By now, most Filipinos know the story of how this young Filipino-Chinese entrepreneur who came from the province built a barbeque joint from scratch and catapulted it into one of the country’s biggest fast-food chains. It is still worth re-telling, for the story of Edgar “Injap” Sia II, founder and now vice-chairman of Mang Inasal Food Corp. is the stuff of business legend.
What makes Sia’s success more remarkable is that he does not belong to any of the famous Chinese business families. He did not even finish college. But through hard work and by holding on to his dream, this young man became a billionaire by the time he was 30.
Sia said he never really thought about becoming a billionaire, although he knew that he had a lot of business ideas. He dropped out of school before finishing his course of Architecture because he couldn’t wait to start his own business.
“I grew up in Roxas City, where life was very laid back, but at the same time entrepreneurial, because my parents owned a grocery store there.” He remembered that time when all his classmates would play or sleep while he and his siblings would work in the grocery store “re-packing pancit bihon, sugar, and manning the cashier.”
In high school, “Injap” as he is more commonly known now, moved to Iloilo, to study. Years later, this was the place where he would open his first Mang Inasal restaurant, which would later on become the biggest fast-food barbecue chain in the Philippines.
When asked how he decided on the type of business to take on, he said it was the business that chose him. “I was looking for a business venture whose features would be expandable and could be taken nationwide, so it could be anything. That was my non-negotiable criteria.”
Sia said he kept thinking of that idea for months. In August 2003, the mall manager of Robinsons Mall, Iloilo offered him a space in the car park building—a space that had been vacant for over two years, since the mall opened.
The building was not inside the main mall itself, but instead was across the street. Because of the poor location, the mall offered the space to him at a steep discount with the only proviso being that he had to put up a food business. He immediately signed up, and was given two months of lease without rent.
He said he was pressured to come up with a concept, before the rent started to kick in. “A few days later, I realized that there was no barbecue fast-food at that time. I eat a lot of barbecue or ‘inasal’ as we call it in Iloilo, but I noticed that all the restaurants were doing it full-service style or waiter-style.” So he decided to turn this popular Filipino comfort food into a fast-food concept.
It was also at this stage, Sia said, when he realized a valuable lesson in the Philippine fast-food business landscape that eventually cemented his path to success.
“If there is already a dominant first player in a category in the fast-food industry, there’s always no second player in that market.” He explained his market theory further by pointing out that currently, there are only six fast-food brands in the Philippines with over 200 stores each, and if one takes out Mang Inasal, there would be five left, which would be Chowking, McDonald’s, KFC, Greenwich, and Jollibee.
Sia noted there had been no change in the dominance of these 5 brands in the past 30 years. So he told himself: “If we work very hard and expand exponentially, we will own that barbecue fast-food category, and for the next 20 to 30 years, we will own that.” And the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, Mang Inasal has 462 branches, with over P11 billion in annual sales. While Sia eventually sold his Mang Inasal chain to Jollibee Foods Corp for P3 billion, he retained 30 percent of the barbecue chicken chain. He was only 33 years old at that time.
These days, Sia is setting his sights in a big way on the property market. He recently put up Double Dragon Properties, partnering with Jollibee’s Tony Tan Caktiong. His vision, he said, is to put up at least 100 community malls all over the country under the brand CityMalls. To further raise capital for this ambitious venture, he had his company listed at the Philippine Stock Exchange.
At the same time, he has also entered into a joint venture with Carlos Chan of the famous “Oishi” brand, in putting up the Hotel 101 chain of business hotels. He has also recently bought himself a seat in the board of one of the country’s medium-sized banks, so he could learn this side of the business.
His numerous undertakings have also forced him to relocate to Manila completely, where he said he’s been based for only three years. He has adjusted to the new environment although he said he remains at heart a “Roxas and Iloilo country boy.”
Sia proudly revealed the birth of his “baby girl,” which he said gives him a renewed drive to boldly conquer new heights. And he’s only 37 years old—think of what he can do by the time he’s 40.