Abba Napa and Ana De Ocampo Talk About Running F&B Operations During Quarantine in Metro Manila
During the Philippine enhanced community quarantine, food and beverage establishments can only do delivery and pick-up but absolutely no dine-in. As time went on more and more restaurants started to figure out how to best their logistical hurdles and began joining in feeding the Filipino people. From the start however, Wildflour and The Moment Group (TMG) were amongst the few who had kept their F&B operations alive —their kitchens were revved and ready for action.
The back-end operations to me, seem quite intense and difficult from transportation to purchasing logistics and let us not forget the fact that these restaurants were not set up to work as take-out facilities. They must now get used to a large influx of unprecedented customer service engagement. Aside from understanding the dynamics, more importantly, this article serves to highlight the hard work that every F&B establishment has been putting in day in and day out in order to give us all delicious food. Thank you for feeling many homes during this trying time!
I talk to Ana De Ocampo, CEO and president of the Wildflour Group and Abba Nppa, Creative Director of The Moment Group to learn more about what it takes to run multiple restaurants during this time with unprecedented challenges.
I'm confident Wildflour will survive this ordeal, and once we do, our restaurant and the hardworking team behind it will come out stronger and able to handle anything that comes our way.
— Ana De Ocampo
A Responsibility To Nourish
This is an incredibly difficult time, so why go through the trouble and extra expenses or headaches in order to stay open?
Wildflour, a personal favourite, has kept key locations operational in order to service both bakery and savory meal orders. “We decided to continue service because we thought it best to use whatever means we had to serve the community that has been so good and loyal to us, all these years” shares Ana.
The group had also recently launched Wildflour To-Go, their first in-house online delivery platform, just a month before the lockdown commenced - and now it has certainly been tested through trial by fire! Ana elaborates by telling me that she saw this as an opportunity to serve the community in these trying times by making it as convenient as possible for people to have quality food delivered. One of her goals is to offer substantial, well-balanced options as opposed to fast or canned food that many are reliant on now that it can be quite difficult to go to the supermarket to find fresh produce. “So far it’s been a great learning experience for the business, and has pushed us to expand beyond what we are used to” Ana adds.
For Abba at TMG, she shares that there were valid reasons for both sides: to continue service or not. But, much like Ana, Abba felt that because they are capable, that they have a responsibility to nourish. She proudly commented that the number of Moment team members who believe this has allowed them to open over a quarter of their shops for service on a daily basis. TMG’s Ooma, 8Cuts, Manam, Mess Hall, Din Tai Fung and even Mo’s Cookies are ready to feed you. For a cookie, burger and sisig lover, I was definitely thrilled!
Not only have they kept multiple branches open, did know that they also released new products in the midst of all this adversity? At Mess Hall you can now order frozen, pre-cooked or ready to heat meals, and at 7-11 stores, Manam has rolled out a packed-meal sisig dish! TMG turned a tough scenario into an opportunity to innovate.
We have a responsibility to nourish.
— Abba Napa
In my eyes, all of these F&B groups actively working during the terrifying quarantine are frontliners too because they are diligently and passionately providing food to various people who may be struggling to properly feed themselves. On top of that, these enterprises are also employing their staff who rely on this income to support their families.
“There are a few things in our control" shares Abba, "one is trying to keep team members working and the second is supporting our frontliners in this battle. Both of those things start and end with making food” she continues positively as she explained that TMG has begun an initiative, called Project Nourish in order to make sure our hard working medical workers are nourished. Here, they supply 1000 packed meals per day to smaller hospitals around the metropolis.
Although this is a tremendously weak time for everyone, the people we are fortunate to work with seem to have become stronger than ever before. It’s extraordinary to see
— Abba Napa
Now that social distancing is the norm and isolation has become commonplace, I wondered how food is being prepared at restaurants and what the sanitation process is like. At both Wildflour and TMG restaurants, they have imposed stricter sanitation guidelines than usual in addition to social distancing measures and the mandate of frequent hand-washing and disinfecting.
For Ana’s team at Wildflour, the wearing of face masks at all times is a must as well body temperature checks, three times a day. Over at TMG, Abba says that everybody must complete a daily health check before coming into work and that there are food safety and sanitation policies in place that are meticulously followed from the time a team member enters their shops.
Every transaction at both restaurant groups is now as contactless as possible, from ordering to payment to hand-off with delivery partners.The goal is no-touch interactions between staff and delivery couriers. There is extra effort placed in disinfecting every item that is used too—from menus, trays, to cash registers—so that the food prepared stays as clean as can be. What used to be second nature and a down-pat easy skill, is now cumbersome and significantly more tedious, but Wildflour and TMG alike understand that it matters and it will make all the difference. “These are the extra steps we must take to ensure the health and safety of both our team members and our community” Abba explains.
How Are Staff Getting To Work?
Wildflour has assembled a team of staff that live closer to BGC and Makati for ease of mobility to their open branches. Ana provides transportation by personally picking up employees from where they live, or by organising a meeting point every morning for a carpool and the same is done when it’s time to go home. “I'm confident Wildflour will survive this ordeal, and once we do, our restaurant and the hardworking team behind it will come out stronger and able to handle anything that comes our way” Ana proclaims.
At TMG, most of their employees are equipped with their quarantine passes so they can make the daily commute via motorbike, or choose to utilise a company organised shuttle service.
“We go back and forth several trips to ensure that we still practice social distancing at all times, even while in transit” Ana adds. Abba, in total agreement says the same is done for TMG and chimes in to say restaurateurs now also make sure to end the day in a timely fashion so that everyone is home by curfew. “Although this is a tremendously weak time for everyone, the people we are fortunate to work with seem to have become stronger than ever before. It’s extraordinary to see” Abba notices.
We’ve always believed [in the power of community], but it has been during this pandemic that we have really seen it in action before our very eyes; a company’s strength is built on its culture and in its members faith in one another, and for people in our business, our community’s trust and respect in us.
— Abba Napa
A Learning Experience
“It’s good to focus on the positive” Abba stresses. For her, it is the immense power of community that has kept TMG focused. “We’ve always believed this, but it has been during this pandemic that we have really seen it in action before our very eyes; a company’s strength is built on its culture and in its members faith in one another, and for people in our business, our community’s trust and respect in us.”
Ana tells me that this situation has further emphasised the importance of adapting, communicating and coordinating. She expounds saying their teams work from different locations but continue to collaborate to make sure everything from management, purchasing, production, and deliveries continue to work like a well-oiled machine. Wildflour takes Mondays to meet and assemble a plan of action for the week via Zoom. They push each other to exchange ideas, troubleshoot, and discuss all aspects of operations in order to improve. “As we monitor the situation, we continue to take things day-by-day given the very unique situation we are all experiencing” Ana comments.
How Long Can This Be Sustained?
Both these ultra successful restaurant groups face the hurdles of sourcing their needed ingredients amidst a lockdown and protecting their staff. Ana believes that Wildflour will be able to continue with the current scaled back operations for a month or more and says: “I'm confident Wildflour will survive this ordeal, and once we do, our restaurant and the hardworking team behind it will come out stronger and able to handle anything that comes our way.”
Contrastingly, when I asked Abba how long TMG can go on like this, she said something different and more uncertain: “That’s a hard question to answer, but I believe it’s important to balance hope and objectivity. We are looking as far out as one year, at least, so we can be better prepared for anything.”
Be it a month, three, or even 12, I concur with Abba in that: we need to get through this as best as we can.