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How hookah-loving friends made their business dream come true

by Gaby Agbulos

IF your friend group has been together for a long time, you’ve probably talked about starting a business with one another at least once. Perhaps it was a bar, or a cafe, or an art gallery. But no matter what it was, you probably discussed it for a bit, made plans, and then forgot about it completely.

The same doesn’t apply, however, to the owners of Hidden Hatch, a hookah bar on P. Campa born from the plans of six friends who loved shisha smoking so much that they would travel to other countries just to try the hookah bars they had there.

Soon enough, what was once just a plan soon turned into reality over the course of just a few months during the pandemic. 

Archie Benedict Lim, a 27-year-old  graduate of De La Salle College Saint Benilde and a co-owner of Hidden Hatch, shared with republicasia how exactly they were able to bring their vision to life.

Turning a dream into reality

Lim and his friends have been shisha smoking since before the pandemic; they would often find themselves in Middle Eastern restaurants or cafes, surrounded by Middle Easterners twice their age. From Malate to Makati, and even to places out of the country, they would try a variety of different flavors in a number of places, savoring the different experiences offered by each and every one. 

“Dun talaga kami naghilig mag-shisha,” shared Lim, the bar’s Marketing Head. “Although ‘di kami nagso-smoke, ‘di kami nagva-vape ngayon. Talagang nahiligan lang namin yung shisha.”

Over time, they started to notice something: practically all the hookah places in the Philippines were the same. They noticed that hookah places weren’t really popular in the Philippines, and often only catered to the Middle Easterners.

However, the same didn’t apply in other countries; in the places they visited, hookah places were for everyone. More than that, they were modern.

Lim also noted that hookah places in the Philippines were often very traditional. This is one of the reasons why he and his friends worked so hard to turn Hidden Hatch into a reality: they wanted to be the first to give hookah places a modern twist. 

But what exactly is it about Hidden Hatch that separates it from more “traditional” hookah places?

A modern twist

From Lim’s experience, he and his friends would always smoke in Middle Eastern cuisine restaurants; seldom do they see actual bars in the country that offer shishas. 

This was why they made Hidden Hatch into a bar. 

“Parang old school yung dating–old school yung vibe–while dito sa Hidden Hatch, ginawa namin siyang bar na pwedeng party party, nagsi-sing along yung mga tao, inuman,” he explained.

It is this vibe that sets their place apart from other cafes that offer shisha or hookah in the Philippines, he added. 

The architect–one of the owners of Hidden Hatch–also made sure to bring this modern feel to the bar with the use of cement finishing on their walls for a bare, industrial feel. 

And they also take plenty of inspiration from other hookah places they’ve been to. Lim said they were inspired to put up a projector in their bar after seeing the same in a hookah place in Vietnam.

A lengthy process

Hidden Hatch officially opened last April 26, meaning it has only been running for a few months. The owners started making plans to build the bar back in November of 2022 and then began construction around February. 

Despite this short length of time, business has been booming so far. Lim noted that during their first month, it would open around 1 p.m. and would be full by 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. until closing time. 

But of course, this success didn’t come without its challenges. There were delays in the initial planning, and they’ve received the odd complaint now and then. But that’s all a part of putting up a business–it’s a risk you have to be willing to take.

How you can do the same 

Lim has some tips for those who want to put up a business like him and his friends. 

  1. Prepare the capital (spoiler alert: it’s gonna be a lot.)

For Hidden Hatch in particular, Lim said that the price range of their capital was at P1 million to P3 million–but that’s only because they wanted to give their place a more upscale feel as compared to other bars in the area. 

They want their customers to feel as if they’re in Poblacion or BGC, hence why they put so much into Hidden Hatch’s capital. But Lim assured aspiring business owners that they can start with less. 

But if the idea for your business is something similar to that of Hidden Hatch’s, then shelling out a lot of cash is to be expected. Remember: putting up a business is an investment. 

For cafes, for example, the recommended starting capital is P950,000 for a small shop. Or if you want to put up a bar, you’ll probably need around P500,000 at least, according to the blog Filipino Wealth.

