Kenneth Shaw: Siargao’s man of the hour

Kenneth Shaw may have his plate full, but he never forgets to do anything that will benefit the people of Siargao.

The business honcho, who was in the automotive industry before investing in fast food business, built a commercial space 12-km away from the tourism road. The Siargao Town Center, a 1.8-hectare property, has become the main source of basic needs of locals and tourists — from Puregold to Handyman and soon Mercury Drug, National Bookstore, Jollibee, Penshoppe and Shakey’s.

SIARGAO Town Center is a 1.8-hectare commercial space located 12 kms. away from the tourist road in Siargao island.

Shaw continued to be a beacon of light for the island when super typhoon “Odette” (Rai) hit Siargao on 16 December 2021. Together with his staff, he was giving Siargaonons and foreign tourists free food and water. His own family was safe in Manila then.

KENNETH Shaw, founder of Siargao Town Center.

The Daily Tribune met Shaw at his resort in Siargao to learn more about his love for the island.

Daily Tribune (DT): What’s a day in your life like?

KS: I wake up at six. I pray the rosary which normally in Manila, I would be with my wife praying it. Then, I take a 30-minute swim. I come back, eat my breakfast which is typically Kitong, rice and atchara. That’s been done all the time. I’m a monotonous guy. So, I do that. Then I go to work. Do everything that’s there in and then I drive around, look what’s going on. Come back here. Look at my people, invite them for dinner and all that. And then sleep. I should be asleep by eight or nine. That’s my typical day in Siargao. I don’t go out.

My wife is not here, I normally do everything with my wife.

I don’t enjoy just going to a bar. If we’re not going to talk about something that would create progress, I get bored. You got to let me know what is it that we can do tomorrow and everything. But if we’re going to talk about the latest fashion and everything, it’s boring to me. I’m going to go and sleep. It is what it is.

It’s something that, I don’t think you could do all this because everybody told me that it’s impossible to put up a commercial center here. It’s impossible.

You just put up a little store. That’s my idea. People told me it’s not going to happen. These big name stores are not going to come here because it’s too small of a market. I said, you guys don’t understand that it’s growing and everything. I came here in 2015. I saw it as a place where in the minority are locals, are Pinoys.

Siargao is not a hard sell in Europe. Everybody knows it. It’s the perfect destination for Europeans. There’s a certain vibe to it.

SURFING is the backbone of the tourism industry in Siargao.

DT: What is the culture of Siargao like from your perspective?

KS: I am very familiar with Boracay and Palawan. I was just so surprised how people would come in here. And it’s not enough that they become typical tourists. Everybody wants to be number one. They want to stay longer. They want to come back. They want to build something. They want to do something else other than being a tourist. It’s just like that.

To me, the ultimate lifestyle of pleasure is an island. It’s island living, even in the movies. At the end of a James Bond movie, he’s in an island. At the end of a Mat Damon movie, he’s in an island. At the end of everything is an island. What do these billionaires do? Buy a yacht and buy an island. So, it’s the end game.

DT: What makes Siargao a good investment?

KS: Well, number one it’s diversified. When you have the market, it’s already there. You know, other people put up infrastructure, you put up an establishment, you market and then you advertise. In Siargao, there’s no need. Just bring in your goods or your products, the market is already there. You want the best food? You want Spanish food? You got a Spanish guy cooking paella. You want French food? There are French guys over here. You want Israeli or German food? It’s there. The Italian? They’re all here. They love it here. On every occasion, good food is a necessity.

DT: You’ve got a playground now in STC.

KS: I put it there to bring some joy to these people. There is a small ferris wheel and everything. That gave me the idea. I talked to somebody, and they were so kind enough to give me a good deal so I brought it in. If you give Siargaonons something new they kind of forget all the bad things and enjoy.

DT: Why Siargao? What is it about Siargao that you love the most?

KS: I need the Siargao to be known and for them to shine with their community. In all honesty, it’s the people’s helpfulness. They’re just good people.

(CLOCKWISE) Tanny Caser, driver; Bryan Franklin Escamillan; Vince Cristian Fuentes, engineering manager; Andrea Paula Curay, operations manager, Kenneth Shaw, founder of Siargao Town Center; and Christopher Unilongo general manager with their pet dog Bruno.

DT: You mentioned about reverse migration. Is it becoming a thing?

KS: I will only talk about my personal experience. I have a driver who’s working for me for almost 12 years or so. I give my drivers basic salary. And then they’re free to moonlight on land tours and everything. That’s very common because of the low cost of living standards.

First, I don’t have to wear a suit every day. I go to work in these shorts. Walang traffic. Our food is everything.

It’s simple. It’s all economics.  I’m always commercial and economic when it comes to arts and all these things. At the end of the day, okay love is good. But if you cannot pay the food on the table, they will now be thrown out.

That’s my point. Siargao gives you all that.

CLOUD 9 surfing viewing deck.

DT: Some words of advice?

KS: I really don’t have anything much to say other than you must, in everything you do, just keep the faith. I think in my experience, I don’t think a lot of us in high school really imagine where we are going to be right know. You don’t know. Once you accept that, that is faith. You don’t know what’s going to bite. Isn’t that faith? You must give your faith to God and just do where he leads you.

You do what you think is right and pray. That’s always what it is.

Studying in Don Bosco, my mother taught us how to pray the rosary regularly. I brought it upon on myself to do it every day because I’ve been married for 35 years. I’ve been praying the rosary immediately as I wake for the last 35 years. After 15 years, my wife joined me. I didn’t ask her. You don’t force people. She just joined me. The minute you cohabitate, that’s the only time you’ll know. Everybody’s happy during good times, but crisis time, that will test your mantle. That’s what guides me. I have a rosary.

Everything is humility. That’s enough. That’s my guiding principle in life.

DT: What’s next for Kenneth Shaw?

KS: There’s nothing next. There’s no such thing as good news, there’s no such thing as bad news. When you ask me what’s next? I don’t know. Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad. I just take it the way it is. Day by day. I pray my rosary every day and then what happens next, I accept. What I do in life is what God brings in front of me, I perform to the best of my ability for the next 24 hours. What happens on the 25th hour I don’t know. The truth is, we all don’t know. When you run a business plan, I don’t care whether it is the Harvard or the Princeton guys or Wharton who does the business plan, consulted with Mackenzie and everything like that. At the end of the day, you still don’t know, with all the consultancy with all the experts’ opinion, what will really happen on the opening day. That’s what we call the moment of truth. Nobody knows. So, when you ask me what’s next, we don’t know.