Entrepreneur, Risk-taker, Manila, Philippines


You never know what happens if you initiate a conversation with strangers at a neighbouring restaurant table. Iya and her husband were our welcome wagon in Manila. They proved to be a well of knowledge about local food spots and interesting hang outs. No surprise there, since they own a restaurant and are avid foodies. Iya has dedicated full time efforts to their initiative, and I was curious to find out what motivated her to take the risk and how easy/hard it is to do in Philippines. If you are ever in Manila on Saturday, check out their food stand  at a Salcedo Saturday Market

1. Name.

Iya Jimenez Cua

2. Where is your hometown?

Paranaque, Philippines

3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?

Co-Founder of Bun Appetit, a fast-casual seafood sandwich concept in Makati, Philippines.

4. What was the journey like to get where you are (in life and career wise)? What are some accomplishments you’re most proud of?

My corporate career was mostly in retail. I worked as buyer for a Singaporean shoe label called Charles & Keith and did marketing for Avon Intimate Apparel and Brazilian flip-flop brand, Havaianas.

Having been raised by parents who left their law practice for business, I always knew I will start my own someday. I’ve had my fair share of failed ventures but I’m realizing now that everything has been a learning experience to prepare me for the present.

My foray into the food industry was quite serendipitous. I was in New York in 2013 with my husband and we thoroughly enjoyed our first lobster roll. When we went back home, we could not find one or even something similar. We decided to make some just for us to eat.

My husband, being the Instagram person that he is, posted a photo of what we made. To our surprise, friends were willing to pay for it. Our very first customer writes for a major newspaper and she wrote about our small business venture. 

Bun Appetit was just a side hustle as I still had a corporate job then. Now, the business is my main thing and I just do marketing consultancy on the side.

5. What did you study in school?

Business Management.

6. How is your life different from what you pictured at 20?

Back then I thought I would have my own family (husband with children) and be semi-retired  and just overseeing my own business by the time I turn 30. I was 20 and naive! :p

7. What was your biggest disappointment and how did you overcome it?

I am now 33 and there were times when I felt disappointed by the fact that I could no longer be whatever I wanted to be. Aside from being an entrepreneur, I also had aspirations of being a dermatologist, a dentist and even an actress! :) 

It’s true that we’re always one decision away from a totally different life. There are a lot of what ifs but I have learned to snap out of this feeling by accepting that I can’t be everything. Even those who do a lot don’t get to be everything.


8. Advice for other women? 

My advice for other women is to speak up! Ask or tell people what’s on your mind. I once read  somewhere that if you don’t ask, the answer will always be NO. Ask questions. Ask for help if you need it. Be vocal about your ideas.


8. Advice for other women?

My advice for other women is to speak up! Ask or tell people what’s on your mind. I once read  somewhere that if you don’t ask, the answer will always be NO. Ask questions. Ask for help if you need it. Be vocal about your ideas.

9. Do you think it is difficult for women in Philippines to be a boss, or to start business? How did you do it?

I don’t think it’s difficult for women in the Philippines to be a boss. I’ve worked in the retail industry for so long and I’ve always had the impression that the opportunities are equal. I’m sure there are industries here that are still male-dominated. I’m glad I’ve never had any first hand experience of discrimination.

Starting a business is another story. It’s hard in general, not just for women. The paperwork just to get things running is complicated. It’s hard to get funding from banks while the other lenders have outrageous interest rates.

I am by no means an expert. We’re just 3 years years into the business but we make do by researching what needs to be done. If it’s something that we cannot do ourselves, we look for the right people who can help us. We’re a small business so we work with a lot of freelancers, to handle our taxes and permits, even graphic design. It really takes a village.

10. Where in the world do you feel “tallest” (i.e. where is your happy place where you are most happy)?

I’m happiest when I travel with my husband. We’ve been fortunate to have seen some amazing places together but my favorite would have to be New York City.  The energy is unlike any other place I’ve been to. It is also where we got the idea for our business after all.

11. What extra-curricular activities/hobbies are you most proud of? Why?

I’m quite proud that I can do a decent job in the kitchen. I still have a long way to go but people who know me from before would vouch that there’s some progress there. :p

12. What do you want to be when you grow up? Future goals/challenges?

I hope to still learn more about cooking and be a professional chef or at the very least, a more experienced cook. I also want to be more fit and be a serious yogini.

13. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?

It’s not exactly a fear but I know I still need to overcome my mindset of starting something at the perfect time. Maybe it is indeed a fear of failure. It’s one thing to be prudent but sometimes I get too caught up in analysis paralysis.

14. Any regrets in life?

I have a memory in high school thinking that it was too late to start yoga. I wish I started then and stuck to it. I would most definitely be more fit and flexible now and it would have greatly improved my posture.

15. What inspires you?

I’m inspired by people who are driven. I’m not just talking about those who are self-made. I also look up to people who got a head start in life but still chose to make something more with the resources given to them.

16. What are you hopeful about?

I’m hopeful that everything will work out - that our business will reach a scale where it’s making enough money and yet we still have control over the quality of the food and the service. 

I also hope to build a happy and healthy family with my husband. When we have children, I hope we raise them to be street smart, well-travelled and just generally good people.


17. What are some ingredients to a good life? 

I think it’s all about balance - work and then take a vacation, save and indulge, go out and stay in, say yes and say no.


18. What advice would you give your 14-year-old self?

I would tell my 14-year old self to be conscious of time. It’s alright not to rush and enjoy but it’s also good to be reminded the time is fleeting.

I would also tell my teenage self to stand tall and watch my posture!

19. What are you reading now? (what books do you gift most and what are your favourite reads?)

I don’t get to do so much reading these days. I started reading Whole 30 by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig a few months back but I have not finished it. I find myself interested in articles about health and wellness.

20. Who is a WOW Woman in your life who inspires you, and why?

There are so many! I’m surrounded by a lot of inspiring women from my mother, sister, friends, women from church, former bosses and colleagues. It’s so hard to pick just one. I’m amazed by how they juggle  their work, business, family and social lives! I don’t even know if juggling is the right term because although I’m sure it’s a lot of work, it does not appear like one facet is sacrificed for another.


21. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)?

@bun_appetit on Instagram