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Making a moment

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Neal P. Corpus

Posted on March 28, 2021

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Abba Napa, co-founder of the group behind 8Cuts, Manam, and more, talks about what it takes to create a successful restaurant.


For The Moment Group (TMG) co-founder Abba Napa, creating a concept and bringing it to success is all about creating that instance of convergence. Food is an instant touchpoint for people to come together, but it isn’t as simple as putting dishes on a table — it’s all about creating an experience that makes for, well, a special moment.

That’s what led her—along with co-founders Eli Antonino and Jon Syjuco—to build some of the most well-loved restaurants today, such as Manam, 8Cuts, and Ooma, among others, and bring in iconic eateries like Din Tai Fung to the country.

While creating this special moment is the end goal of each TMG restaurant — whether it’s bonding over a drink, digging into a burger, or passing dishes around a big table filled with loved ones — the way they get there and the point in which they start is almost always different.

Abba Napa. Photo courtesy of The Moment Group

“[It could be] as mundane as flipping through a magazine or crossing a street in a foreign destination and spotting something that triggers an emotion,” says Abba, who leads the company’s creative development. They’ve also created whole restaurants around a dish they saw customers love.

When they see an opportunity, Abba and her partners aren’t hesitant to jump in and fill the gap. “We also created after realizing that there was something underserved, or even unserved, in the dining scene that we believed the diner could benefit from being offered, and that we felt we could create,” she adds.

Apart from creating restaurants that serve a different flavor to their customer, what sets TMG apart is the speed in which they’ve grown. In 2012, Abba, Eli, and Jon opened their first three restaurants — the now-defunct Cue Modern Barbecue, Burger Bar (now 8Cuts), and Namnam (now Manam) — within mere months of each other, a feat they’ve come to demonstrate over and over again.

Manam at TriNoma. Photo courtesy of The Moment Group

All this, however, is not to say that they’ve simply been winging it. A key to TMG’s success, according to Abba, is their collaborative nature. “I truly believe that our vision for what we wish to create is made that much stronger by that ability we have as an organization to collaborate quite successfully together,” she says.

And for collaboration to work, each and every member must bring something to the table. “It’s a hallmark move for us that everyone on the team puts his or her mark on what we do,” shares Abba.

It’s a value they uphold every day, especially during Women’s Month. Abba says, “For us at Moment, Women’s Month is a reminder of something we try to practice every day — making sure everyone has a seat at the table.”

Abba herself worked to earn her seat at the table. Right after college, where she majored in Communications Technology, Abba cut her teeth in retail. She would go on to co-found a number of companies that focused on apparel and beauty. One of these is the Tropical Retail Company, the company behind the casual footwear store All Flip Flops, the store that brought Havaianas to the country.

Although Abba’s parents were both in the food business, it wasn’t until later that Abba would join the F&B industry. When they lived abroad, Abba’s mother owned a Filipino bakery, and when they returned to the country her father would invest and later own L’Opera Group. It was there that Abba learned about the dynamics of running a restaurant.

Abba would become L’Opera Group’s COO, which operated L’Opera Ristorante Italiano and Balducci Ristorante in BGC. A few years later, she would go on to co-found The Moment Group with Eli and Jon, who brought their own expertise to the group: Eli had owned her own restaurant, and Jon was Abba’s partner in retail.

8Cuts in Greenbelt. Photo courtesy of The Moment Group

Building and running a restaurant is demanding and risky, but for Abba, it is equally rewarding. “The act of creation is my favorite thing to do,” says Abba, “Whether it’s walking into an empty space and imagining what it could become...or whether it’s writing down on a piece of paper a concept menu for a new brand or a restaurant’s new location.”

Creating for the local food scene is also a joy for Abba, because the audience is open and willing to try new things. “The Filipino diner, I find, is very adventurous nowadays,” she says. “This has allowed us in F&B to have fun being adventurous and experimental ourselves.”

And although our food scene is still nascent compared to others around the world, Abba is excited about where it will go: “I look forward to it growing and evolving and housing a diverse array of choices over the coming years.”

However, this development in our dining scene has undoubtedly been put on hold because of the ongoing pandemic.

But this hasn’t stopped TMG from filling in those gaps, as they always do: as a response to the lockdown, the company launched Moment The Grocer, an online shop that offers frozen packs of signature TMG dishes that diners can prepare at home. They also beefed up their in-house delivery fleet called Mo’Go.

“What we do at Moment is create experiences that allow people to converge, and that exact thing that we create for is not possible at this time,” says Abba of operating during the pandemic.

Like many F&B businesses, it has been a difficult process for TMG, but Abba and her team have realized that converging doesn’t have to be around a table these days. “We can converge over a bed tray, a cubicle desk, sitting on the grass in a park,” she says, “be it with the ones we shelter in place with or virtually, with those we sorely miss.”

Din Tai Fung in Greenbelt. Photo courtesy of The Moment Group

TMG’s swift response to the pandemic can be attributed to the same thing that has allowed them to grow at an incredible speed in the past decade: their strong sense of collaboration, along with the fact that they do things 100 percent in-house. “We don’t really outsource anything in terms of what’s needed for the raw creative process,” Abba shares.

When asked about the best advice she’s received, Abba doesn’t cite words from a person, but a fridge magnet: “Dare to be naive,” she says. When you open and accept that there are still a million things to learn, “and when you dare to learn and dare to learn outside of your comfort zone,” she adds, “that is when the magic happens.”

She recalls her days as a young entrepreneur: “I had so much energy and I tried to do so many things at once.” This time, she shares a piece of advice from someone she considers to be a wise person. “Do things one at a time; get good at it, become the best at it.”

Once you’ve mastered that one thing, Abba says, you can add that on to your life and incorporate it to your next venture. “One day when you look back, you will find you will have accomplished many and most of the things you wanted to, and you would have done it well.”

To read more about The Moment Group, visit momentgroup.ph. For a list of their branches at Ayala Malls, check out the Ayala Malls Zing App.

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