THERE are no shortcuts to success, says entrepreneur Kathryna Yu-Pimentel. At the start of her career, the self-taught culinary artist was pushed to the extremes running her now-defunct food services. Humbled by the lessons, she has teamed up with other partners for her businesses and she has been reaping the fruits with the Singaporean casual dining restaurant chain Tiong Bahru Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice and Alpina Lounge and Wellness.
Entrepreneurship came naturally to Kathryna, who started earning money in her elementary and high school days by making polvoron and cookies and selling them. In college, she supplied 500 packed cookies a week to a classmate who owned a coffee cart in the school. After graduation, they became suppliers to lobby coffee shops and school canteens. Likewise, she ran her own catering business and an Italian restaurant.
Kathryna shifted careers when she worked at the law firm of her future husband, Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, and at the Senate office upon his election.
Six years ago, she came upon Tiong Bahru Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice restaurant in a trip to Singapore. Its long name distinguishes itself from the original, Tiong Bahru, Singapore’s oldest neighborhood and tourist destination. Located in the hawkers’ area, the restaurant attracted long queues of office workers. The come-on was the bite-size pieces of succulent Hainanese chicken on fragrant turmeric rice with ginger, chili and hoisin sauce.
“It was a hearty meal yet you didn’t feel the guilt because the chicken was not fried,” says Kathryna.
Whenever she visited in Singapore, she kept returning to Tiong Bahru Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice.
In 2019, Kathryna and several partners, including the Singaporean owner, established the local corporation, Tiong Bahru Philippines, which owns and manage its restaurants here. The first restaurant opened at MET Live Mall in Pasay City followed by another branch at Easton Place in Makati. Lockdowns notwithstanding, the businesses flourished with its healthy offerings and efficient delivery.
The famous chicken rice dish clicked because it offered top quality and value for money for less than P300 for a solo serving. Some customers kept ordering daily.
In the post-pandemic world, Tiong Bahru Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice now has seven outlets in the metropolis. The flagship restaurant was recently inaugurated at the Eastwood Mall. The eighth branch is slated to open at the Greenhills Shopping Center later in the year.
Aside from the poached and roasted chickens, tender for their juicy meat, the restaurant chain is also known for the tofu appetizer with sweet chili sauce, the sausage-like kikiam Singapore, the beef and fish head curries.
A major advantage is that the food is cooked on-site to guarantee freshness. Before each restaurant opening, the Singaporean principal, Andrew Koh, trains the kitchen staff to ensure authenticity of tastes. Its customers seek fresh taste and healthy meals at pocket-friendly prices.
Kathryna attributes Tiong Bahru’s success to the harmonious partnership. The investors, who come from diverse fields, offer their expertise. Kathryna and two other partners are foodies who conduct the taste tests and visit the branches to check the consistency in quality. She adds that the location in malls and high-traffic areas helped bring in the customers.
She cites that aside from the human capital or the knowledge of each business partner, Tiong Bahru’s success is likewise attributed to customer satisfaction from the high quality products and service, and a strong company image. It also helps that Kathryna actively promotes the brand.
Meanwhile, Alpina Lounge and Wellness, a nail and brow salon and spa at Uptown Parade in Taguig City, has been thriving. Kathryna is joined by her sister Stephanie Yu Chua and Russian brow expert Maria Zhukova as managing partners. Aside from offering minimally invasive services, specialized blood tests and massages, Alpina doubles as a party place at night. Business is flourishing because it uses top quality machines and products executed by professionals who follow international standards in nail art, semi-permanent makeup and aesthetic procedures.
Kathryna says her earlier ventures taught her to be resilient. Maturity, location and timing are important to success. Learning from her lessons, she follows the classic recipe for success: “Good partners, good location, good products and good service.”