the Philippines, and while a senior in college 15 years ago, opened a bar called Lokal in Libis during the heady days of the late ‘90s. Shortly after, she moved to New York City and worked for the Four Seasons. While she was there, her partners in Lokal evolved the business, and opened the Filipino Spanish restaurant Cena, which ended up in Greenbelt. This success led to a second concept, Masa’s, also in Greenbelt, in which she is also a passive partner.

Abba insists that she was never really involved in restaurants herself, although she grew up around them—her father was an investor in the legendary L’Opera. “People think that if you are accustomed to experiencing hospitality, as a customer, than you can be in the restaurant business, because you know what hospitality is. That’s not true. The reality is that it’s a very difficult business, and not at all glamorous; I saw that growing up. I thought this kind of business can consume you, can bleed your life away.”

 

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Even before the Bonifacio space came up, Jon, who had by that time been her business partner for a decade, argued that they should do a restaurant. She said, “Have you lost your mind? It’s so much easier to sell something that doesn’t expire.” Jon said, “We should do this for fun,” which caused Abba to laughingly say, “…which is by far the worst reason ever to open a restaurant!”

However, she did see that the restaurant scene was exploding. Filipinos at all levels of society were eating out more, and new and interesting concepts were emerging. The Bonifacio space offered by Ayala Land was excellent, in fact, with its outside frontage and neighboring bars and restaurants, it was too good for just a retail store. It had to be a restaurant.

Abba and Jon were not confident about their ability to switch gears from retail to restaurant, so they knew they needed a partner who could bring both expertise and experience to the project. Abba strongly believed that person was Eli, who she knew had left Mar’s team, so she invited her to join them. Eli immediately said no.

It took Jon and Abba about two months of badgering to convince Eli. Finally, she said, what the hell, it’s just one project, and agreed. What finally got her to say “yes” was that she saw Abba’s vision, that the country was ripe for more sophisticated restaurant concepts.

Thus was born the Moment Group’s first restaurant, Cue.

Read more about how The Moment Group moved on from one restaurant to another and what the future of the food industry looks like for them inside Asian Dragon Magazine’s January-March issue. Grab your copy from all leading bookstores nationwide or purchase the issue from the Asian Dragon Magazine App, free to download on Google Play Store, iTunes, and Amazon.

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