Street dweller rises to become Head of one of Chowking’s best performing stores

Press Release

Jonathan ‘Cholo’ Abelda could not bear seeing his brothers and sisters staying homeless and drenched each time the rain poured. Describing their past life as “Talagang mahirap kami dahil nabubuhay lang kami sa isang kahig, isa ng tuka noon,” he prayed hard for an opportunity that could turn the tables for them.

Today, he runs Chowking SM Mall of Asia (MOA), one of the brand’s best stores in the country and has made a better life for his family.

The gamechanger

Cholo’s journey began in 2004 with failure upon failure as all his applications with ten fast food chains were turned down. 

Despite this, he believes that his prayer helped open the door for him: “Lord, bigyan mo lang ako ng isang trabaho na maiangat ko ang pamilya ko. Pinapangako ko sa inyo na gagalingan ko.” (“Lord, please just give me a job to uplift my family. I promise you I will do my best.”)

A neighbor had told him that Jollibee Group’s Chowking was hiring, and Cholo immediately went through the usual application process. Steeled by the numerous rejections and the belief that he had mastered answering interview questions, he eventually got in.

His first store was Chowking Tutuban in 2004, followed by Chowking Robinsons Ermita.

A college education for the better

Cholo shared that he had second thoughts about pursuing a degree for fear that he won’t be able to provide for his family.

Pagka-regular ko noong 2006, parang wala na akong plans noon mag-aral kasi kumikita na ako, eh. Parang ah, okey na ako,” Cholo recalled. (“After becoming a regular [employee] in 2006, I didn’t have plans to pursue my studies because I was already earning. I felt I was okay.”) 

His then Area Manager thought otherwise. She categorically told him it would be a waste not to get a college education. Her message came with a little warning in jest, quoting her as saying, “Pag hindi mo naipakita sa akin ‘yung enrolment mo hanggang bukas bibigyan kitang maraming trabaho sa kitchen.” (“If you don’t show me your enrolment [papers] tomorrow, I would give you several tasks in the kitchen.”) 

“So, ura-urada akong nag-enroll sa STI dahil natakot ako,” he said. (“So, I immediately enrolled at STI because I got worried.”)

Cholo eventually finished his college studies and earned his B.S. in Hotel and Restaurant Management degree after seven years of juggling schooling with work.

A college education almost escaped him. Following his former Area Manager’s advice, Cholo persevered and juggled work and studies, and got his diploma after seven years.

A strong support system

In retrospect, Cholo recalled that he was initially overwhelmed, having been given a massive branch like Chowking SM Mall of Asia branch to lead in 2019. He even second-guessed himself and thought that there were more senior Restaurant Managers (RM) who were more deserving of the assignment. After all, he was still a young RM who’d only been in the branch for a year. 

His apprehension turned for the worse when, at one point, the branch faced some challenges related to the Jollibee Group’s proprietary Food, Safety, and Cleanliness (FSC) Standard audit. The FSC Standard pertains to excellent food, fast and courteous service, positive, and clean store conditions at all times.

The failure had a significant impact on Cholo.

But his superiors were there to guide him. His Area Manager (AM), who was not only a superior but also a friend to him, offered a helping hand by giving him a two-week break to rest, think, and recover.

Ginabayan niya ako hanggang maka-recover ako, hanggang maka-move on ako,” he said of how his AM guided him. (“She guided me until I recovered, until I could move on.”)

Cholo learned that acceptance is critical and that one needs to recognize the mistake and take steps to overcome it.

Despite being challenged, Cholo and the Chowking MOA Main team had their Area Manager, Frenie Meliton, their Operations Director, Jane Samson, and their Regional Business Unit Head, Jo Rubia, to help the store improve their functions and executions. 

All their hard work paid off in 2022 when Chowking MOA Main obtained the FSC A Rating, the highest rating in the audit.

He credits his achievements to the unwavering support of his colleagues and mentors at Chowking and his family, who also significantly figured in all his accomplishments.

Every day, his mother would ask him about his store’s sales. “Araw-araw, promise,” he revealed. (“Every day, really.”)

Ganito ako mag-trabaho kasi hindi lang sa store ang suporta, pati sa bahay,” he added. (“This is how I work because apart from the support I get from the store, I get support at home.”)

Together they grow

To give back for their support and to set the mood for the day, Cholo ensures that he always looks after his team.

Alam ko na kung ano ang nakakapagod sa kanila, alam ko na kung paano ko sila mamo-motivate. Alam ko kung ano mga bagay ang makakapagpasaya sa kanila. Kasi ako mismo nanggaling ako dun,” he said. (“I know what tires them, I know how they could be motivated. I know what would make them happy. Because I came from the same position.”)

As a former service crew himself, Cholo inspires his crew to dream for themselves and their families. Their personal and career growth is essential for him, like how Jollibee Group’s Chowking and his mentors looked after him. Jollibee Group has long committed to providing its employees a nourishing professional workplace culture while sustaining its growth. The company continues to reinforce its global standing after receiving TIME Magazine’s World’s Best Companies award and its second Gallup Exceptional Workplace Award in 2023. 

As an RM, Cholo involves himself in operations because he wants his people to feel that he can be their “navigator” in the daily operation. This self-imposed role includes setting goals and plans with the team for the store’s continuous improvement. 

On a personal level, Cholo inspires his people to dream, not only for themselves but for their children, for their family. “Gawin natin [para] sa mga anak natin para maging maayos din yung buhay nila,” he said. (Do it for your children so they will have a better life.”)

Despite the significant progress he’s made, Cholo still wishes to learn more and discover more. After all, he believes that becoming a leader means embracing a continuous learning process.

For those aspiring to join JFC, Cholo advises them to set their goals because then their commitment and dedication will surely follow suit.

Natutunan ko na kapag isinapuso mo ang core values ng JFC, bibigyan ka rin ng matibay na pundasyon,” he stressed. (I learned that if you take to heart the core values of JFC, you will have a strong foundation.”)