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The Name of the Roast

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Edgar SiaMang Inasal’s Edgar Sia II has turned the humble grilled chicken into the foundation of what could be the next fast–food empire

While it doesn’t take a genius to do chicken right, it does take a visionary to turn grilled chicken into a fast food phenomenon.

After all, more chicken restaurants have fallen by the wayside than have successfully crossed the road to success.

With a network of more than 200 stores all over the country, and projections to have a national chain of 500 stores by 2012, Edgar Sia II, chairman and CEO of Mang Inasal, says everything starts with a vision.

He says that before he even opened his first store in Iloilo City, he decided that his fast food-style roast (inasal in Ilonggo) chicken restaurant had to be expandable on a nationwide scale. “It was non-negotiable in my mind,” he says.

Sia wanted to create a place where Filipinos could eat and be themselves, but with the convenience and quality control offered by fast food establishments. What he came up with is a testament to Filipino ingenuity: a fast food place that offers sit-down comfort but without the pretension.

The rich wood detailing in Mang Inasal’s Makati Avenue branch, for example, is in contrast with the harsh plastics of your typical fast food joint. Mang Inasal’s playful red on yellow logo, on the other hand, proudly proclaims that they don’t take themselves too seriously. Sia even insists that not only is it okay for customers to eat with their hands, it’s the best way to enjoy inasal.

Pinoy ka doon (You can be a Filipino there),” he proudly says of Mang Inasal.

What Recession?
One of the fastest-growing businesses despite an economic slump, Sia says that “there is no such thing as a recession.” He says that it’s all a matter of turning adversity into opportunity. “When there’s a crisis, the more you advertise,” he adds. After all, fortune favors the brave.

Instead of playing safe until consumer spending picked up, Sia decided to expand aggressively, opening stores as soon as franchisees finish renovating their spaces. He says that expanding was one way to maintain brand equity. After all, someone is bound to copy his business model.

He says that the best way to protect Mang Inasal against that is to already have a large network of stores in place. With a six-year head start, Mang Inasal will be more efficient, will be able to handle a larger volume of orders, and will have greater bargaining power.

Mang Inasal was also able to take advantage of the ‘rice crisis’ of 2008, proudly announcing that its stores would offer customers unlimited rice. At a time when the Department of Agriculture was telling restaurants to serve smaller servings of rice, Mang Inasal’s gamble got people to take notice. Sia reveals that it wasn’t such a big gamble after all. “It averages out to two cups per person,” he says, and that’s nothing compared to the publicity and patronage that his stores got.

With his rapidly-expanding chain of chicken restaurants, Mang Inasal has been compared to Jollibee, another Filipino fast food success story, but Sia will have none of it. “They say that, not me,” he says with genuine humility.

Paying It Forward
While watching his business grow is gratifying, Sia says that “the best reward, aside from the profit, is being able to employ.” Mang Inasal has around 6,000 employees, he says, with hundreds more employed supplying chicken, calamansi, and barbecue sticks.

Mang Inasal also has tree-planting programs on Guimaras Island, and Sia plans to plant trees on 20 more hectares this year. He shares that this is part of his business philosophy, to always strive to do what is better for the franchise, for the business, and ultimately, “for mankind.”

It is perhaps Sia’s attitude of spreading his blessings that have in turn blessed him, and by the end of the year, Sia hopes to spread the wealth a little more by becoming the first Ilonggo home-grown business to be listed on the Philippine Stock Exchange. He sees the initial public offering as a way for the Filipino masa to get into stocks, and to let them have the feeling of owning a company.

Asked about his secret barbecue marinade, Sia quips in mock gravity that it wouldn’t be a secret if he told us. He then explodes in playful laughter that only a man who has eaten with his hands can muster.

Print ed: 02/10

 

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