French Baker founder remains optimistic despite COVID-19 crisis


Posted at May 29 2020 06:25 AM | Updated as of May 29 2020 09:05 AM

MANILA -- While the past weeks have been difficult due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Johnlu Koa remains optimistic that businesses will soon be able to rise again in the "new normal."

Speaking at a webinar organized by the Philippine Franchise Association on Thursday, the founder of the bakery-cafe chain French Baker reminded viewers that just like previous global crises, the pandemic can be seen as an opportunity for restaurants to grow and evolve.

"In all of these crises, somehow the company became better. We found opportunities," said Koa, whose business has weathered different challenges since 1989.

"It's a new environment where there are disturbances. There may be threats, but there must be opportunities," he added.

Koa said he feels lucky that French Baker, with most of its branches located inside or beside supermarkets, did not have to close as quarantines were imposed across the country.

Nevertheless, he focused on making sure his employees remained healthy and motivated as they continued to work during the lockdown.

"I'm the CEO that moves around. I move around every single day, I make sure I see my stores. And that, to me, is the best way to make sure that all our people continue to hang on in spite of the fact that there's still no cure," the entrepreneur said.

Koa went on to share that they are hoping to open the dining arm of French Baker in the coming days: "By the end of the month, we might be lucky enough to be able to reopen our dining. We're already ready with all the protocols."

Aside from being the founder of French Baker, Koa also holds the master franchise of the Taiwanese milk tea chain Chatime in the Philippines.

He said they are "close to more than 50% open nationwide," adding that they continue to support branches that are still unable to operate.

"We try to open as many stores as we can. Those stores that needed help, we helped them. For example, we cut the royalties by half because that's what our foreign principals suggested to us. That's the best way to help them," he said.

"Secondly, for those that did not open yet, we postponed all collection notices," he continued. "We will not collect from them what they owe us in terms of supplies. And we also have continuous seminars with them to prepare them from reopening."

Echoing the statement of his fellow speaker at the webinar, Sunnies co-founder Bea Soriano Dee, Koa advised his fellow entrepreneurs to not overthink scenarios and focus on getting things done.

"Don't be afraid of the new normal. We've been there already for six weeks. We have been baking, we have been cooking, we're baking away inside the mall. We already know how people behave. Don't be too anxious, let's just do it," he said.

"Don't have too many plans that you might be taxing your people into overimagining," he added.