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La Dolce Vita

Manila’s fast-fashion pioneer Edi Tekeli reinvents himself, as he tries his hand in the restaurant business with Paper Moon, an authentic Italian restaurant with branches in Milan, Doha, and Istanbul

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by Alex Y. Vergara
Images by Jansen Romero

Even before “fast fashion” became part of everyday vocabulary, Edi Tekeli, a global citizen with Turkish roots, had already introduced Filipinos to this concept by bringing in such high-street ready-to-wear brands as Guess and Mango sometime in the 1990s. These days, he’s introducing Filipinos to something else.

“I’m building a destination for people who love quality and authentic Italian food served in warm, elegant surroundings,” Tekeli, owner of the newly opened Paper Moon Italian restaurant in Makati, said. It’s something he’s never done before in his entire career, which makes him all the more excited.

  • Metro Manila as seen like never before on the 65th floor of Knightsbridge Residences

  • Photos of vintage Hollywood and European stars such as Robert de Niro, Brigitte Bardot, Raquel Welch, and Sophia Loren hang on a series of grills that double as dividers

  • Osso buco and cheesy risotto

  • Pizza Valtellina consists of mozzarella, beef bresaola, rocket salad, and parmigiano reggiano

  • Penne all’arrabbiata, penne with spicy tomato sauce and garlic

  • Pappardelle Paper Moon, pappardelle pasta with sauce and crispy bacon

  • Paper Moon’s tiramisu

    To this day, Tekeli is proud of the fact that he was able to entice movers and shakers of Makati, Greenhills, and Quezon City to troop to Robinson’s Place Ermita where he had his first Mango store. It was unthinkable for them to drive through the traffic to get to that part of Manila, but drove they did.

    “For almost a year, I was there to personally greet them, as I opened and closed the first Mango store in the country until the second one in Glorietta opened,” he said.

    Having lived here for 37 years, Tekeli considers the Philippines his home. But he had to pack his bags and fly to the United States more than nine years ago to take care of some business, including the opening of more Mango stores there. His half Filipino children are now all based in the West Coast.

    Upon his return to the country more than a year ago, Tekeli was shocked with what greeted him. Metro Manila, including Bonifacio Global City, where he once lived, is very different from the one he left behind. Everywhere he looked, he saw new as well as unfinished skyscrapers. Even the retail scene has become quite crowded and more competitive with the entry of new brands as well as the opening of new and bigger malls.

    “I had dreams of introducing new fashion brands upon my return,” he said. “But when I saw how different Manila has become, I said to myself forget it. Every brand—from H&M to Uniqlo, Zara to Forever 21—is already here.”

    But his nose for new opportunities has yet to fail him. Tekeli also noticed that the dining scene in Manila has flourished with the opening of new restaurants and dining concepts. No matter where he went, restaurants catering to various market segments were packed with diners. From fashion, he shifted his focus to food, particularly the restaurant business.

    What kind of restaurant to open and where to open it eluded him until his good friend former ambassador to China Jose Antonio, chair and CEO of Century Properties Group, invited him one morning to the 65th floor of Knightsbridge Residences, one of the tallest buildings in the country, for some picture taking.

    “The place was so windy because it was open air,” he said. “And as soon as I saw sweeping views of Metro Manila, I knew right there and then where I would build my first restaurant.”

    Having lived in Italy during his youth, Tekeli is also fluent in Italian. He also knows the country’s culture, including its food. After a deal with an American celebrity chef fell through, Tekeli trained his attention toward Europe, where a certain Italian restaurant in Milan called Paper Moon is packing people in.

    Over the years, the restaurant, through various franchise owners, has opened branches in Turkey, Qatar, Lebanon, and Portugal. He was able to convince its owners not only to give him exclusive rights to open in the Philippines, but also the rest of Asia. As we write this, Tekeli and Antonio are busy working on Paper Moon’s first branch in Hong Kong at the new wing of Harbour City in Kowloon.

    The two gentlemen are also working on a yet-to-be-named Italian deli at Milano Residences and BLT Steakhouse, said to be one of President Donald Trump’s favorite restaurants in New York, at the nearby Trump Tower in Makati.

    “But the Philippines will always be the first country in Asia to have a Paper Moon restaurant,” said Tekeli, before asking the restaurant’s kitchen staff to prepare a number of specialties, including penne all’arrabiata (penne with spicy tomato sauce and garlic), risotto primavera (risotto with spring vegetable), gnocchi dipatateal gorgonzola (gnocchi with gorgonzola creamsauce and walnuts), and fetuccinealla Bolognese (homemade fettuccine with Bolognese sauce).

    As part of their deal, the Italian family behind Paper Moon sent one of its senior Italian chefs to Manila to train Tekeli’s kitchen staff. For 70 days, they went through a restaurant manual “as thick as the bible” in order to remain faithful to how Paper Moon does it in Milan, said Tekeli. A Dutch guy from Milan also flew to Manila to train floor and bar personnel for nearly a week. A new chef from Italy is flying in to oversee daily operations.

    The restaurant also has an extensive list of pizza offerings and meat dishes, including its signature ossobuco dish served with cheesy risotto. Tekeli also takes pride in Paper Moon’s tiramisu, which, he claims, is one of the best dolci (desserts) he’s had.

    “Every item we have on the menu is as authentic as the ones they serve in Milan and Istanbul,” said Tekeli. “We made sure of that.”

    The agreement also specifies that Tekeli should buy the best ingredients abroad unless he finds cheaper, more superior ingredients locally. His olive oils, tomato sauces, and house wines are all imported from Italy, while beef and other meats are sourced mostly from Australia. When it comes to salmon, nothing comes close to the Norwegian variety, he said.

    If there’s one area Tekeli had free rein in, it’s Paper Moon’s warm, earthy interiors with wooden beams and ceilings as well as rustic touches in the form of woven accent chairs. Huge black and white photographs of such iconic stars as Sophia Loren, Robert de Niro Yul Brynner, Elvis Presley, and Brigitte Bardot, among others, are just some of the few elements also present in other Paper Moon restaurants the world over.

    “What am I in fashion for if I didn’t have a say in my own restaurant’s interiors,” said Tekeli, who collaborated with interior designer Maja Olivares and her team. He also had his way when it came to Paper Moon’s layout, which includes such areas as a bar, private room, open kitchen, and enclosed cigar lounge.

    Despite Paper Moon’s rather obscure location, Tekeli is confident that the restaurant will soon become a destination place in no time. Besides, he added, “my prices are very reasonable.”

    “That’s what they said before when I opened Mango at Robinson’s,” he said. “Not too many people would bother going to Ermita. I guess I’ve proven them wrong. I see the same thing happening here. Besides, the view of Metro Manila from the 65th floor is awesome. That alone is reason enough to go to Paper Moon and savor the food.”

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