Tasteless Food Group’s CEO Charles Paw Reveals His Competitive Edge in the Food Business

In a competitive food industry, it takes creativity and skill to stand out. With Tasteless Food Group’s diverse portfolio of restaurants, CEO Charles Paw does just that. Here’s how.

Tall, unassuming, and with the kindest eyes, Charles Paw exudes quiet confidence when he enters a room. When he starts talking business, you know he means just that.

Presently, he sits as a partner at Hydra and the President of Digital Walker and Beyond the Box. But he is foremost known as the CEO of Tasteless Food Group (TFG)—a restaurant group that boasts a wide chain of restaurants.

“Tasteless does not take itself too seriously. Tasteless does not copy anyone. Tasteless does not follow trends. Tasteless does not veer away from the unconventional, playful, and ironic,” their site reads. “Yet, Tasteless doesn’t just build restaurants: we focus on innovation, design, and creativity in food. We want to lead the restaurant industry by pushing what’s possible.”

And they have done so successfully! To date, TFG houses international franchises and local concepts in its portfolio, including Bad Bird, Hanamaruken Ramen, Pizza Express, Poison Doughnuts, Scout’s Honor, The Grid, Your Local, and a slew of others. At the helm of all this is Charles Paw and in this exclusive interview, he reveals how he successfully made a name for himself in the food business.

Tasteless Food Group's CEO Charles Paw food business tips
CEO Charles Paw on Why His Food Chain is Called The Tasteless Food Group: “The team was throwing around names and ‘tasteless’ came up. We liked the contradiction between the name and how we are a restaurant group. It’s irreverent, too, so we thought it was perfect.”

Humble Beginnings, Tenacious Drive, and Proudly Tasteless

Having come from a lower middle-class family, Charles grew up hearing his father say, “Hanggang high school lang kita susuportahan. Ikaw na bahala sa college mo. Tapos na ko sayo.” [Rough Translation: I’ll pay for your high school education, but beyond that, you’re on your own.”]

But instead of becoming disheartened, his family’s financial limitations fueled his entrepreneurial spirit. “If I wanted something, I had to think of creative ways to get it,” Charles says. 

Fast forward to August 2010 when the first Ramen Bar—Charles’ maiden restaurant—opened in the Philippines. Being one of the first restaurants that solely served ramen, it was open to mixed reviews. “I was not really planning on starting a food group,” the CEO reveals. “My trips to Japan inspired me to bring the flavors back to Manila. This led me to open the first ramen bar in Eastwood [that serves] authentic ramen.”

Nagalit yung mga tao. [People were angry.] The ramen tasted good, but why was it the only dish on our menu? Magsara na lang kayo! [Just close!]” Charles recalls animatedly.

The people were looking for the total Japanese experience with a full-fare menu. Listening to the demand of the market, Charles’ group opened more concept stores until they achieved the correct formula. “We just kept on branching out and innovating constantly,” he says simply.

Surviving and Thriving in a Pandemic Economy

The biggest challenge for the TFG was shifting from a majority dine-in experience to a remote one—while trying to maintain the quality of the products. Moreover, the team had to adapt to the customers’ needs.

This meant that in the early phase of the pandemic, operations had to be delivery-focused—from ensuring that the food was delivery-friendly to using functional and durable packaging. “In Scout’s Honor, free chips were served to customers. We extended that to our delivery service as well. It made sense that our patrons get the same service at home as in store—they deserve that,” Charles explains.

In addition, TFG partnered with delivery service providers, while also putting up their own website, which enabled groups of people to order together even if they live in separate locations. 

Here are other noteworthy strategies taken by the company in running  select brands under its umbrella to weather the pandemic challenges:

Scout’s Honor

While being known for its freshly-baked craft cookies and selection of comfort food, Scout’s Honor underwent a menu revamp. Chef Sonny Mariano took the lead in expanding the menu by diversifying the line of all-day comfort food to include nostalgic twists. With more options, the restaurant became more family-friendly. 