And that price still has a lot of factors that’ll affect it: the size of the space, location, staff, and so many others. So aside from preparing a sizable capital, you should also research, research, research on the lowest prices for the highest quality items.

  1. Invest in a corporation instead of a sole proprietorship

For Lim, this should be your number priority when forming a business with friends. Though it may cost more as compared to starting a sole proprietorship, having a corporation will serve as your safeguard–your barrier–from any legal problems in the future.

For Lim, the first problems arise when a group of friends turns their business into a sole proprietorship, wherein all the rights go to just that one person. When sh*t hits the fan, the other owners can’t do anything, because the business is technically only owned by that one person. 

“Kahit friends kami, close kami, kailangan mo pa rin ng barrier na magpro-protect sa’yo just in case magkaproblema,” he said.

When setting up your corporation, make rules as well: make sure everyone has equal shares as well as equal authority and power. 

In line with this, Lim also recommends getting an accountant if there isn’t already one in your friend group so that the requirements for setting up your corporation will be a quick, easy process.

  1. Cover every department

To make sure that everyone’s holding up their end of the bargain, the owners of Hidden Hatch are each assigned a department they’re meant to head. One of Lim’s priorities when forming the team for Hidden Hatch was getting friends that he knew would be able to contribute.

“May isa akong partner na architect, may isang partner na mahilig uminom, mayroong [may] experience sa food and beverage industry, mayroon din isang e-commerce, mayroon din isang ma-PR,” he said.  

These are some of the departments you should prioritize when putting up a business, and in making decisions, Hidden Hatch seems to follow the mantra of “walang pakialaman.”

Lim suggests that with each department, whatever one’s specialization is is what they should prioritize. If his specialization is marketing, then that’s what he sticks to. If the architect decides on a design for the bar, then he makes the last call. What he says, goes.

While the team listens to one another in the decisions they make, and also offers suggestions for each department, at the end of the day it’s the department head that makes the final decision, he said. 

  1. Learn to compromise

Lim said that fortunately enough, he and his friends haven’t had any big fights as of yet. And this is all thanks to their ability to compromise. He firmly believes that not everything you say goes when it comes to a corporation, and there are times wherein you or your friends will need to give way for the good of the business. 

For Hidden Hatch, the owners follow the decision by majority rule, trying their best to understand one another to avoid any unnecessary problems. 

And this doesn’t just stop at decision-making: sometimes, you have to be willing to pick up your partners’ workload, too. If one of your partners is busy, then the rest of you are going to have to step up to take over their responsibilities while carrying your own as well.

“Kailangan mo tanggapin yung mga ganun, kasi kung ‘di mo tatanggapin yun, dun magkakaroon ng problems–ng tension,” Lim said, explaining that this is how the potential for breakups often start to build up. 

  1. Social media’s your friend

At present, Hidden Hatch has over 6, 000 followers on their TikTok; its most viewed video has 107, 000 views.

“Malaking tulong yung social media. I think dun namin nilalabas lahat ng marketing push namin,” Lim said. 

To boost your business’s chances of blowing up on social media, be sure to look at whatever’s currently trending or going viral. Lim said business owners shouldn’t be so quick to neglect the impact of social media, especially that of TikTok because right now, it’s all about video.

You don’t even need an expensive phone to make a popular video either; all you need is a good story and some creativity, or if you’re out of ideas, just follow whatever’s going viral, he said. 

He also reminded business owners that while gaining hype for their business is important, that isn’t the only thing that matters; they need to figure out how to keep their customers coming back, too. That’s where good quality and services–as well as making sure each customer’s experience is the best–all come in.

“Kung wala ka nun, hanggang hype ka lang–first two, three months ka lang malakas,” he said. 

“Kahit mag-push ka sa social media, nakuha mo yung hype, nakuha mo yung marketing, nakuha mo yung virality, kung hindi naman masarap, pang-sandalian ka lang,” he added.  

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