Steven Raichlen, author of ‘BBQ USA: 425 Fiery Recipes from All Across America,’ described Filipino entrepreneur Armando Bacani as someone who “could be hailed as the mayor of Vancouver” because everyone, and he means “everyone, knows him.”
Armando owns and runs Armando’s Finest Quality Meats in Granville Island. From a struggling shop, it is now the destination of top restaurateurs and residents for the best cuts of meat. Armando’s customer interaction is also a sight to behold. Despite his success, he remains involved in his family business and continues give tips to his customers. Armando is more than just a businessman, he is a man dedicated to his community.
And we’re not just talking about his community in Vancouver.
When super typhoon ‘Yolanda’ (international name ‘Haiyan’) ravaged through Visayas in November 2013, Armando initiated a fund raising event and raised $9,306 in eight days for the Canadian Red Cross relief to the Philippines. 10% of his meat shop’s profits were also donated to aid his fellow Filipinos in the time of need.
Making the most out of what you have
Armando Bacani was earned his degree in medical technology in Baguio City, Philippines, but when his sister gave him the opportunity to move to Canada, he didn’t let the chance pass him by. In 1973, he moved to Canada for good.
“We’re what we call “economic migrants,’” Armando shared. “We settled into the new place, you look for a new job and you move on from there.”
Instead of practicing his profession as a medical technologist, he ended up training as a cytotechnologist. He held the job for 17 fruitful years.
“It’s a good job. I couldn’t complain. But I needed more challenge,” he recalled.
And a challenge he decided to seek.
With his roots calling him to the direction of an old family business, Armando couldn’t possibly deny the pull of the inevitable.
Seizing the opportunity
“I’m a believer that… wherever you are now is actually the product of your journeys way back… The destination is always moving. You go where your life takes you. That’s what makes it more challenging, exciting.”
Armando’s mother’s family is in the meat business and he grew up exploring the business.
“I work along the slaughterhouse, sa palengke, sa karnehan (at the market, at the meat shop). As I was growing up, I helped out. I’ve done it all, as one might say. I came here to Canada hoping that I could practice my profession, but your experiences as you’re growing up—it stays with you,” he explained.
Finally, when he got married to his wife Mila, he answered the call.
“We looked around and said, ‘what would it take to make a butcher shop here?’” he asked with his wife.
The answer came in 1983. Their first venture was on the West End. It was a “crazy enough” idea according to Armando.
“I say ‘crazy’ because if I knew what I know now, I wouldn’t have done it,” he laughed heartily.
“You know less, you fear less. You tell yourself, ‘what have I got to lose?’ Sometimes, it’s really a blessing that you know less. As long as you welcome anything new, then you’re gonna be okay, because you’re willing to learn,” he added.
Armando was talking about his first meat shop in Canada. It was a struggle, but they persevered.
“The Canadian way of cutting meats is different than back home. I have to re-learn everything. It was a rough beginning. It wasn’t that easy, I will be the first one to admit that to you,” he said. “But you’re young, you’re energetic and you know very little. What have I got to lose? I can only learn. Yon ang attitude ko non (that was my attitude then). So I bought the shop and I bought a book. When I look back, I say, ‘I must be so stupid.’”
Within four years, they were able to put up two shops, until an opportunity came to open a store in Granville Island.
“When the opportunity came, we grabbed it. It wasn’t easy because you don’t have all the opportunities in the world. You really have to find ways to make it happen. I didn’t have any financial backing from anybody. You pretty much have to be really creative in your financing and thank God it worked!” Armando said.
So, in 1987, they opened Armando’s Finest Quality Meats and sold the other two shops.
“Focus on one place,” he said. “It was actually a small shop in the beginning. From there, again, an opportunity [came] up and we got a bigger place and then we built a new shop there.”
“I always tell people what’s most important is… seizing the opportunity when it comes your way,” he said.
“Kaya lagi kong sinasabi (I always say), don’t be afraid. An opportunity doesn’t always come your way… So when it comes your way, seize it. If you’re afraid to jump into [it], you might regret it someday.”
