Noelle Magcale had always wanted to work in the food industry. Ever since leaving her corporate job—her first after college—to enroll in culinary school, Magcale has been pursuing her dreams. She interned for Jordy Navarra back at Black Sheep, cooked for 12/10, made aprons for various restaurants, and eventually welcomed guests at Toyo Eatery. Although she wanted to run her own restaurant—intent to call it Kale, a wordplay on her surname, four years ago—it was not exactly her priority.
So, when the time came to leave her front of house post at Toyo Eatery, this is how it felt: “Alam mo ‘yung feeling na sasabihin mo kay Sharon Cuneta na, mag-re-resign na po ako kasi gusto ko ring maging Megastar?”
In the second half of 2017, Magcale’s parents offered her a venue in a commercial space they were building, but somehow she felt more uncertain about the whole thing.
“They’re putting a lot of faith in me. Paano kung hindi ko ma-deliver? Paano kung sa isip ko lang siya kaya? Hindi lang siya basta may menu and venue; you’re tying everything together,” she says. “As much as we want to talk about all the concepts and niceties in the world, dreams cost a lot of money—it’s also business.” And in an industry where the risks are high, it’s valid for almost every aspiring restaurateur to contemplate such concerns.
It also wasn’t easy to leave Toyo. “Toyo has been one of my biggest platforms to develop myself and my network,” Magcale says. Like her family, Navarra and the Toyo team were supportive of her new venture, but this trust eventually encouraged her to venture on her own.
Kale’s menu is concise. In a sense, it’s good to keep a short menu when you’re running a new and a relatively small restaurant. But for Magcale, this brevity prevents redundancies, especially for their coffee selection. The food is influenced by Asian flavors to keep the dishes familiar yet playful to the palate.
With the abundance of fast food, eateries, and places offering typical fare, Kale’s concept is relatively new to the vicinity. Since the restaurant is still at its early stage, she still asks herself, “Paano ba ‘to nag-co-come across sa guests namin? Do they get it?”
Magcale knows that giving into what her potential diners are used to may be more profitable. However, this only leads her back to the question of coherence and philosophy: Does it stay true to what she believes in? If not, then it’s not worth it. For her, it’s important to listen.
Magcale knows that giving into what her potential diners are used to may be more profitable. However, this only leads her back to the question of coherence and philosophy: Does it stay true to what she believes in? If not, then it’s not worth it. For her, it’s important to listen. However, it’s also important to determine what she wants and where to draw the line to keep the integrity of the restaurant. “[You have to] stick to your guns and hope that people will appreciate it, too,” she says.
Magcale, who grew up in the area, looks at Kale as her love letter to Fairview. But for her, the goal is to make Kale a venue that challenges the choices in the vicinity and gives her neighbors new possibilities.
Above all these considerations however, Magcale has learned to put an even higher priority in keeping a healthy and happy working environment. This value she puts in her staff is what she learned from her tenure at Toyo Eatery. “My biggest takeaway from chef [Jordy] is how personal a restaurant can be. He was there in every aspect of the restaurant. And he and Miss May (Navarra’s wife) always interact with us like family,” she says.
When you watch Magcale interact with her staff behind the counter, there is always room for a joke, a light chat, and lots of laughter. For instance, during their downtime after the interview, Magcale and a front of house personnel stood by the large window overlooking the driveway. They waved and smiled at every passerby, inviting them to visit the restaurant.
This exuberance is typical of Magcale. When I first visited Toyo a year ago, she had the same high spirit. And it seems like her energy isn’t dwindling anytime soon. Perhaps, that enthusiasm was a requirement when she served as the front of house. But is it still necessary when you’re already the master? For her, it is.
“As much as the concept and ideas are yours, this won’t exist without other people, without their help, and without you trusting and believing in their abilities. When they know you trust them, they’ll help you make this work,” Noelle Magcale says.
“To make a happy restaurant, you and your staff have to be happy. Hindi lang siya tatapunan ng pera. You have to [exhibit authority], but you should also try to be their friend,” she says.
Those little moments where they can laugh with each other and be at ease are significant in keeping things in order. For Magcale, a happy environment makes her staff comfortable working on their skills and in collaborating with one another. After all, running a restaurant is all about working efficiently together.
“As much as the concept and ideas are yours, this won’t exist without other people, without their help, and without you trusting and believing in their abilities. When they know you trust them, they’ll help you make this work,” she says.
Running a restaurant requires commitment. “Kapag may binuo ka, hindi mo na lang siya pwedeng iwanan. Kung gusto mo talaga siyang mag-thrive, lahat ng bagay dapat up to your standard. Hindi mo pwedeng iwanan ‘yung mga bagay kasi natapos na. [You always consider,] ano pa ‘yung other things that you can do,” Magcale says. And the work you put in? “It never really stops.”