Restaurateur Bryan Tiu was only 18 when he put up his first food venture. Now at 36, Tiu, who established Teriyaki Boy, continues to cook up unique food concepts, which he plans to add to his company’s 21 restaurants and six popular brands.
Tiu, the president and chief executive of family-owned I-Foods Inc., introduced a new dining experience to uppity crowd who are adventurous and more open to new food concepts.
“This is actually a family business. My family used to own a textile import company. We had a space in Divisoria. It was my first office as a student helping out in the family business. But we had since shifted into food service. We’re a decade-old now in the food business,” he says in an interview.
I-Foods, which was established a decade ago, caught the taste of the growing middle and upper class and was able to put one diner brand after another. It now has six casual diner brands and three upscale restaurant brands.
Tiu, however, says the food business was not a walk in the park. Before everything else fell into place, Tiu says he has had his fair share of trying times.
He says before the company was formed, he got his first taste of the food business by putting up at least four franchises of the famed Domino’s Pizza.
While still studying in his third year at the Philippine School of Business Administration, Tiu decided to test his skills as an entrepreneur well ahead of his time.
“I was very young then. I was 18, quite impressionable, and very reckless. I thought I could manage my first business venture since it was doing great the first few years. But everything flopped after four years. I did learn a lot with that experience but it cost me a fortune. I lost everything I worked for, we had to close shop,” he says.
From then on and having gained his masters degree from his experience with Domino’s Pizza, so he says, his succeeding ventures proved successful.
In 2001, Tiu put up his first casual food diner—Teriyaki Boy—and continued to grow the brand until it reached 10 stores in 2005. Teriyaki Boy was the first concept restaurant and considered the forerunner of many casual Japanese food diners in the Philippines.
He talked with Pancake House Group owner Martin Lorenzo for a partnership. He eventually sold his 70-percent stake in his first food concept in 2005.
The decision gave him the freedom to focus on site and product development which he says is really his forte. That also allowed him to create a new brand- Sizzlin’ Pepper Steak, a concept he gave to the Pancake House Group under the umbrella of Teriyaki Boy Group Inc.
Tiu says he plans to divest his remaining shares in Teriyaki Boy to raise at least P200 million for the development of new food concepts.
“We plan to divest our 30-percent share so we can build new brands under our I-Foods company,” Tiu says. The Tiu family expects to finalize the sale well within the first half of the year.
His success with Teriyaki Boy also led him to develop another Japanese-inspired concept, Tokyo Café. When the restaurant opened its first branch at SM Mall of Asia in 2006, it pioneered a concept that was popular throughout Japan: cafés that served Western dishes with a Japanese twist. It also served a menu of coffee beverages to rival those offered by other franchises.
With the guidance of Atsushi Yoshizawa, a Japanese professional with years of experience in the restaurant business, Tokyo Café proved to be a hit.
Rather than scare diners away with its unusual menu, the restaurant had cheerful interiors with a modern Japanese ambience that attracted a young crowd.
From Japanese food, I-Foods Inc. diversified into the fastfood business developing a concept of affordable high-end burgers.
Stackers Burger Café opened its first outlet in 2007 and offered a unique product to its regulars: premium burgers made with 100-percent imported beef from Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
Aside from burgers, Stackers was also the first to offer the original Baked Fried Chicken. Using a special method of cooking, the chicken stays juicy and tender but with 80 percent less oil than regular fried chicken, for a truly healthier meal.
Complementing I-Food’s themed food venues is Portuguese chicken frenzy called Peri-Peri Charcoal Chicken.
Tiu says this chicken delight uses a special spicy marinade popular in Portugal and Africa made uniquely spicy with African Bird’s Eye Chili. All the chicken is spit-roasted for a healthier meal.
Eventually, I-Foods Inc. returned to Asian food as its next concept. With the opening of Kogi Bulgogi in 2010, diners have a chance to enjoy Korean food at reasonable prices.
The restaurant specializes in “bulgogi”, a popular Korean dish. To suit Filipino palates, diners have the option to adjust the level of spiciness of their orders.
Miso Ten is another concept store that specializes in ramen and Japanese noodles.
Meanwhile, I-Foods Inc.’s latest concept restaurant is Parmigiano Ristorante Pizzeria, a full-fledged Italian restaurant that offers pasta and pizza, especially its Napoletana Pizza which is the country’s fastest served pizza in about 90 seconds.
Opened in 2010 at Resorts World Manila, the restaurant is fast becoming a must-stop for foodies in the area.
The development of new food ideas has made I-Foods the country’s leading purveyor of fast casual dining concepts in the country. The company is now well ahead of its plan to redesign all 21 casual dining stores owned by the company as part of its re-imaging strategy.
I-Foods carries seven stores under the Tokyo Café brand; five branches under Stacker Burger Café; four diners under Peri-Peri Chicken Charcoal; two under Kogi; a Parmigiano; and two Miso Ten.
“It will be the same store, same menu but we will try to enhance the ambience to sustain what we’ve been offering all our clients along—affordability and comfort,” Tiu says, now twice his age when he first opened his first food stores.
Twice wiser and twice more meticulous, Tiu is now more hands-on company chief executive and president. He is adding more brands under the I-Foods business.
He considers his newest creation “Wafu” as his comeback masterpiece after a brief respite from work. Wafu is an upscale Japanese restaurant in Greenhills and occupies an 800-square meter dining venue beside Gloria Maris.
Completing his list of luxury diners are Woo Galbi at the Shangri-La Mall in Mandaluyong City and soon to open is Spatzle which will also be located also at the same shopping mall.
Tiu was named the Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2005 by Ernst and Young. He commits to continue providing Filipinos with the best tasting food at reasonable prices.