EXCLUSIVE: Abba Napa & Eliza Antonino Are Women Leaders Whose Hunger For Learning Will Inspire You
Abba Napa and Eliza Antonino co-founded The Moment Group with their friend Jon Syjuco.
Abba Napa and Eliza Antonino, co-founders of The Moment Group, are both entrepreneurs who handled businesses of their own before becoming partners in this restaurant endeavor.
Abba graduated with a management degree and is familiar with the restaurant business since her dad owns L’Opera restaurant, where she was exposed to the food industry. She also studied restaurant management and culinary techniques at the renowned French Culinary Institute in New York City.
Meanwhile, Eliza “Eli” Antonino owned a restaurant when she was a college student. She graduated with a degree in hotel and restaurant management and worked for the Four Seasons Hotel in New York, where she was part of the operations team. She also owned and managed several restaurants in Manila.
A passion project
“We met after college and became friends since we traveled and went diving together with many mutual friends. We also have a mutual love for football and the World Cup," says Eli, sharing how she and Abba met and eventually became restaurant business partners.
Abba was in retail, and her business partner, Jon Syjuco, had the idea to venture in the restaurant biz. Since Abba knew Eli had her own restaurant a long time ago, she thought of collaborating with her on this endeavor.
“Jon and I are both business partners in retail and we both love food. We have been in retail for so long and we kinda know what people were spending on. We thought about opening a restaurant when the mall gave us a space in BGC and we were given an option to use it either for retail or for food. Since Jon and I really wanted to go into the restaurant business and we were both logical enough to know that we needed a partner who had a restaurant before, we talked to Eli, who was on sabbatical that time”, Abba tells Metro.Style.
At first, Eli said no to both Abba and Jon since she knew how difficult it is to run a restaurant. But after much prodding from the two, Eli eventually agreed. Abba shares, “Jon and I bothered her for five months. We had happy hour drinks and dinners with her and we kept asking her to partner with us then finally around November 2011 she said yes."
On what made her change her mind, Eli says, “Abba and Jon made a good case that there was still room in the industry for a new restaurant that time so I agreed to join them."
Abba mentioned that getting into the restaurant business was a passion project. She says, "During that time, there were a lot of missing categories and lots of opportunities to offer things that people have not experienced yet."
Abba Napa handles the creative and marketing departments for The Moment Group
When the three of them had to choose a name for their company, they thought of “The Moment Group” because “moment” was a common term they used when they described their memorable dining experiences during their travels. “Whenever each of us would travel separately, we would would always say that I went to this certain restaurant and it is such a moment," says Abba.
They opened their first restaurant in BGC in 2012 called Cue, which had a modern barbecue concept. After this, they also opened 8Cuts burgers then a Filipino restaurant called Namnam which was later on rebranded as Manam in Greenbelt mall.
“Manam was created as a tribute to Eli’s old restaurant called Masas which occupied the same space where Manam is now in Greenbelt mall," says Abba.
More restaurants were launched by their group and their portfolio today has the following brands: Ooma, Din Tai Fung, Shawa Wama, The Mess Hall, Bank Bar, Mecha Uma, Manam Express, Phat Pho and MO cookies.
Their restaurant brands have different cuisine types and cater to different markets.
Working as a team
Although Abba, Eli, and Jon admit that the three of them have different management styles, they believe that they share the same values, business principles, and belief on working as a team.
Currently, Eli takes care of management and operations, Abba takes care of the creative and marketing aspects, and Jon takes care of strategic partnerships, franchise management and real estate deals for the retail spaces of their restaurant group.
As women leaders of a company, Abba and Eli mentioned they did not experience being treated differently because they are women. When asked about their best qualities as business leaders, they instead talked about the strength of the other.
“We are different in terms of management style. Eli has a discipline about business and she manages all the purses and spending. Also, when she walks into our restaurants, she has the ability to let people remember that they should take pride in their work. The structure and profitability are largely founded on her presence in the team," Abba says of Eli.
Eli, on the other hand, shares her thoughts about Abba: “I think everybody knows that Abba is a dreamer. The things she thinks about and dreams about are just amazing and she’s so passionate about it. My role is to put her feet on the ground but her passion and her dreams helps us a lot."
For these two women, having respect for each other’s opinions and communicating openly are keys to working well as business partners.
Eli Antonino handles the management and operations divisions for The Moment Group
Influence and sources of inspiration
Both inspirational women, Abba and Eli credit their success to the women in their families who have influenced them.
“I think the great thing about my mom is that she and my dad allowed me and my siblings to dream. Also, when we lived abroad before, my mom learned things on her own, she got a business partner and ran a bakery," shares Abba.
For Eli, her paternal grandmother and her mother proved to be her role models. Eli says, “My paternal grandmother became a widow and she worked in the office until she was 93 years old so her work ethic is amazing. I also grew up with a mom who is very independent and was in politics and she fought for her principles."
Traveling helps constantly update these two on the global trends, but they take inspiration for their business from things and scenes they encounter every day. Abba says, “Sometimes we see ads on magazines, sometimes it can be from conversations, sometimes we see another object that is not an actual dish, and sometimes we just see a space for a restaurant and the three of us would talk about our ideas."
Challenges and outlook
Since their restaurant group is continuously launching new restaurants, both Abba and Eli know that Moment Group grew the way it did because of the people behind it; currently, their team has 1,500 employees.
“We are at a situation where we are growing fast and one of the challenges for us is Human Resource and getting the right people," says Eli.
Abba also shared another challenge they face on handling various restaurant brands, saying, “Our brands also need to constantly evolve and we need to constantly create new dishes. We also feel that we have a lot of brands now and we need to take care of all of them.
In terms of their outlook for the restaurant industry, Abba mentioned about what they want to offer. “I think we are still on the self-reward everyday category and we want to create things that are more accessible and that more Filipinos can enjoy”, says Abba.
Advice to future entrepreneurs
Whatever their accomplishments are today, Abba and Eli never forget all the hard work it took for them to get to where they are. Considering what they have had to go through to make sure people enjoy every moment they have in their restaurants, they are two of the best people who can impart great pieces of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs.
“They need to go for it and know that there are no handouts and that you need to learn to do things on your own," says Abba.
Eli added that having the right attitude is important as well: “You need to find the passion and as an entrepreneur, you need to roll up your sleeves and do the hard work."
To know more about The Moment Group, visit: www.momentgroup.ph
Photographs by Greg Mayo
Makeup by Xy Eugenio
Hairstyling by Karen Gallano