Lester Pimentel Ong: The ‘Iron Heart’ director  is also a restaurateur

When action films came to a screeching halt around year 2000 because of piracy, then stuntman Lester Pimentel Ong bravely ventured into the food business. For him, it was like wading into untested waters.

“Nagsimula ako sa (I started in) Rice-In-A box 23 years ago. I started in the film industry as a stuntman. Nakatrabaho ko si Victor Neri, sa mga films ni direk Toto Natividad. Nawala ‘yung raket namin sa stunts kasi nauso ‘yung piracy sa film. Humina ‘yung action film so wala kaming raket.  (I worked with Victor Neri, in the films of director Toto Natividad. We lost our stunt jobs because film piracy became prevalent. Action films slowed down, so we didn’t have a job).

With his P80,000 savings, he started his rice-in-a-box business at Masagana City Mall, in Pasay, recalled Ong during the opening of the ninth branch of Wangfu, his Chinese-Singaporean restaurant that’s been up for 11 years now.

That small rice-in-a-box business now has more than 100 stores consisting of food carts and food stalls.

“That business financed all of our other businesses, all our other restaurants,” said Ong proudly.

A foodie, Ong was exposed to street food when he was a wushu athlete who represented the country in many competitions abroad.  He reveled in the street foods of China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Thailand.

“I would go around to different places and tuwing may break kami, we would explore the street food market ng different countries. I fell in love with different kind of food, Asian food,” he said.

Wangfu came about because, after shoots, “kapag late night, wala kaming makakainan. Nasa food business naman ako, so nagtayo kami ng restaurant sa Tomas Morato. Iyon ang first branch (of Wangfu),” he said. He was joined in the venture by business partner Ace Wang.

Wangfu serves Singaporean cuisine like laksa, Hainanese chicken and salted egg fried chicken.

From Sir Chief to Sir Chef
Actor Richard Yap is also one of Ong’s partners in Wangfu. Yap disclosed that when he was young, he “used to cook at home because my mom cooks very well.”

It was his love for food that drove him to study culinary arts. But he discovered along the way that cooking was not for him.

“When I took up a culinary course, I found out na hindi pala para sa akin ang pagluluto (that cooking is not for me). Ang hirap ng preparations.  It takes a long time. Kung ako ang magluluto  (If I will do the cooking), it will take three to four hours if you do it by yourself,” he said.

In college, Yap took up a pre-Med course, Medical Technology, for   two years, and then stopped because his father asked him to take up Business Management instead.  When he applied for Med studies at UST, he was told that he had to go back to first year again.

“I said never mind.  I’ll just finish my Business Management course at La Salle,” he recalled.

Getting into showbiz 12 years ago was something that Yap didn’t see coming.

“When I started out with “My Binondo Girl”, after that nagdadalawang isip ako (I had second thoughts). So, I had to ask around. One of my directors, direk Jeffrey Jeturian, said, ‘You know, you have to make a choice kasi it’s either you go full-time sa showbiz or not.’”

Yap’s apprehensions were not without basis, since not a lot of people would make it at his age then, around 40.

“Ako, sabi ko, late na ako (I’m late), wala pa akong experience. It would take me a lot of time to catch up with veteran actors and actresses,” he said.

Fortunately, those around him told him he had a future in showbiz for as long as he persevered. And that he did — and now he’s Richard Yap, a popular actor and household name, forever remembered by many as Sir Chief of the blockbuster TV series Be Careful With My Heart.