Grit is the Secret Ingredient

How restaurateur JB Balingit’s childhood in the Philippines, line cook experience, and family shape his business.

16 days ago   •   3 min read

By Amy Balmuth

To the untrained eye, JB Balingit is an expert shapeshifter. Last night, he was the host. Today, he’s a food runner. Tomorrow, he might be the head chef. It’s nothing new—when JB opened his first restaurant, The Hideout, his job title was “Chef-Dishwasher-Carpenter” (thankfully, not at the same time). There is no sorcery at play. Despite his many forms and superhuman ability to adapt, Balingit is a restaurant owner who believes in the restaurant industry and knows that it takes grit, not magic, to succeed.

Balingit opened his first concept in 2015, a mom-and-pop shop furnished from the free section of Craigslist with a homegrown aesthetic that quickly resonated with locals of Lafayette, California. JB’s wife hosted and bussed tables and kept watch over their four-month-old baby who watched from a stroller nearby. Balingit would take orders, head to the kitchen and prepare them, refresh guests’ wine glasses, wash the dishes, then do it all over again.

Their 48-seat restaurant quickly became 102 seats, and in the seven years since, the business has expanded to multiple concepts. Now, Balingit has a management team, a culinary team, accounting, and HR. He can shapeshift a little less and cultivate the growth of his business a little more. With SpotOn, he has restaurant technology to help him work smarter. It’s no replacement for hard work, but it does help improve his quality of life, giving him tools for remote management and a support team that is equally as invested in his success.

SpotOn has the knowledge, know-how and temperament, and direction to be the industry leader.

“SpotOn has rolled out the red carpet for me and my group, and continuously and proactively give us the support we need,” Balingit says. “It’s the kind of support this industry needs. SpotOn has the knowledge, know-how and temperament, and direction to be the industry leader.”

Balingit has worked in every corner of the restaurant industry. He has wiped the sweat from his brow and bandaged the blisters after a long, busy shift. It’s a demanding job in the best of times, let alone the unprecedented ones. The pandemic created a shift for Balingit—before, there were two ingredients: food and service. Now, the recipe is more complex. Finding the talent to transform a building and bulk produce into an unforgettable guest experience is more challenging than ever before. But Balingit is a believer and sought a SpotOn Capital loan to sustain operations and fund growth, even when other restaurants decided to pull back.

“SpotOn Capital was an amazing resource for us in our most dire time of need,” says Balingit. “It gave us a cushion to retain our staff and confidence to bring on new people.”

Balingit grew up in the Philippines where he got his first job at age seven, reorganizing the bowling balls in his dad’s amateur competitive bowling league for $1. He sold cars at age 14. When he moved to the United States at 20, he got a job as a line cook, drawn to the stable paycheck and the grittiness of back-of-house work.

Balingit’s Filipino upbringing informs his approach to hospitality.  “How we host guests at home is how we host guests at our restaurant,” says Balingit. His restaurants are family affairs—his wife, Astrid, works in the office at The Hideout and his kids stop by after school. His second restaurant, Vic’s, is named after his grandfather.

“The restaurant industry is based on human interaction,” says Balingit. It’s a credo that is reflected in the way Balingit engages with his team, transports his guests to the warm Filipino family dinners of his youth, and his experience with Annie Kamrin, his SpotOn Restaurant Success Manager. They’ve never met in person but Balingit feels they know each other so well she would be invited to his wedding. For Balingit, Kamrin is someone who “gets it.”

Balingit hasn’t lost the gritty line cook attitude that he learned in those steamy California kitchens of his early 20s. But now, he has the benefit of a talented and dedicated staff and a trusted partner in SpotOn to solve whatever challenges come his way.

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