Chris Po’s Peri-Peri, Robina’s Uncle John’s

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

It was not long ago when I discovered Shakey’s Peri-Peri Charcoal Chicken. I really like it, especially with the java rice and all those side dishes.

But I later realized that there are other “Peri-Peri” chicken brands in the Philippines, which may be confusing to diners.

In a recent chat with tycoon Christopher “Chris” Po, Shakey’s chairman, I suggested, in jest, that he should change the name of their brand – to differentiate it from the rest – and instead make it “Chris Po’s Peri-Peri” or “Po’s Peri-Peri,” to which he remarked jokingly: “How about Iris’ Peri-Peri?”

Turning serious, Chris said the company is looking at what can be done to address the issue.

Maybe they would have to zero in on those copying their secret ingredients, although I’m only guessing because I’m not an expert on trademarks.

African bird’s eye

In reality, piri-piri, peri-peri or peli-peli is the name used in Portuguese and a number of African languages to describe the African bird’s eye chili.

Centuries ago, Portuguese explorers, so goes the story, set sail in search of the famed spice route and they came across these little chili peppers growing all over South Africa.

This same bold, spicy flavor would conquer an archipelago of fried, breaded and crispy-skin chicken-loving Filipinos, says Shakey’s Peri-Peri.

In 2005, the first Peri-Peri Charcoal Chicken in the Philippines was born in San Juan, Metro Manila.

It really is a chicken country, says Chris.

Shakey’s acquired Peri-Peri Charcoal Chicken in 2019 and the chain has more than doubled to at least 68 stores from just 21 outlets at the time of acquisition, with more plans to expand across the country.

The Po family’s business empire, of course, isn’t just about chicken or pizza and the late Ricardo Po, the family patriarch, would be happy to know that his sons have been growing the business he founded, perhaps even bigger than he ever imagined.

I was lucky to have met the late Forbes-listed tycoon. He was very low-key and funny, too. Century Pacific Food Inc. (CNPF) is the flagship company he founded.

The Po brothers – Ricardo Gabriel, Teodoro Alexander, Christopher and Leonardo – grew up tightly knit, typical of boys born just a year or two apart.

They know how to have fun, but they also know the value of hard work and a good education. All four of them graduated either summa cum laude or magna cum laude from universities abroad.

“When we do things together, we’re really good,” Leonardo once said.

But it was only just recently that the second son, Teodoro or Ted, led the CNPF press conference along with his brother Chris. Ted is president and CEO of CNPF while Chris is executive chairman.

This was quite a surprise to journalists covering the Pos because Ted doesn’t usually appear at press events.

In fact, the first time I met the brothers at a press conference for Arthaland, another of their businesses, Ted was the only one who was not there.

When I asked why, one of them said jokingly that their brother rarely gets out of the laboratory – a mad scientist of sorts – because he’s always cooking up something innovative, say a new product or an improvement to their portfolio.

Manufacturing guru

It turns out that indeed, Ted is the “product guy.”

“Ted is actually a product guy so a lot of the innovations that you see that Century Pacific Food company introduced in the last five years, Ted is central to that, working with our very capable management team. Ted is at the center of a lot of these product innovations so within the group, we call him our manufacturing guru so a lot of the plants – building factories, expansion – that’s under his oversight,” Chris explained.

To which the low-key Ted replied, “It takes a village…”

It’s all looking good for the Po family business with the brothers at the helm.

They are also quite happy with the entry of the Gokongwei Group through JE Holdings – a private investment company of the Gokongweis – into Shakey’s as a strategic investor. JE Holdings infused P1.25 billion for a nine percent stake in the company. 
Chris said the company is not entertaining any new investors at this time and that the ownership structure is stable.

The Gokongweis are just as happy, it seems.

Lance Gokongwei recently shared a photo of him with a box of Shakey’s pizza.

“My favorite, then and now though, is Shakey’s Special. It has beef, Italian sausage, pepperoni, salami, mushrooms, green bell peppers and onions,” said Lance in a recent Facebook post.

Uncle John’s

Speaking of the Gokongweis, tycoon and the beloved godmother of the UP Fighting Maroons Robina Gokongwei recently shared the good news that they have already changed the signs of all Ministop Philippines stores to Uncle John’s.

A few years back, the Gokongweis’ Robinsons Retail became the 100 percent owner of Ministop Philippines after buying out its Japanese partner.

They changed the name, too, which banked on the popularity of the store’s Uncle John’s Fried Chicken. John, of course, refers to the late Gokongwei empire founder John Gokongwei.

Robina said they also completed the new packaging of Uncle John’s. The chicken is still the same crispy and juicy chicken that Filipinos love.

Congratulations Robina!

I suggested that she should be the white knight of another convenience store chain in the Philippines which is seemingly in trouble with its growing number of closed branches.

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Email: [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at EyesWideOpen on FB.

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