A story of people

It has been 28 years since The Bistro Group was founded by a group of businessmen led by William “Bill” Stelton, who introduced the TGIFridays brand in 1994. It was a trailblazing move that led to other restaurant concepts in similar space in the food and beverage industry.

TGIFridays at Estancia Mall.

To say that there were ups and downs along the way would be an understatement. But the company was able to soldier on until it reached 22 brands in 152 locations nationwide to date.   Plans are also underway for The Bistro Group to pivot to entertainment and approachable fine dining as an addition to our growth strategy.

Ours is a story of PEOPLE. Everything we do is anchored on our human resource. They are the bedrock of our success and sustainability. We believe that when we take care of our people, they will, in turn, take care of our business.

There were difficult choices we had to make through the years — notably the 1997 financial crisis, the 2007 subprime meltdown in the United States of America and the recent Covid-19 pandemic that really tested our grit and resilience.

In 1997, we were operating seven TGIFridays, three Italianni’s and three Outback Steakhouse branches. There was so much promise that we even thought of operating regionally. But the crisis drove the market crazy, interest rates went up from seven percent to 20 percent and the peso-dollar exchange rate skyrocketed from P25 to P49 to a dollar.  We were badly hit.  We had to bite the bullet and close our Italianni’s anchor store. Sadly, we also had to let go of some of our people, which was one of the most heartbreaking things I had to do in my career, giving them their last pay check and saying goodbye.

Italiannis at Estancia Mall.

We persisted and because of our integrity in business, we were able to gather investors who put their trust in us. Bounced back, we did.

The Covid crisis was different. The most difficult aspect was not knowing when the pandemic would end. I believe we had better cards this time though, since our operations and expansion are all internally funded. We learned from our experience in the past and did not have any outstanding loans. Even then, when no money was coming in and all our resources flowing out, our business was also badly affected.

What to do? We had to close some restaurants and re-strategize our operations to keep the company afloat. We kept some open given whatever restrictions were imposed, more for brand presence and to tell the market that we were here to stay. We pivoted and tried to be agile, treading new business and marketing strategies like beefing up our delivery and take-out services. Through all these, our employees were with us. They were and still are our brand ambassadors.

Denny’s at Estancia Mall.

In every misery or obstacle, there are opportunities, not necessarily financial. We seized that moment to do community service, collaborated with our suppliers and used our central kitchen to prepare food for frontliners.

We also live by what we call the triangle balance, giving equal value to three vital considerations — people, suppliers and customers. It’s all about these that continues to keep us going.


Jean Paul Manuud is the president of The Bistro Group. He is currently in talks with well-known international restaurant concepts that have expressed interest in partnering with The Bistro Group.