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Startup restaurants celebrate youthful energy and novelty

/ 11:13 PM January 19, 2013

CHEF Enrico Laviña at Il Duello’s private dining room with New York-inspired interiors. Photo by NELSON MATAWARAN

Chef Enrico  Laviña, 30, hopes that his Il Duello, would be known as “the Little Italy in Quezon City.”  Kathlene “Kat” Anne and Krystel “Abby” de Guzman Nantes have been running Paire, a restaurant with a unique business model of  cocktails and desserts.

SEAFOOD and vegetables cooked in their own flavors. Photo by NELSON MATAWARAN

Although these brick-and-mortar businesses face high costs of construction  and renting, these entrepreneurs  were fortunate to get helpful landlords, Gigi and Boy Vinzon, who understood the birth pains of startups.

Ensconced at Cocoon, an eco-boutique hotel in a quiet residential neighborhood along Scout Rallos, these two restaurants have been building their clientele just by word of mouth.  Without any formal business background, they embody spirit of entrepreneurship—passion, belief, discipline and a willingness to give.


Grand duel

Laviña has been taking culinary lessons since he was in his teens. He studied hotel and restaurant management at the College of Saint Benilde.  He chucked in the suit after working at the front desk of a Makati hotel to an apron when he worked at Dusit Thani. There he learned to cook for big orders.

IL DUELLO’S restaurant features two differnet kitchens for the two chef owners. Photo by NELSON MATAWARAN

When he moved to  the Chateau Group of Restaurants, Laviña honed his skill in cooking fast while maintaining high quality. He also worked in Hong Kong to set up a nouvelle Filipino private restaurant then to Tuscany, Italy to learn the cuisine.

With his chef friend, Pierre Tan, and business partners Ryan Dy and Mikey Tolentino, they set up Il Duello, to fill in the gap of quality Italian restaurants in Quezon City.

The name “Il Duello,” (grand duel in Italian) was derived when the best of friends Laviña and Tan, were pitted against each other in a culinary contest in QTV. Tan won the contest. “We wanted Italian because it’s comfort food. Who doesn’t love pizza and pasta?” says Laviña.

Thus, the 90-sqm restaurant is built with two open kitchens for Laviña and Tan. In the end, Laviña is the backbone of the restaurant. His work entailed overseeing construction to hiring of employees to bookkeeping.  He realized that entrepreneurial life is rife with stresses and sacrifices. “We put in more man-hours than needed,” says the chef.

KAT Nantes makes Paire’s interiors whitewashed but quirky to let the food stand out. Photo by NELSON MATAWARAN

Il Duello’s concept is to offer the same quality of dishes that are served in Italy. All the ingredients are imported including the water. The produce is nothing but the freshest. Il Duello aims to educate the Filipino’s taste buds on authentic Italian cuisine. He notes that Filipinos have been habituated to overcooked pasta. The real pasta al dente  has a mild resistance in the center when the pasta is  bitten. When they try authentic pasta, they think it is undercooked.  Il Duello’s carbonara sticks to egg yolk and pork jowls, not cream to which Filipinos are familiar with.

Some are not accustomed to the delicate and chewy Italian pizzas that they look for the thick, crispy crust. It could get upsetting when Laviña wants them to experience authentic Italian food and customers ask for chilli sauce,  ketchup and steak sauce.


Still, the restaurant also aims to show the repertoire of Italian cuisine. “It’s not just pizzas and pastas. It also includes seafood, meat and poultry,” he says. “The Philippines has so much seafood but the restaurants always come out with dory. The octopus is meatier than squid.”

SISTER act: Kat and Abby Nantes. Photo by NELSON MATAWARAN

The 30-seater restaurant has been attracting families, businessmen and list of celebrities such as boxer-politician Manny Pacquiao who had a business meeting at the private room, and actor John Lloyd Cruz.

Laviña’s father, Roberto, a chief finance officer of a company, is proud of the fact that Il Duello’s business looks stable on its first year. “We weren’t in the negative,” says the chef. “We stuck with our budget.  I do the marketing myself. We order vegetables and seafoods in small quantities so that they are fresh all the time.”

His father advised him to uphold  values when dealing with government bureaucracy. “My father said do everything legally and not to give in to bribery when getting permits.”

Laviña also does the accounting and daily inventory. “The advantage is that there is zero pilferage which is a huge problem in the industry. Second, you never go out of stock with ingredients.”

The chef hopes that Il Duello would be known for serving regional cuisine.  The competition is stiff in Quezon City because there are several American Italian or Italian fusion restaurants that are a few kilometers away from each other.

UNUSUAL pairing—Bittersweet melody—opera cake and margarita. Photo by NELSON MATAWARAN

“We want to offer something better than what most people know about Italian food,” Laviña maintains.

Sweet deal

When Kat and Abby Nantes talk about their business, it’s more about family and memories that inspired their products. Both graduates of University of Sto. Tomas, Kat majored in advertising arts while Abby took up food technology. The latter ended up studying culinary arts and baking at the International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management.

They started on a business that aligned their interests. Kat, 27, enjoyed concocting cocktails that she created a mobile bar that could be set up in events. On the other hand Abby, 25, prepared the wedding cakes and pastries.

With a loan from a bank and help from their parents, the sisters merged their forces by putting up Paire, a restaurant which combined desserts with cocktails. The idea was to find a common ingredient or flavor in the pastry and the cocktail to determine the pairing. For instance, the Almond Slice is a moist cake layered with cream and distinguished by almonds. It goes with Amaretto Sour which has  an almond-flavored Italian liqueur.

Then there’s the fruity combination of banana walnut tart with the strawberry mojito.  Likewise, the bittersweet flavor of the opera cake goes well with the margarita with its bitter undertones of tequila and sweetness of Cointreau.

At first, diners find the combination arcane. When the flavors of the cocktail and dessert burst in their palate, they start smiling, says Kat.

A year into the business, Paire has been thriving on catering services. The restaurant with its  capacity for 50 and feminine interiors-whitewalls with changing wall accents, colorful mismatched chairs and white tables-has been a choice for private parties.

However, when people come to Paire, they expect more than their dose of sugar and alcohol.  Responding to market demands, the restaurant serves longganisa on a stick, beef tapa, classic chicken tocino, cream dory, chicken and beef salpicao and sloppy joes. The average receipt of P500 makes for a full meal.

Its most unique offering is the bar chow  “ligid,” a fusion of chicharon and liempo,  culled from their grandmother’s recipe.

Abby adds that she was happy to give her grandmother, Etta, some business. One of  Paire’s best sellers is beautifully packaged cup of ground native cocoa and peanuts from Etta’s recipe. During the Christmas season, the grandmother’s kitchen was busy.

Their lesson is that entrepreneurship can be a practical career path despite its risks. Instead of being getting a job or being an employee, the times have  driven  them to redefine what a stable job is.

(Il Duello and Paire are located at Cocoon  hotel, Scout Rallos corner Sct Tobias, near Timog,  Quezon City. Il Duello’s number is    0915-3836633 and Paire’s number is 0916-7411800)

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