Can friends run a resto? ‘Don’t do it’

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Digital Reporter

DDon’t do it,” said Wren Go, general manager of Made Nice Supper Club—a restaurant in Makati managed by a barkada of millennials who have known each other since their college days in Enderun—when asked about whether or not it’s a good idea to build a business with friends. It was a joke, of course, punctuated by the heavy thud of pasta dough being slammed repeatedly on the table by one of their chefs as the kitchen team tried to come up with its fifth menu. The restaurant changes menus every three months.

“We were fresh out of college when we wanted to open a restaurant in Manila,” Go recalled. Five years of distance as the classmates went their separate ways has made it difficult for him to remember their original restaurant concept. But by October 2016, with the return of chef Jack Flores to Manila with his wife and current pastry chef for the restaurant Gabbi Ramos-Flores Made Nice Supper Club was established in Legaspi Village, Makati.

It was not smooth sailing for our team of cooks and kitchen staff, who are currently between the ages of 22 to 40. “We thought the business plan would be the most difficult part in starting the business,” said Go. “But there’s a lot more to that.” There were disputes over the direction of the business, amplified by the complicated nuances of strong friendships. They made it through. They’re still here and the comforting smell of carrot soup dances in the air as the chefs continued to cook while loudly discussing their new menu concepts. “If you want to start something like this—” Go said, looking back at his friends who stood behind the low cement counter that separated the kitchen from the restaurant, “—then you need to know what you want to do and like what you want to do. If not, it’s going to be really, really hard.”

“It’s really not easy,” he stressed. “I’m not going to say that we don’t have hard times, there are times when we would disagree about something. But we all had a solid foundation, we’ve known each other since college and we already know each other.”

Disagreements were coming from behind the cement counter, but also agreements, and a couple of ideas being tossed around as the chefs in the kitchen continued to brainstorm their menu for the first quarter. That’s all that separates the kitchen from the front of the restaurant, offering guests a clear view of squabbling chefs with their sharp knives and stainless steel ladles, and the chefs a clear view of satisfied guests in wooden communal tables that promotes hearty discussions between friends and family.

Go calls their menu “contemporary American that people mistake for Pinoy… international cuisine with Asian influences.” The simple menu printed on sheets of hard paper does its best to make it not seem intimidating to new customers, naming it after the main ingredient and describing how it’s cooked. Ordering at Made Nice Supper Club os as easy as saying “I’ll have the lamb.”

Speaking of lamb, it’s the experiences of the barkada behind Made Nice Supper Club that helps them come up with their menu. “The lamb dish with arroz negro is a variation of the dish Jack used to cook for Gabbi when they were still dating. Our food is from the heart, it has a story behind it, and well thought of.” The food is visually American (as the Floreses met in America), and without the overwhelming amount of spices Asian cuisine is known for, but with enough to have that taste and feel of home. From juicy steaks, delectable pastas, appetizing vegetable viands and of course, sweet desserts, there’s something for everyone in Made Nice Supper Club.

And like true millennials with allegedly shorter attention spans than the previous generation, the reason why they keep changing their menu every three months is because they don’t want their guests to get bored. The restaurant has gained some loyal customers from it, having a location that’s accessible to members of both the business and residential districts of Makati. Being open for lunch helped too, because the Titas of Makati love their brunch.

Because of this tight knit bond between the founders of Made Nice Supper Club, they have to be hands on when it comes to hiring new people, and you can’t really restrict yourself to hiring just friends and friends of friends.

“We’re really hands on in this restaurant, so we interview potential employees ourselves,” Go said. “We try to look for like minded people so that it will be easier to work together, especially in the kitchen.”

“This is more than just a business, this is a family,” he described. “In most restaurants there’s a divide between the kitchen staff and the front of the house, but here there’s no divide. We eat together at a communal table and we all still work together.”

So maybe it is inadvisable to work with friends, it could be the potential trigger to the destruction of a relationship. But when friends are like family then maybe your potential business has a shot.