May 10, 2019
“We got into the Italian restaurant business not knowing much about Italian food, so we searched for consultants in Italy. We found a chef from Florence who taught us the basics – Danny Moran
A man and his family cook up a successful venture
Perhaps, it was fate that Daniel M. Moran’s search for a new business venture in 2006 brought him face-to-face with the Salesian priests.
He planned at the meeting to make an offer for the gelato (Italian-style ice cream) operations of Amici di Don Bosco (Friends of Don Bosco), the brainchild of Fr. Gianluigi Colombo that had been initially intended as a canteen serving tasty Italian food to students and employees of Don Bosco Makati. Thanks to word of mouth, the simple venue gained a cult following among foodie circles. Moran was a staunch Amici fan.
In that initial encounter with the Salesians, Moran was asked two intriguing questions. The first came from Fr. Rocky Evangelista who queried: “Are you the same Danny Moran that used to play football?” In the 1970s, Moran was a member of the Philippine national football team and had the opportunity to play against footballers who were Salesian priests. This helped break the ice in the negotiations and established a camaraderie between them.
The second question was like a football screamer that came out of nowhere. “Would you like to purchase the entire business?” Moran had earned enough of the trust of the Salesian priests, who realized that Amici was providentially intended for someone who had in his heart the best intentions for the fledgling enterprise.
“I wanted to replicate for the Amici menu the things I learned in Italy. But I had to adjust. I used the Italian base, but made it more flavorful because that’s what Filipinos look for – Paolo Moran
Moran currently sits as president and CEO of Amici Foodservice Ventures Inc. Born in Manila to a family of five boys and two girls, he spent his grade school and high school years at La Salle Greenhills, going on to graduate with a mathematics degree from De La Salle University in 1977 where he was also team captain of the football varsity team. He began his career as a systems analyst/programmer for Hooven Philippines before becoming the sales and marketing manager of IBM Philippines.
Even with his busy corporate career, Moran found time to work in an enterprise on the side with his wife Tessie Mercado Moran, whose passion for baking translated to delectable cakes and pastries that were a big hit among family and friends. “My son Patrick and I would prepare the boxes and tie them up with red ribbons,” recalls Moran of their business’ early days. His spouse adds: “We just wanted to be able to serve refrigerated cakes to people we knew in the Quezon City area. Before long, the orders became overwhelming that we had to already put up a store.” This led to the first Red Ribbon Bakeshop in Timog that Tessie launched with her sister Marlo and their mother Amalia in 1979.
Moran served as president and CEO of Red Ribbon, which grew to 20 branches in the US and over 100 doors all over the Philippines until Jollibee showed interest and moved to purchase the business in 2005.
The success of Red Ribbon provided Moran the blueprint for his future venture. Having learned firsthand the goods it took to steer a ship across rough seas to calmer waters and eventually to safe harbor, he was well armed to navigate his way around the restaurant industry with another enterprise.
From the lone branch along Pasong Tamo, Amici has expanded across Metro Manila and established itself as one of the go-to places for authentic Italian cuisine that satisfies the nuances of Filipino taste buds. The company boasts of over 300 employees spread across its eight restaurants and 20 cafes/stand-alone kiosks of Cara Mia in Metro Manila and Pampanga. Cara Mia is the brand the Morans created for their mouth-watering dessert selection of gelato, gelato cakes and traditional cakes.
Moran’s business acumen is reflected in his eldest son, Amici General Manager Philip, whose job it is to oversee the operations of Amici and build a bridge connecting the business and the market. Philip shares an interesting insight saying: “Filipinos like their food to be malasa (tasty), but their desserts just light and not too sweet.”
His mother’s kitchen prowess appears to have been passed on to his brother Paolo. It is from his creative mind and expert hands that Amici’s array of exquisite offerings emanate. While managing to remain faithful to Italian cuisine, he has found a way to marry it with the Pinoy’s particular palate preferences.
The involvement of the Moran kids in the business — younger sister Pammy handles marketing and social media responsibilities — has added a fresh perspective and dynamism to the operations. Philip observes: “The breakthrough for us was when we stopped trying to be copycat versions of other restaurants and we stuck with what we wanted to do, what we wanted to serve and who we wanted to be.”
