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Food Link’s next generation

business / Columnists
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ALL IN THE FAMILY

Food Link’s next generation

Enrico “Rikki” Dee, 52, and his wife Elizabeth “Beng” raised their children so well that eldest Chino, 32, now runs the restaurant division of the family-owned Food Link group and has revolutionized the dining industry by bringing to SM Aura the Todd English Food Hall, the first celebrity-themed dining place in the land.

Rikki’s parents were in the construction business, but after graduating from San Beda College, Rikki and Beng decided to try the food industry.

“I have no degree in culinary arts, but I love to eat.  Business is not always about the money, but more about the interest and the passion.”

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The couple opened Chin Chin Restaurant in Makati in the 1980s, and the quality of their food attracted the attention of “Tatang” himself, Henry Sy Sr.

The SM founder often worked late into the night.  Rikki was manning the restaurant then, from opening till closing.  Sy would frequent the place late at night, with his secretary calling ahead to reserve a place.

Rikki, who was in his 20s then, would wait for Tatang to arrive.  Once, Tatang told him, “You are a hard worker.  Would you want to open a branch in our food court in SM North Edsa?”

Chin’s Express was born, and the outlets have become hugely popular.

Ericka, 26, the third child in the family, came on board some years ago, and helped update the outlets’ image.  Aside from the usual offering of cooked dishes, several branches now boast a made-to-order station, with an emphasis on freshly prepared ingredients.

Ericka is in charge of Food Link’s fast-food division, with yogurt chain Llao-Llao as the newest acquisition.

No conflict of interest

When second son JR and his wife started Sunnies, known for trendy and affordable sunglasses, the family also decided to invest in the enterprise.

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Problems often arise when the younger generation divide their responsibilities between the family enterprise and their personal businesses.

Conflicts of interest, if not resolved, can ensue.

“For the sake of the family, it’s best for the children to have their business interests under the family umbrella.  We can provide more capital and resources, such as aiding with locations for branches, but the children will run their division for the benefit of all.”

Sunnies has recently expanded to offering prescription specs, complete with eye exams.

JR also heads the family-owned Central Malls, which has five locations.

No retirement

The Dees’ youngest child Bea, 19, studies at the Ateneo de Manila University.  She is excited to follow in the footsteps of her elder sister, whose food booth inside the campus generated the most profit some years back.

The children are products of Xavier School and Immaculate Conception Academy, and all (except for Chino, who studied in San Francisco), are Ateneans.

But entrepreneurship begins at home.  “Our kids see Beng and me work hard, so they emulate us,” says Rikki.

Beng, even with her exquisite fashion sense, does not hesitate to get her hands dirty when needed.

“People are surprised to see her dressed up, in high heels, in the kitchen, scooping into the pot,” says Rikki.

The members of the family make time to bond.  Thrice a year, they go on trips, sampling food around the world, discussing which trends to bring home.

Rikki, however, wants to slow down and finally delegate to professionals, now 2,000-strong.

“We empower our people, and pay them what they deserve,” says Rikki.  “They can take senior positions, all the way up to general manager.”

But since Family Link is still a family business at heart, “we remain hands-on.”

Transition is ongoing, with non-family professionals also manning the daily operations, so that the children can devote themselves to growing the different divisions.

A mentor for Go Negosyo, Rikki is excited about several dining innovations in the works.

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