Meet ex-OFW behind Zark's burger chain

Posted at 03/21/14 12:46 PM

MANILA – He wasted no time and sure enough he continues to reap the fruits of his hard-earned labor. At 28, Zark Espina Varona is his own boss.

Does "Zark" sound synonymous to burgers? That's because Varona is the owner of a restaurant he named after himself: Zark's Burger.

Zark's Burger is famous for its heart-stopping 5-inch tall triple-patty burger topped with Spam, bacon, tomatoes, greens and cheese sauce.

Jawbreaker burgers served with fries. Photo from Zark's Facebook page

"From the start naka-focus na talaga ako na gusto kong mag-put up ng restaurant," said Varona.

The HRM graduate from the Philippine Women's University worked for about two years as line cook for a steakhouse in Manila.

He was 21-years old when he applied for a job as a seafarer on board Carnival Cruise Lines. Although he said it was an advantage that he was still young and single when he left for that overseas job, the separation was still the most challenging for him.

"Ang challenge doon syempre 21 years old lang ako at that time, yung malayo ka sa mga kaibigan mo, sa family mo... In terms of trabaho, walang problema kasi 'yun talaga ang gusto ko from the start— cook," he said.

"Kasi I'm sure iba yung feeling kapag may family ka na, tapos aalis ka. Kaya nasa mindset ko na noon na bata pa ako aalis ako and awa ng Diyos, natupad naman yung mga plans," he said.

But there are perks in the seafaring job, he said. You get to travel abroad for free.

"Yung maka-travel ka sa ibang bansa. Kaso nga lang 'di buong mundo yung naikot ko pero ok na -- States, Mexico and Caribbean---paikot-ikot lang. Yung lang yung masasabi kong perks, 'yung makapunta sa ibang bansa nang libre," he said.

He stayed on for only two contracts-- the first lasted for nine months and the last for seven months -- before deciding to head home.

With the experience he gained on board, Varona was also able to save enough to open a small business back home.

Unlike many OFWs who work for their families back home, Varona said his end goal was to really gain experience and to save enough money to open up a business in the future.

"Swerte lang ako kasi hindi ako inobliga ng family ko unlike karamihan ng OFW talagang obligado silang mag-support. Swerte lang kasi hindi ako inobliga. Halos lahat ng sweldo ko nase-save ko, sapat na pang-open ng maliit na store," he said.

His first investment after being a seafarer was in the food cart business in Tutuban. It lasted for 6 months.

"I decided na parang pangit na yung pwesto, and then I found isang maliit na pwesto sa may La Salle Taft, 20 square meters, and then nag-decide ako bakit 'di na lang ako mag-put up ng sarili ko? May naipon pa namang konti at that time sa pag work ko sa cruise ship," he said.

That's when the idea for Zark's Burger was born.

"Nagkataon lang din wala pang masyadong ganung market at that time dito sa atin five years ago, mga better burger joints kung tawagin hindi mga fastfood," the self-confessed burger fan said.

This month, Varona shared that they will be marking their 5th year in the business which they will be celebrating with another "Jawbreaker Day."

Five years ago, the once 20-square meter branch in Taft is now a 140 square meter restaurant. Aside from Taft, Varona opened up three more branches in Katipunan, BF Homes and Eastwood, providing local jobs to 130 employees.

To make "the greasier, the better" Zark's Burger more accessible to the adventurous public, Varona will be opening two more branches soon in Mckinley and SM North.

What makes him thrive in business?

"Maging mabuti. Fair sa customers, employees, and suppliers, fair sa lahat," he said.