MANILA -- He was a teenager growing up in Koronadal, South Cotabato when Tapawarma Shawarma owner John Oliva fearlessly decided to try his luck in Manila at only 18 years old.
“When I first came here in Manila, I decided to work as a janitor at Star Mall in Alabang,” Oliva told ABS-CBN News. “I was earning P50 a day. Dahil sa diskarte ko sa buhay, I even started to sell coffee.”
The middle child and only boy in a brood of three children, Oliva was born in South Cotabato. Yet, he saw the opportunity to make it in Manila, so he opted to uproot.
From the time he was 18, there was no more turning back for him. A relative offered to finance his studies here in Manila in 2001.
“Blessing na po lahat sa akin,” admitted Oliva. “I travelled to Manila. I stopped schooling in the province. Wala ng pang sustain sa education ko, so one of my aunts offered to sustain my schooling here.”
He was enrolled at Philippine Merchant Marine School (PMMS) and took up Marine Transportation. “Target ko sumakay sa barko and become a navy,” Oliva shared.
“I met Lady, my wife, in 2007 and we got married in 2010. Ma-diskarte siya. We tried to venture into a business. She didn’t want me to sail. She was telling me, ‘The money that you earn outside, you can earn in the Philippines’.”
Initially, Oliva and his wife both worked as call center agents for five years. They have been together for 15 years now.
In 2014, they started Cheap Dito, a tablet made in China. “We were the first to supply here in the Philippines. Lazada and Shopee were not yet around.”
Oliva got his first P1 million when he was 25 years old. “My wife and I both know how to handle business online, so in 2016, we started an IT company, One Cloud Business Solution. Walang puhunan, laway lang and time. We made money there.”
In 2014, the couple also started Señor Juan Suman Latik, their first food business. “Before the pandemic, all 45 branches were gone, pero binuhay ko na ulit lately,” Oliva said.
Tapawarma Shawarma was born in 2017, with Oliva as president, but it was only in 2021 when they decided to get a brand ambassador, young actress Andrea Brillantes.
“We chose Andrea because galing siya sa hirap, but she strived hard for her family,” Oliva said. “Hindi siya sumuko. Bata pa si Andrea, up to the time she grew up, she was doing everything for her family.
Tapawarma Shawarma’s line is “Matapang na Pilipino. Ang tapa ng pamilyang Pilipino.”
Also a brand ambassador for the food business is vlogger Jay Emil Lasian or popularly known as Team Katagumpay.
“Nag-aral talaga kami sa business when it came to management and finance for Tapawarma Shawarma. We learned from it. We consulted the right people. We became part of Philippine Franchise Association.”
Oliva also opened Salt and Light Spa, which now has 27 branches all over Luzon
“When you do business, once you fail, you think of other people, not yourself,” Oliva said. “The money will come back to you. Rise again.
“Wala namang successful people na hindi nag-fail. Everybody, at one point or another, also suffered in their businesses. That was a learning curve for me.”
Oliva and his wife have been married for 12 years now, with four children. The eldest is 12, although still too young to follow in his footsteps.
“I try to guide them and show them our business,” Oliva said. “I bring them to events like Tapawarma Shawarma’s thanksgiving.”
Even if he is busy managing their businesses during the week, Oliva makes it a point to prioritize his family on weekends. Saturdays are his family day, while Sundays are dedicated for the Lord.
“My time management for the family, basta hindi gagalawin, it will not be affected,” he said. “Every opportunity for me, I always bring it to God and ask for His wisdom. Once I learned na madali at naging smooth, I will not close my door.
“You need to balance everything. Initially, it’s hard. But the moment it became your principle, wala ng mahirap.”