Pares Retiro guy becomes Bike CEO

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No public transport during the enhanced and then the modified enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila? No problem.

A young restaurateur has remained in busines and kept his people working through the lockdown in Metro Manila by taking up biking, and also encouraging his employees to do the same.

Djonald “DJ”Pornel, 45, the food entrepreneur behind the “Pares Retiro” and “The Sandwich Guy” chain of restaurants and sandwich bars, boasts that aside from being able to operate through the protracted ECQ and now the MECQ, he and his employees are now more mobility-independent as well as healtheir physically and mentally.“I myself lost about 15 pounds,” Pornel smiled.

Starting last March, Pornel has started using his bike as his daily morning ride to his flasgship Pares Retiro branch along Tomas Morato Avenue, and then to make the rounds of his more than 10 Pares Retiro branches and almost 30 The Sandwich Guy bars all over Metro Manila.

“It was almost impossible to do before because of all the pollution from the smoke belching buses, trucks and jeepneys and the traffic,” Pornel said.

He also offered his workers an easy-payment loan program for them to buy a mountain bike of their own, to get to their workplaces.

Pornel said that he had put in an order of 30 mountain bikes last March with a bike supplier. Only 12 mountain bikes were immediately delivered, but all 12 had been immediately used as a daily ride by each employee lucky to get the available bike unit. The next batch of employees to get the bikes are impatient to get theirs, he said.

The strategy allowed Pornel to keep his employees working, and his kitchens open to offer their well-loved food via delivery available to the locked down urbanites of Metro Manila. Dine-in were closed at all his branches, Pornel stressed.

“We’re not really making money. Honestly, we’re losing money. But at least, I’m able to keep my employees working and not asking for ayuda,” Pornel, a past president of the Rotary Club of Makati McKinley, pointed out.

Pornel said that he resisted the idea of totally closing shop once the enforcement of the Metro Manila and then the Luzon-wide ECQ was announced two months ago.

He said that he feared the difficulties of starting all over again, and losing the fruits of his labor in building up a motivated workforce.

Pornel said that closing shop and locking oneself inside their home nad bedroom was an easy choice to make if one just wanted to keep safe.

But a big concern for him who has just barely reached stability and profitability after years of hard work and business daring as an aggressively-growing quick service restaurant chain, the worry was how to restart in the “new normal”.

“When I decide to restart it after totally closing shop, I might not have the same people anymore. They might have gone crazy or they may still be so scared to go out and get sick,” Pornel said.

“It might be a challenge to restart it,” Pornel pointed out.

“We have to be creative, and innovative really, to face the new normal,” Pornel said.

“Even though I am not making money, paying salaries and the reduced rent, because most of my landlords, those outside malls, they didn’t give free rent, it’s mostly reduced rent, so you still have to pay; and with all the miscellaneous (costs), all the raw materials that are skyrocketing, when you factor that all in, you really have to survive. 

“But first and foremost, you have to take care of your people,” Pornel said.

The bike strategy, Pornel said, had given them untold benefits as a company.

Pornel said that the ability to go to work even without the availability of public transport, also strengthened the latent call during this raging COVID-19 pandemic to keep safe and most importantly to get fit and healthy.

“We’re not worried anymore if there will be available public transport after the MECQ and during the GCQ, because we can go to work with our bikes. Those who were not able to get bikes, we have arranged carpool with some of our employees and managers who have cars,” he said.

Pornel said that it called to mind a famous quote from German philosopher Fredrich Nietzshe who said” That which does not kill us makes us stronger”.“With me and many of my people riding bikes, we’re becoming more fit and healthy. We’ve become  stronger,” Pornel said.

He cited the case of one employee, 26-year old inventory officer Jake Robert Palmero Junio, among the 12 who got a bike allotment, who as a chain smoker finishing up to 2 packs of cigarette a day before the lockdown, is now on his own gradually fighting his smoking habit, because he has seen for himself that he has a harder time biking from his home in Lifehomes, Pasig City, to their Tomas Morato Avenue branch in Quezon City, because of his smoke-filled lungs.

“I’m now down to one pack a day now,” Junio told the STAR. He noticed that his stamina is better once he started cutting down on his smoking, allowing him to shave several minutes from his bike ride time.

“Hanggang 30 minutes ang nabawas. Dati, one and a half hours nung first time ko binike. Kasi maluwag pa ang mga turnilyo kaya nahirapan ako. Nung napahigitan ko na yung mga turnilyo sa tatay ko, naging isang oras na lang. Ngayon, less than one hour na lang,” Junio said. 

Before the lockdown and the pandemic, Junio said that his public transport commute from Lifehomes in Pasig to Morato Avenue in Quezon City, took three jeepney rides. 

Pornel says other businesses and other organizations can somehow follow their example and reap the same benefit. He said that this could also be done for the whole country. 

“We can emerge from this crisis, this pandemic, stronger as a people,” Pornel said.
Aside from waging a successful battle to stay in business and keep his people working, Pornel has also gone creative during the pandemic and lockdown.

Pornel, frustrated by the forced reduction in his previously hectic schedule by the lengthening lockdown, had somehow composed and produced a rap song titled “Corona 19: Virus Ka Lang, Pinoy Ako!”which he had his singer-rapper friend Ferry Baltazar sing, made an MTV, posted it on the Pares Retiro Facebook page, and which had gone on to go viral online.

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