This article was first published in the 6th issue of The Filipino Expat Magazine.
Claire Buyson walks into the restaurant in downtown London looking like a young lady about to go out on an afternoon tea date with her girlfriends. Fashionably made-up in a distressed denim, red top and perfect waves seemingly unruffled by the rain outside, Buyson greets me with a warm hello.
The British-Filipina is meeting me to talk about the newly-opened Lakwatsa in Notting Hill, a coveted address in the city. Since it opened in November 2012, Lakwatsa, a cafe-lounge serving bubble tea and Filipino merienda, has been generating positive reviews from London’s top dailies and magazines such as The Evening Standard, Marie Claire and even Vogue UK.
“Whenever I look at those pages, I still can’t believe it and I have to pull myself back,” says Buyson, glancing at the framed articles on Lakwatsa decorating the lounge’s wall.
From the outside, Buyson seems to be managing her cafe-lounge like a breeze. Many don’t see (or read) the hard work and sacrifices of this young woman in order to fulfill her dream of owning a restaurant.
Knowing her future
At age 32, Buyson has built up a resume that took her from being a waitress to becoming a financial manager and business owner. She has seen and worked in many parts of the world, developing her passion through her travels.
Buyson worked her way toward having a college education. At age 16, she was juggling part-time jobs at different cafes, bars and restaurants in London. All throughout university, she worked at a Japanese/American restaurant where she realized that putting up her own food establishment was something she wanted to do if given a chance.
“I loved it (working at restaurants). I loved the whole working environment and I felt happy. It was what I always wanted to do –making people happy with food,” shares Buyson.
Her love for food is of no surprise. Buyson’s parents are both Filipinos. Her mom, like most Filipino mothers, is in charge of the kitchen, preparing the freshest and most delicious meals for her family every single day. Needless to say, the young entrepreneur grew up watching her mom whip up something amazing each time the family gathers around the dining table.
Before becoming a restaurateur, Buyson, who finished business management and finance, worked at a company dealing with financial management, acquisition and property development in other countries including Asia and the Middle East. She started out as a personal assistant but left the company as a financial manager. Her work took her to different parts of the world that helped her develop her taste buds as well as creativity to come up with concepts for her then soon-to- be cafe-lounge.
“As I traveled around the world, I picked up bits of inspiration always remembering my teenage dream of owning a lounge,” she shares.
Busyon admits that while she was enjoying her job at the financial company and earning good money, it was not something that she wanted to do for the rest of her life. At age 30, with enough savings and experiences, Busyon finally quit her corporate job to start her own business. And with the help of her boss and a few investors, Buyson set her plans in motion.
Going into business
Buyson knew she had a market in London when she started Lakwatsa. “There is not a lot of places to chill for young people [in London]” she says. “I wanted to provide them a venue where they can hang out without having to drink alcoholic beverages.”
Buyson recalls feeling scared in those first few months.
“It was the scariest thing that I have ever done especially because I have investors and it was not just my money I was toying with. I put everything I had into it,” confides Buyson.
Buyson will never forget the day she pitched her cafe-lounge concept to three billionaires, who were also clients of her former company, no less.
“I felt like a contestant in Dragon’s Den,” says Buyson, referring to a reality show about aspiring entrepreneurs in the UK.
Her unique business idea combined with her determination impressed the investors so much that at the end of the day, she was able to convince not just three but also another one who was just listening to her pitch.
Despite the early success of Lakwatsa, Buyson says she is not the type to sit on her laurels. She is always working on making her clientele happy and coming up with fresh concepts for her business.
This striking young lady is always on her toes, always on top of things. She personally checks the quality of the food and continuously develops new flavours of bubble teas. She works 14 to 15 hours everyday.
“I have a non-existent social life!,” exclaims Buyson.
Buyson says that sometimes she can’t help but be a control freak when it comes to her business. After all, she has to maintain the quality of her products and protect the company name.
Being a full-time businesswoman, Buyson says she has to endure not being able to be with her husband who lives in New York. They’ve been married for five months and still haven’t had the chance to go on a honeymoon. Since opening Lakwatsa, Buyson has yet to visit New York.
“The way I see it is that everything is a sacrifice for the future. Everything I am investing will turn out for the better for both our lives. I just have to stay positive,” says Buyson.
To those who are planning to put up their own business, Buyson says it is best to start with something that you really enjoy doing.
“Be prepared to work the hardest that you have ever done in your whole life,” advises Buyson. “You are not going to succeed in anything if you do not put your 100 percent into it.”
Having a supportive family and husband helps in achieving success in your endeavors, says Buyson. It is important, according to her, that the people around you understand and support your decision.
“A person, no matter how good or hardworking they are, cannot do everything alone,” she says.
On her part, Buyson considers her husband as her rock –someone who stood by her especially during the most difficult stages of starting Lakwatsa.
Lastly, Buyson says that her faith and hope in God have made her strong in times of trials and hardships. – By Dheza Marie Aguilar.