After A Decade A Moose Jaw Dream Becomes A Reality
By Robert Thomas
They say it takes a lot of hard work and perseverance to make your dreams come true and for two Moose Jaw residents those dreams have become a reality.
On June 2nd Joenie and Nancy Santiago took over the ownership of Houston's Pizza – 117 Main Street N - fulfilling a dream to be their own bosses after a decade of hard work.
Originally from Pampanga, a city two hours by bus south of the Philippines capital of Manilla on the island of Luzon Joenie said Moose Jaw is his paradise of opportunity.
“I came here, to Moose Jaw, for a better life, for a better place to raise my family. For me Canada is the best country in the world,” Joenie said.
Although he came over initially as a service crew or staff member he finished his job as a shift manager at a fast food restaurant after 10 years of work.
It is a position he held before working at McDonalds franchises in both the Philippines and Kuwait. Along the way he left and cooked as well as managing a casual dining restaurant in the Philippines.
The opportunity to come to Canada and to Moose Jaw was part of his dream and not something he was going to waste.
“I worked 16 hours a day seven days a week to make my dream come true. There was a lot of sacrifice to make my dream a reality. I came to Canada to own my own restaurant. I came to be an entrepreneur.”
Joenie calls the work involved in owning and operating a business “eight hours plus” and despite the work required to make a business succeed there is an opportunity to have more of a regular life.
“For me I needed to sacrifice because I have a goal. I wanted to not only be a hard working person but I wanted to be an entrepreneur.”
More time with family than when he was holding down multiple jobs such as delivering the Moose Jaw Express or working at Casino Moose Jaw.
Asked why he would chose Moose Jaw to establish his dream when he could have taken his money and established his business elsewhere Joenie said he never thought about it.
Being an entrepreneur, running a business and creating jobs and opportunities for others is not only a rewarding feeling but a way of paying back Moose Jaw for the opportunities he and his family have received.
“We need more entrepreneurs here not just workers. Creating jobs and putting money back into the community is a good way to way to give back to the place that gave you a chance at a better life.”
“There is better opportunity here than larger cities. It is s good place to raise a family. I love Moose Jaw. I started here and for me Moose Jaw is still the safest place to raise a family to live.”
Regarding the large number of immigrants who come to Moose Jaw initially and then move on to larger centres he said “I am happy for them…but for me I am staying right here. I love Moose Jaw…in a big city there may be more opportunities but in a big city like Toronto the competition is too tight. There is too much competition.”
Despite Moose Jaw's economy having its ups and downs compared to other centres Joenie said the city has other more important economic and other considerations.
“The cost of living here in Moose Jaw is not the same as Toronto. We are a safer and friendlier community. Plus I need to balance family time and my business something much more difficult in a larger centre.”
Joenie said his association with Houston Pizza came after a lot of research.
Research not only into the company but also the acceptance of the menu they offered by local residents. There was also freedom to make small changes to tailor to Moose Jaw tastes. Houston’s also provides standards and support to go along with the existing loyal customer base.
Joenie said he along with Nancy have a philosophy of hands on customer service, good food, decent prices as well as cleanliness to succeed in the restaurant business.
Upon taking over the restaurant Joenie said major changes were made to upgrade the senior menu with more selection than available previously. They chose to expand the menu choices to give their customers more selection of the meals they wanted on it.
The menu upgrade has been welcomed by his clientele as sales have grown. Portions are smaller but so are the prices and uneaten food is not being taken home or thrown out.
“The older customers really like it. It is really popular especially at supper time.”
Another area where they upgraded the menu was the Sunday Brunch. The brunch now has 11 items ranging from scrambled eggs, bacon, eggs Benedict, to chicken and lasagna. Additionally there are desserts fruits and salads along with tea or coffee. The price is $15.99 for regular, $12.99 for senior and $9.99 for children.
Lunch specials are designed to give value and bring in an important customer base to the restaurant.
“We are more than just great pizza,” Joenie said.
A large back room which can accommodate from 10 to 50 people is becoming popular and is something he plans to optimize with birthdays, family gatherings, tourist groups amongst other groups who want more of a private place to meet for great food and fellowship.
Catering is also something else Joenie is hoping to grow.
Asked about the doom and gloom many people see economically in the city with his new outside eyes Joenie said he saw the local economy as steady but much improved than a decade ago.
“Despite the problems for me it is getting better because there is a lot more optimism out there. There are plenty of good things going on here.”
One area where he sees an increase in business is from tourism as well as when such things as the Saskatchewan Air Show “just swamped” the restaurant.
Events such as concerts at the Moose Jaw Cultural Centre or Warriors games mean big jumps in customers.
Despite the optimism Joenie said success and growth is only possible and that is providing a dining experience catered to the clientele.
“The main concern is we have to take care of the customers.”
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