It is through hardship that one is able to learn from failure and realize what truly matters in life.
This is what Sir John Oliva, the owner of the popular tapa shawarma food business Tapawarma, came to understand during the course of 17 years starting from when he worked as a janitor earning only PHP 50 a day. At that time, he was a young man who flew from Koronadal, South Cotabato to seek a better life in Manila but, instead, adopted an unhealthy lifestyle and a mindset that successful people are the ones who were just born lucky.
When he met his wife, Ladyh, he felt the course of his life change drastically. He pursued employment in a call center agency, was rejected 30 times, and eventually landed a job as a Sales Agent. After some time, he ventured into business and started his first company Cheapdito which was where Sir John got a taste of his first million—and at the young age of 25, too!
However, owning what was once considered one of the biggest online shops in the Philippines got to his head, and he began spending his money on new cars, frequent trips, and other exorbitant purchases. It didn’t take him long to experience his first downfall, when competition grew fierce and his sales plummeted, and he and his wife Ladyh were left with only PHP 5,000 in their bank account and half a million in debt to their suppliers.
It was during this dark moment that their faith in the Lord grew strong. Sir John owed much of his determination and strong will to overcome these difficulties to Ladyh who stood by his side through it all and encouraged him to seek a deeper relationship with God. Having learned from their pride and arrogance, they humbled themselves down and started their second business, Juan Cloud IT Business Solutions, even with zero capital. Much to their surprise and gratitude, they were able to get clients in less than a week.
When Ladyh gave birth to their third child, Sir John decided to switch to managing a food business. They launched Senyor Juan Suman Latik in 2015 which grew to 45 branches across big malls like SM and Ayala Malls. They were only able to maintain their rapid success for four years. As Senyor Juan Suman Latik branches closed down, Sir John learned his next greatest lesson, and that is to keep good relationships not just with his own family and his church but also with his employees, suppliers, and customers.
Using old equipment from their shut-down Senyor Juan Suman Latik stores, Sir John opened the first Tapawarma branch in 2019. They once again experienced exponential growth as they opened over 30 branches within the next few months. They even paid PHP 1.5 million to an international franchising leader to help them avoid making the same mistakes again. They adapted quickly when sales began to dip and kept a clear and measurable goal to ensure they were on the right track.
Along the way, they also realized the importance of giving back to their community and those in need. Through their hard work, consistent prayers, and wholehearted generosity, Tapawarma expanded beyond what Sir John had ever expected in just a year and during a pandemic. They even got Andrea Brillantes to be their first celebrity endorser and to represent what Tapawarma stands for, which is to always put one’s family first no matter the trials and controversies that may come their way.
“Despite her controversial stories for the past few months, Andrea stood up and remained faithful to her family, fans, and followers. In the end, her main goal is for her family,” Sir John shared. “Andrea’s life story somehow reflects the vision of Tapawarma to be the Tapa ng mataTAPAng na Pilipino nationwide.”
Truly, after 17 years, Sir John no longer believes that successful people are the ones who were just born lucky. His life story is a testament that successful people are the ones who persist through the struggles, who stay humble despite their material wealth, and who understand that everything is God’s blessing.
“It’s not an overnight [success]. Pero the sooner I get to learn what He wants me to do, the sooner tinutupad Niya promises Niya. Sana noon ko pa natutunan. That in everything I do, my time, my treasure, my talent – It’s not for me, but for His people, for His glory alone!” Sir John added.
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