An immigrant’s woes
“This country has been very good to me and my family,” Armando said sincerely. “…but I would be lying to you if I didn’t encounter any form of racism.”
In the beginning, Armando shared that some customers mistake him as a Chinese businessman—often belittling his knowledge of his own chosen profession.
“Someone told me, ‘what do Chinese [people] know about cutting meat?’ and I’m not even Chinese,” he laughed. “I was taken aback and I told myself, ‘should I let this bother me?’ I told myself, ‘I’m gonna prove this guy wrong.’”
Armando is the kind of guy who turns struggles to triumphs. When he sees an opportunity to succeed, he grabs it by the horns.
“I didn’t look at it as an obstacle. I look at them [as] more of a challenge,” he said.
“In the end, they are no different than anybody else. If they see good product, good service, and good value in what anybody is trying to market—it doesn’t matter [who’s running it],” he added.
Thankfully, Armando’s positive outlook on life and his market paid off.
“Nowadays, we have assimilated into the community and people recognize what we do. We stuck there and we persevered and then it paid up.”
Tips for aspiring ‘entre-pinoys’
“I go back to simple values,” he answered when asked to share business tips.
“There’s really hard work. Be true to what you’re doing. You have to equip yourself, not just talking about the skills, but extra product knowledge. If you’re marketing something, make sure you know all the important information about it. And then people will appreciate that, they’ll respect you for it,” he said.
“Be true and be fair—be it your customers, employees, suppliers, or landlord… You could be very firm—because that’s how it should be—but you have to be very fair so that you can walk down the streets with your head up high. Don’t forget the value of hard work. I couldn’t emphasize that more because a lot of people think that all of this comes easy. Even now, it’s still hardwork.”
This is true in Armando’s case. Most days, you can still see him working behind the chopping counter, cutting meat and serving customers the way he did back in 1987.
“I give it my 110%,” he shared. “I wasn’t worried about the money because I know that if you do it well, you do it right, you give it 110%, yung pera susunod yan sa’yo (the money will follow you). If you’re chasing the money, mas mahirap (it will be harder). But if you let the money follow you, it’s much [easier]. Just do your thing.”
So, what sets Armando apart from other Filipino-Canadian businessmen?
“I’m not unique by any standard,” he started. “Those who have done very well, they have something in common: they were willing to work very hard.”
Armando was even generous enough to share his formula to success.
“It’s 95% hard work, a lot of prayers, and a little bit of luck.”
On working with his Son
Armando and Mila have one son named Allan. Armando is grooming him to take over the business someday.
“These days, I’m trying to step back and let my son know the work,” he started. “And the idea is for him eventually to do most of the work and down the road, he’ll say, ‘Dad, I don’t need you here anymore.’”
Despite his hopes, Armando said that he said he doesn’t want to force anything on his own son.
“We have a business here, it’s still very, very strong,” Armando said. “So, I said, ‘it’s here for you to take but I don’t want to push [you] into it. It’s for you to decide.’”
Now, Allan has been actively helping his father in the business for five years. Despite working for his own father, he still gets rest days and an open opportunity to try his hand at anything.
“He tried other things as well, which I allow him to do,” Armando shared. “I said, ‘look, until you’ve tried something else out there, I don’t [want] you to think someday that this is the only option… This may be for me but not for you.’”
The ever-so-thoughtful father continued, “I am not asking him to be me. I [want] him to be his own man… I [want] him to have a life.”
What’s next for Armando Bacani?
“Waiting for grandchildren?” he laughed heartily.
When asked if he’s aiming at an expansion, he didn’t bat an eyelash and said a resounding, “No.”
“What we learned is to focus on one place and do it well. Having three shops before didn’t work. I’m here to assist my son during the transition,” he shared.
“This [way] I am more involved, I could interact with the customers, I know what’s going on,” he said. “I like what I do… I don’t think I would have been as satisfied and as happy as I am if I did that idea. I wouldn’t have chosen it any other way.”
If given the chance, Armando also said that he looks forward to having more travels with his beloved wife.
“I may do a lot of travelling, that’s what I enjoy. I travel a lot with my wife Mila,” he said. “I want to see the world. I always say, nobody can take away your experience.”
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