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To Build a Successful Food Business, You Need Lots of Patience—Dodjie Violago, Ba Noi’s

Because great opportunities will materialize if you practice patience

Photos by JP Talapian

“Be kind. Always have the best of intentions,” the restaurateur says. “Not fake kind, be sincerely kind. Eventually people will pick that up and that courtesy will be given back to you.”

That’s something Dodjie Violago has lived by even early on in his F&B career. Though he has come across multiple challenges—employees who steal, rude customers—throughout his journey, he reminds himself to pick his battles and be more understanding of people.

His foray into food started in Orange County, California in the late ‘90s when the first wave coffee hit the US. “I stumbled upon Starbucks, walked in and thought, ‘What a great concept.’ People can have specialized coffee with a good ambiance,” Violago said. “I decided to look into it deeper and got part-time jobs in the coffee industry.”

He worked as a barista for six months and attended seminars and talks to become knowledgable in different areas of the business, including equipment maintenance, customer service, and even creating window displays.

Then he stumbled upon a struggling coffee cart in Newport Beach and bought it. He set it up nicely and applied what he learned. After two weeks, his business boomed. “It was just a kiosk and I had to work hard. I would wake up at 4:30 am and get everything settled so I can open at six in the morning. Every day. I asked my brother to help me run it and I even hired students to assist me.” He eventually managed to open eight more carts and a standalone store. After eight years, and an offer he couldn’t refuse, Violago sold the business and came back to Manila.

“There are so many challenges especially in the service industry so you have to be patient.” Violago says, “With my employees, whenever something goes wrong, I tell them not to deny it. Own up to it. And then I’d ask them also to propose solutions. Admit the mistake then suggest how to deal with it. We want to know the truth so we know what we won’t repeat.” It’s a method that not only encourages accountability but also thinking of the welfare of everybody.

In 2002, he returned with the intention of opening a cafe, but things weren’t as easy as he thought. “I had a concept in mind, but the more I studied the market, the more I realized that it wouldn’t work because things have changed since I left.” He invested in various concepts with partners including Ba Noi’s, which he somehow wanted to run on his own. He bought the brand in 2015 and nurtured it to be able to open three branches—Legaspi Village in Makati City, Estancia Mall, and Kapitolyo, which recently opened as Caphe, finally fulfilling a dream.

If there’s anything his career taught him, it’s patience.“It’s an age-old virtue that people talk about, but we don’t really feel the essence of it until we make mistakes. We have to go through it. The more impatient and aggressive you are, the more an opportunity eludes you. You should just allow fate to do its work.”

He learned it the hard way. When he first opened Ba Noi’s Caphe in Kapitolyo in 2015, he didn’t have the funds to support it so everything was half-baked, leading to its early demise. “When I became patient, that’s when everything came together. I stopped chasing what I thought was a great opportunity and just focused on what I had in front of me. That’s when good fortune followed.”

Violago also runs Lo de Alberto, which is inspired by frequent travels to Mexico, and Mongelica Pares and Mami, which caters to Filipino food cravings and limited budgets. His restaurants all stay authentic and true to the respective cuisines.

“There are so many challenges especially in the service industry so you have to be patient.” He says, “With my employees, whenever something goes wrong, I tell them not to deny it. Own up to it. And then I’d ask them also to propose solutions. Admit the mistake then suggest how to deal with it. We want to know the truth so we know what we won’t repeat.” It’s a method that not only encourages accountability but also thinking of the welfare of everybody.

“The things I teach them, sometimes I have to say a million times. And I’m okay with it. If that’s what it takes for them to learn.” Indeed, patience isn’t simply about waiting but also how we behave while we’re waiting. And Violago seems to have mastered it.

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