2023, The Year That Was: Junah Balungcas, Founder, Baofriend Baofriend is an Asian fusion F&B concept that launched in the UAE in 2022, and this year has seen it grow from its original location in Dubai to now operate a space in Abu Dhabi as well.

By Aby Sam Thomas

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Junah Balungcas, founder, Baofriend

Junah Balungcas is the founder of Baofriend, an Asian fusion F&B concept that launched in the UAE in 2022, and this year has seen it grow from its original location in Dubai to now operate a space in Abu Dhabi as well. 2023 also saw the restaurant -whose offerings include its namesake baos, bowls, breakfasts, and more- make its offerings available (and its presence felt) at events and attractions across the UAE, including Dubai's Global Village and Ripe Market.

"In 2023, Baofriend experienced several significant highlights that contributed to both positive and challenging aspects of our business," Balungcas says. "This year was marked by significant expansion, successful participation in several events, as well as a learning curve in terms of event selection and business management. These experiences have not only positively impacted the business, but they have also contributed to personal and professional growth."

Balungcas, who hails from The Philippines, comes from a rather humble background- her father was a butcher, and her mother was a market vendor, and she grew up in what she calls "a squatter's area" in a town called Molawe. She came to the UAE in 2011 as a nurse, and 11 years later, she found herself becoming an entrepreneur in the F&B space with the overarching aim to "elevate the status of Filipinos in the F&B scene," and, further, to employ people so that they can have sustainable livelihoods. Now, as Baofriend scales up as an enterprise, Balungcas remains committed to that initial vision, and she is eager to see its impact grow as well.

Junah Balungcas (center) at the launch of a Baofriend outlet. Image courtesy Baofriend.

"In 2024, I am personally most excited about the prospect of opening more branches for Baofriend, even if they are of smaller size," Balungcas says. "This expansion is not only a crucial business goal, but it also holds significant personal meaning to me, and one of the reasons is the employment opportunities. Opening new branches allows us to create more job opportunities. This is particularly important to me, as it reflects our contribution to the local economy by providing employment for individuals who share our passion for delivering quality cuisine and excellent customer service."

At the same time, Balungcas is also looking forward to growing Baofriend's customer base, and having its delicious offerings be more widely known and appreciated. "Each new branch is an opportunity to extend our unique and high-quality culinary experience to a broader audience," Balungcas says. "It allows us to share our distinctive offerings and flavors with a more diverse customer base. Expanding the business also has a positive impact on the communities where we establish our branches. It allows us to become a more integral part of different neighborhoods, fostering a sense of community, and contributing to the local food scene."

Baofriend founder Junah Balungcas. Image courtesy Baofriend.

Reflections 2023: Junah Balungcas shares her key insights from the year that was

Prioritize adaptability and reflection "When faced with challenges, always rethink your current situation. Adaptability is key in a dynamic business environment. Take setbacks as opportunities to reassess, learn, and pivot if necessary. Plus, reflection in times of adversity can lead to innovative solutions and long-term success."

Always be financially conscious "Being conscious about your finances is crucial for business success. Regularly monitor and manage cash flow, expenses, and revenue. This financial awareness helps in making informed decisions, ensuring sustainability and growth."

Build in-depth business knowledge "Knowing the ins and outs of your business is fundamental. Understanding every aspect allows for better decision-making, effective problem-solving, and strategic planning. It fosters a deeper connection to the business, enabling adaptability and resilience."

Related: In Good Taste: Mhon Lee, Founder, The Kakao Guy

Aby Sam Thomas

Entrepreneur Staff

Editor in Chief, Entrepreneur Middle East

Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.

Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.  

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