But ultimately, it’s Paolo who provides the spice that flavors Amici’s un menù a prezzo fisso (set menu) and draws the crowds. Despite majoring in interdisciplinary studies at Ateneo de Manila University, he followed his enduring penchant for cooking and baking, putting in a stint with Burger King after graduating in 2006. “I wanted to go to culinary school, but they required a more extensive kitchen experience. As the family had opened a Filipino restaurant in Los Angeles, called Jeepney, I decided to work there.”
About this time, his father was in the process of acquiring Amici, even while admitting that he needed help to make Amici fly. Moran recalls: “We got into the Italian restaurant business not knowing much about Italian food, so we searched for consultants in Italy. We found a chef from Florence named Francesco Mansani, who taught us the basics of Italian food and gave us suggestions on how to improve. I told Paolo to start working with Francesco so he could learn from his expertise.”
Through their new partner, Paolo was able to apprentice with different chefs in Italy. “This entailed very long hours,” the young man says. “We would start at 10 a.m. to prepare for lunch, take a short break, then start preparing for dinner, ending around midnight. This was the daily routine.” He earned his apron stripes working for Ristorante Maga Mago in Florence, Drogheria Franci in Montalcino and Osteria Mercede in Palermo.
The lessons he learned there, Paolo enthusiastically brought to Amici. Nevertheless, he remembered to leave room for flexibility. He says: “In the beginning, I just wanted to replicate for the Amici menu the things I learned in Italy. But I realized I had to adjust a bit. So, I decided I could use the Italian base, but make it more flavorful because that is what the Filipino consumers look for.”
The company that Danny Moran set up 12 years ago has now evolved into an organization with a workforce consisting of over 300 employees. He honors a debt of gratitude to the Salesians and his favorite sport, football, by contributing to the Tuloy sa Don Bosco program, which tries to impart to street children the benefits of the game. He also established the Henry V. Moran Foundation, named after his father, which sponsors poor kids so they can learn the game and eventually join international football competitions.
Timing and providence may have figured significantly in Amici’s expansion, but the bigger and more meaningful story is the role the Morans’ spiritual ethic has played in its continuing success. From conversing with Moran, one senses that his vision is not just about raking in profits, but also creating a workplace that treasures long-held values such as respect and close family ties.
“Family” is a recurring theme in Amici operations and culture, and its patriarch expresses delight that three of his five children — two remain in the US pursuing their own dreams — joined the business out of their own volition.
In the same way that the older Morans are proud of their offsprings’ contribution to the company, the younger Morans openly admire their parents’ industry and determination. Daughter Pammy says: “I learned from them the importance of understanding every aspect of the business. We have to live and breathe the business so as to understand how best to serve our customers.”
Philip recounts conversing on one occasion with a former employee, who said the reason people were loyal to his parents was “because they are nice people.” A simple yet powerful approbation.
The Morans are hardest on themselves, especially when it concerns ensuring that the new selections rolling out from their brick oven and numerous stoves will please and exceed diners’ expectations. But overall, they are each other’s biggest supporters and fans. This strong bond that father Danny has instilled in his team has led Amici to an enviable spot in the marketplace and frequent mention in popular food blogs.
In a highly volatile industry where the shelf life of concept restaurants averages about 18 months at most, the Morans have shown where dining’s true pleasure lies — preparing and sharing good and honest food with people that matter most to you.
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NOTES FOR SUCCESS
Mistakes were made and lessons were learned. The experience just added more food for thought along the way for each family member to digest.
• Replicating success. The Morans earned their stripes from building their earlier business, Red Ribbon, into a successful and popular venture. They applied the same winning formula to Amici, which they acquired after selling Red Ribbon to Jollibee.
• Knowing the customers. A keen understanding of their clientele has enabled the Morans to design a menu that marries Italian cuisine and the nuances of the FIlipino taste. Filipinos, they’ve learned, prefer their food to be flavorful and their desserts not too sweet.
• Compassion for people. The Morans have built a business that places their employees at the heart of their operations. The company culture is such that it keeps staff constantly interested and motivated, and instills in them the right values.
• Family matters. Family members, who work together, learn to appreciate each other’s strengths and understand their weaknesses.
PHOTOS BY HERMES SINGSON
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