Brunch bromance

Brunch bromance


May 26, 2019

Living one’s passion can be an exhilarating thing, just ask Anton Engwa. The 29-year-old does it on a daily basis as a partner in St. Louis House of Ice-Cream and Fine Desserts, along Bonifacio Global City’s (BGC) High Street Central.

Anton, together with Brett Bayly, Ben Arnold and Shav Halley, are proprietors of the Adelaide-based café chain that’s been winning encouraging social media notice and customers for its filling and healthy brunches and delicious coffee. Oh, and did we mention the tantalizing rows of Australian-style gelato in rich pops of color?

Serendipity could only have brought these young men to the kitchen table — Anton, Ben and Shav were products of International School Manila, who met up years later when Aussies Ben and Shav needed space in the Metro for their new venture. Anton (then a real estate broker for Jones Lang Lasalle) came in as their leasing consultant. Recognizing each other as schoolmates helped create instant rapport that is today an unqualified “bromance” among them. Says Anton: “We started as business partners who have become friends.

“It’s a relationship I don’t have with others. I have close friends, but I would never go into business with them. When they invited me to join them in St. Louis, I sat on it for some time because I was scared. It was all new to me; then after reflecting, I decided to go for it. But it turned out to be the right product, the right timing and the right people.

“We care about each other and what happens in our personal lives as well. We talk about how we see ourselves in 5 to 10 years. We are always comparing notes and making sure we are aligned.”

With each of them possessing a certain skill set and infused with natural energy, the team’s dynamics has been relatively smooth. Anton, who has a bachelor’s degree in hospitality and management from Glion Institute of Higher Education in Montreaux, Switzerland, fitted right in with the rest who were better versed in other departments such as management, staff training, quality standards and corporate finance. “I just filled in the gaps,” he says matter-of-factly. Those gaps just happen to be important details such as accounting, administration issues, purchasing, POS (point-of-sale) process and other back office matters.

“We just needed each other. So, there’s never been a recognized leader. We became a unit.”

Anton mentions as well that since he is keenly interested in baking, he gravitated to the baking area and helped develop their brownies and cookies line.

From day one, the boys have been so hands-on in the job, they know every crack in their establishment’s pipes, where each salt and pepper shaker was purchased, which plate best displays what sandwich and so on. They also made “loads of mistakes,” Anton admits, adding, “which will result in savings when we do open our second outlet.”

Expanding is definitely in the cards, and an opportunity appeared when Common Ground, a co-working space provider with roots in Malaysia, contacted Anton and his friends to see if they were interested to be their anchor café. They, of course, jumped at the chance and set up kiosks in Common Ground’s outlets in Arthaland, BGC and 8 Rockwell, Rockwell Center, Makati City. “It has been a cost-effective way to grow and get our name out,” Anton observes. Besides the company’s customers, walk-ins are also allowed to purchase St. Louis’ items that range from its trademark hearty coffee to breakfast goodies and ice cream.

“We hope to grow with them when they eventually open up in other cities like Cebu, Davao and Iloilo,” Anton says.

Franchising is another project they’re working on, says the only son of businessman Manuel Engwa. “As the owners, we can share what we went through and were able to do. We can show you what to avoid, thereby saving you money.”

Although the St. Louis restaurant is a cut and paste version of the Genelg branch, located in a beach-side suburb of Adelaide, not all its offerings are. Anton explains: “We’ve had to localize. Just because it’s a foreign cuisine means it’s going to do well. We’ve had to add savories like our chicken avocado rice bowl to increase repeat visits and customer spend.”

The partners’ feeling of family has expectedly influenced the way they manage staff. “We’ve always hired for attitude over skill,” Anton says. “We’ve cared about our team’s personal life as well.
We’ve trained them and helped them through a lot of things.”

Rewards will come, but only through hard work, he stresses. “We may be the owners, but we also show you that we can do what you can do.” Six individuals, who’ve fulfilled their promise by coming “close to replicating” the partners, have now been promoted to managers.

“They stood out and became leaders of the group,” Anton says. Happy colleagues are more prone to engage diners in an appealing way, also creating a cozy and welcoming environment. A win-win situation for all parties concerned.

Much more than feeling that daily kick each morning, preparing to tackle the challenge of running a restaurant, Anton is thrilled at the thought of “leaving a legacy, building something from scratch.”

He says: “It’s one’s own business to do with, using one’s brain and strategies to develop it.

“Best of all, you’re doing it with people, who are not only friends, but blood brothers.”

About me

My dad Manuel Engwa. He started out life in a very different way from me. He lost his mother when he was very young and through hard work, he became super successful. He’s self made, self educated.

To raise a good kid. I think life’s successes — or failures — start with the parents. That’s the bare bones of it. I also want to leave a legacy for the kid to be proud of.

It was during my intership in our school town in Glion, Switzerland. I was all around chef and bartender. I got paid monthly.

Exercise — I jump rope. I’m at work by 9:30 a.m. or so.

I think I’m a good listener, which has benefited me a lot in many things I’ve gotten into.

I’m not that active on Facebook. The whole social media thing is
not for me.

Photos by Harvey Tapan

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