Hanamaruken Ramen

At the height of the pandemic, Hanamaruken Ramen introduced its ramen home kits. And to counter cabin fever, these Hanamaruken DIY ramen kits were made available online. Each kit came with easy-to-follow instructions and the team made sure that it would taste the same as the ones served in their restaurant.

Poison Doughnuts

Poison Doughnuts has developed a cult following—largely due to its constant innovation and new flavors. Again, Charles Paw has put his full trust in Chef Sonny Mariano for this concept project. “This is the most playful brand in terms of creating flavors and unconventional combinations,” Mariano enthuses. “We’ve had everything—from soy sauce doughnuts [to] cocktail doughnuts, and salty chip-covered ones, too!”

The Grid

Makati-based food hall The Grid had to shift to a completely different business model in order to remain operational. “We added cloud concepts and paired them with our stalls in The Grid,” Charles explains. “This way, customers can choose more than one cuisine when they order. We called the set-up ‘Off-Grid’—a virtual hall catering to all kinds of cravings.”

The Matcha Tokyo

The Matcha Tokyo, which recently opened in Mitsukoshi Mall, BGC offers its customers an authentic Japanese experience—a different lifestyle, as Charles wanted to capture the same culture and feel of the shop in Tokyo.

To this end, his team spared no expense and worked closely with the Japanese owners in order to replicate the menu, interiors, and even manpower training. The result? Long queues of eager consumers patiently waiting to taste everything matcha!

Tasteless Food Group Chef Sonny Mariano food business tips
Winning Recipes—Chef Sonny Mariano’s work process includes doing market studies of current trends and forecasts. “Create, taste, adjust, taste again. Only dishes that elicit happiness and satisfaction from the entire team make it to the menu.”

Best Business Practices

For the astute businessman, it is imperative to know your organization’s and even your own strengths and weaknesses. “I’m not a chef but I love food. Early on, I knew the key to realizing my vision is to partner with the best chefs and they do what they’re good at. The same goes for design,” shares Charles.

According to him, having good design sets TFG apart from other players in the competitive food scene. “Nowadays, people are drawn to the aesthetic just as much as the food,” he adds. “Being open to out-of-the-box ideas is a big aspect of my group’s success.”

Thriving during the pandemic meant taking advantage of all opportunities. “The possibilities for expansion are endless now that we have a wider reach because of our digital assets. We don’t have to limit ourselves to one city or one country for that matter,” the CEO opines.

This year, the TFG is focusing on growing its newest store—The Matcha Tokyo. Likewise, the opening of Bad Bird and Manila Inasal in Mitsukoshi Mall and more chef-driven concepts in The Public Eatery (another Food Hall) in Robinson’s Magnolia are also in the pipeline. 

Tasteless Food Group's CEO Charles Paw food business tips
Exciting Opportunities await matcha fans, as Charles reveals ongoing plans to grow its newest Japanese franchise.

Essential Start-Up Ingredients

Looking to start your own business? Here is sound advice from a person who did not let financial limitations hinder his path. “Always build good relationships and know the value of networking,” Charles advises. “This is the basic skill that every businessman must know.”

“Secondly, be clear about your target market. Do you want a chef-driven restaurant but also open 10 branches? Or gusto mo magbukas ng casual dining pero gusto mo may tasting menu? Imposible! Kung hindi ka sure kung ano gusto mo, ‘yung customers mo malilito din,” he declares.

[Rough Translation: Or do you want to open a casual dining restaurant, but with a tasting menu? Impossible! If you’re not sure about what you want, your customers will also be lost.]

A clear and sound business plan is key in all business undertakings and this, according to Charles, is his recipe for success.

Tasteless Food Group's CEO Charles Paw food business tips
Key to Success—According to Charles Paw, a clear business plan is essential for every start-up business owner and entrepreneur.