This Restaurateur Gave Up His Merrill Lynch Job and Made His First $1M Selling Yoyos
It's 3 p.m. and Jupiter Street speakeasy ABV (that Alcohol By Volume, to the uninformed) is brightly lit but mostly empty except for the staff trickling in for their shifts. The service lights show off a different side to the usually brooding vibe of the establishment, a behind-the-scenes look at an efficient machine which churns out perfect libations and alcohol-laced memories night after night (they're not one of Asia's 50 Best Bars for no reason) It's in this unexpected illumination wherein I meet Patrick Cuartero a second time.
The 36-year-old Filipino-American is cheerful and welcoming, and conversations with him flow as easily as a Jäger at happy hour. He's polite, funny in his self-deprecation, and he has a highly palpable desire to please.
"Let's have a drink!" He says, jumping up and heading toward the bar. I ask if he's mixing. "Sure," he replies. "Come, what will you be having today?" I request an Old Fashioned, smokey. "With a twist of citrus?" I nod. In one crystal beaker he pours some 10-year-old Laphroaig, and in another, one a shot of rye whiskey. "Old-fashioned for you; Sazerac for me." I try to begin my interview, but he is set on getting my drink right, specifying my preferences as he goes along the task. When he was done, he serves my glass with a flourish and urges me to try it first. "How is it? Just tell me if it's not right, I'll be happy to make you another one." I'm quite sure he knew all along that it was perfect. This seems to be a man, after all, who does not leave much to chance.
Cuartero, I discover early on, is his mother's maiden name. She left the Philippines when Cuartero was five, bringing her son with her. At one point, she worked up to three jobs, but they survived. Her son thrived in school, a product of the New Jersey public school system and then later at Rutgers (where he received a degree in Management Science and Information Systems). A self-confessed nerd, he admits that science and math are subjects he's always enjoyed and is naturally good at.
Like any kid in the '80s, he discovered the thrills of a yoyo and his fascination for it deepened when he learned that the toy has roots in the Philippines. Soon, he joined a professional tour group that performed yoyo demonstrations all over the world.
Everybody was supportive, especially when Cuartero brought up the science of the game. "Of course, my Physics teacher loved it! I would ask, 'Can you tell me about potential and kinetic energy again, please?'"
In university, he started an online business selling yoyos. Kid's stuff, you would think, but his wares could fetch anywhere from a few bucks to $500. Up to this day, Cuartero still carries around a foam-lined kit holding a few of his favorites. One of them, made of aluminum, costs $150—twice the price of the last pair of shoes I bought. His yoyonation.com continued to be lucrative until Cuartero got a plum entry-level position at Meryll Lynch fresh out of college.
"I was late for my interview," Cuartero recounts. "The receptionist told me, 'Um, you have 30 minutes, so, good luck with that.' I was pretty sure I was doomed to fail. Then, the interviewer asked me about the yoyos, and of course I had one on me and I did a little demo. So, that's how I got into Meryll-Lynch."
He moved to New York—in a 22-square-meter apartment in the East Village—so he could be closer to Wall Street. He started living the fast-paced life of a New York trader until he reached a crucial crossroads: yoyonation.com sales were dipping and his health was failing due to the stress and fatigue of multi-tasking his two jobs. "It got to the point that I was regularly bleeding out of my nose and my doctor was begging me to slow down," Cuartero recalls. He needed to choose. And he chose to stick with his passion.
With his focus rejuvenated, his yoyo business started to pick up again. "From $75,000 a month, sales went up to $150,000. The month after that it was $1.2 million. Things just got really big, really fast," Cuartero confessed. This was quite the unlikely result I expected, and I thought the booze was affecting my comprehension. I had to clarify: "Wait, so you made your first million in Wall Street, right?" Cuartero patiently corrects me: "No," he smiles,"with my yoyos." Seriously, you can't write this stuff.
The young mogul's personal life is more proof that real life is truly better than fiction. His reason for coming back to the Philippines is straight out of a local soap opera, but it's something Cuartero makes light of.
"I came back to meet my father for the first time," he says with a sheepish smile, anticipating the awkward "aw shucks" that usually follows after such confessions. He narrates the intricacies of their first meeting, a saga which includes a trip to Pampanga straight from a the airport, getting plucked by a helicopter, then making a quick stopover to pick up their lady companions who emerged from beneath the tall grass of a plantation. Cuartero chuckles when he recalls his Filipino-Chinese playboy father's antics, shrugging as if to say, "Well, that's him." You don't sense the resentment, but there is no real relationship to speak of between the two. His father might be the reason why he came back, but definitely not the reason he stayed.
Cuartero still talks about moving to Paris, but for now the Philippines is home. His e-commerce expertise brought Groupon to our shores. After he left Groupon Philippines, his company Pylon Partners Inc. expanded to the food and beverage industry with ABV, Lazy Bastard (the supposed cover establishment for ABV, which developed its own cult following thanks to its bacon-wrapped hotdogs, tater tots, and burgers), and Prisma in Boracay.
Cuartero confesses to being "obsessive" and "a perfectionist," so when he immerses himself in a project he finds it difficult to divert his focus. Only after a few years of obsessively nurturing ABV did he decide to open another bar in the party island of Boracay. "I think it's a market that needs something like us," referring to his brand of craft cocktails and premium bottles of booze. Prisma is located in the spanking-new Station X at Hue Hotel and Resort on Station 2 surrounded my other F&B establishments that are set on elevating the standards and palates on the the island. Skyrocket Studios is their digital marketing arm which complements all of Pylon's endeavors such as bevtools.com and crate.ph (which is on hold as of posting). With all this on the plate, what's next for Cuartero?
"I need to make some money," he smiles. These are, after all, passion projects, especially the food and beverage outlets. However, Cuartero now has his work cap on and is ready to get down and dirty for the expansion.
"Do you want another drink?" Cuartero inquires. I say "yes" a little too eagerly, and he suggests he mix some daiquiris. "It's the bartenders' handshake," explains Cuartero, and I nod in agreement as if I have heard it before. Simply because, at this point, I am so sold on whatever he is selling. After sips of the tangy and potent mix (he uses a pineapple rum which lends curves and a lovely aroma to the drink), I'm buzzed and I say something bawdy; Cuartero's eyes brighten as if we're meeting for the first time. He relaxes and finally let's loose on his brand of cheeky humor. Now, under the bright service lights, we see each other clearly.