Building an empire with his faith


President and CEO
Zenarosa Food Corp. (TURKS)



By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat


Most businessmen would always include the Almighty as one of the sources of their strength and success, but there is no other more devoted to his faith than GEM L. ZENAROSA, founder and owner of the country’s fastest growing shawarma food chain: Turks.

Gem, with his calm and collected demeanor, is an epitome of a life in prayer. He prays all the time without fail for guidance and blessing for everything he does.


According to Gem, the idea of going into business was raised while he was still juggling from several jobs to provide for his family. Gem suggested to his wife Angel Glo, whom he married while they were still in college, that she should try to do something to keep her busy while he was at work and to avoid getting bored at home.

And as the man of the house, Gem took different jobs to provide for his wife. He got into buying and selling cars and this equipped him the knowledge on how to manage finances and earnings.

“I was busy with buy and sell, then one day I told my wife ‘what if we start a business’,” says Gem.

Since they don’t have enough money, they decided to sell his wife’s car. “My father-in-law gave my wife a brand-new car as a graduation gift in college. We were so happy for his generosity,” says Gem.

From the proceeds of the car’s sale, the couple started to go into the food business. Gem said they chose to go into Shawarma food business because it was the trend at that time.

The couple decided to plunge into shawarma business called Turks.

After consulting with families and friends, they decided that Turks will be different from the other shawarmas. Aside from the fact that Gem uses only the freshest products, Turks must cater to the Filipino palate.

Filipinos love Shawarma because it is a meal replacement. Turks can be very fulfilling because it is a complete food with pita bread, meat and vegetables. It is very affordable at P60 for regular and P35 for small package of chicken or beef. Their bread is already palatable even when eaten alone. Turks have expanded menus to include rice meals, stake kebab, hotdog, and rice balls.

Pita shawarma is the most popular to its market that stretches from A to D. Turks has outlets in upscale Rockwell, in Glorietta, schools, hospitals and residential condominiums.


He may be a newbie in the business and young at 26 when he started Turks, but Gem was full of enthusiasm and creativity to guarantee that his business will prosper.

“I pushed on and the year 2007 was really unforgettable,” says Gem as they started the business.

“With our limited capital, running the business was really difficult and I had to do everything from being the marketer down to being the cashier,” he said.

He recalled going to Balintawak market early in the morning while everybody was still asleep to buy vegetables. He would rush home after to prepare the products before he delivers them to the store. Together with his wife, they manage the store operations from cashiering to serving the customers with their baby on a trolley in one corner of the store.

“And our work didn’t stop there, we were also the store staff,” he added.

Gem wanted to go inside the malls because that is the real test of its business, but the shawarma method of cooking where the meat is openly displayed made it difficult to locate in an enclosed area.

“In 2007, shawarma stalls were all over but there was none in shopping malls because of the aroma of the beef while cooking it. So, it was really a challenge for me to get into the shopping centers especially in SM Malls. What I did was, I designed my own cart,” says Gem.

To keep the aroma of the beef from spreading, Gem redesigned Turks’ cart with a glass to keep the smoke and scent within the cooking area. With his design, the Turks’ cart was approved by the SM Mall, and they opened their first branch in SM Sta. Mesa in 2007. Five more branches were opened in other SM Malls in that same year.

Gem’s brilliant innovations to the usual shawarma kiosk we see everywhere has made Turks eligible inside the mall. Five more branches were opened in other SM Malls in that same year.

As the years passed by, Gem who used to prepare everything in the small kitchen of his house, now has a commissary with an area of 3,000 sqm located in Cavite. They also have commissaries in Carmona, Pasig and Montalban and cold storage facilities in Visayas and Mindanao.

From five branches of which he was doing all the works from marketer, delivery and crew, Gem grew the business steadily and opened several Turks kiosks in other parts of Metro Manila. By the year 2011, Turks started converting their stores from a simple cart into big food stalls and full dining restaurants with expanded menu.

From a food cart that nobody notices, Turks was growing at a speed of customers’ demand. Turks becomes a habit of mall goers, its goodness spreads by word of mouth, by those who have experienced and tasted the shawarma. A visit to a mall isn’t complete without enjoying a wrap of Turks.


But what is unique with Turks is the man behind it. Gem is a man of prayer. Born and raised by an Iglesia Ni Cristo minister, Gem grew up in the knowledge of God.

Gem prays for everything that he does and waits for the will of the Father before making a decision. When he contemplated on starting Turks, he first prayed for it and got the answer.
Gem did not think he would someday be managing his own company, but he trusts God.

“Success is about surrendering your plans to the Lord God,” says Gem.
“It’s the collective hardwork and efforts of our people outing in their hearts to working and of course faith in our Lord God,” says Gem of his success.

Holding onto the promises of the Father that He will bless the works of our hands, Gem witnessed how God fulfilled his promises as Turks continued to spread its wings.


“From day one I opened this business, I have been very hands-on,” says Gem. He knew how hard it is to start a business, that is why it was difficult for him to open it to franchising at first.

“You can’t gamble at the expense of others. I don’t want to disappoint people. I have seen other businesses in this industry closed down, and it is heartbreaking when you see someone loses something. And I don’t want that feeling that is why I really studied everything about the franchising packages that we are offering,” says Gem.

After reaching 52 branches in 2016 and after the result of his research and studies in doing franchise, Gem felt it was time to open to the many potential franchisees knocking on their doorstep.

Turks offers two packages: Package 1 is P1 million for carts, take-out counters and kiosks type of outlets, and Package 2 is P1.4 million for food stalls and full restaurant set up that offer different meals.

Now, Turks has a total of 499 stores, 38 percent are franchises under Package 1. Most franchises come in multiple outlets. One has 29 branches followed by 18 while most franchises have three. This is driven by the good ROI (return on investments) proposition that Turks brings. The average ROI is 6 months for package 1 and 12 months for package 2. But, a kiosk franchise in Zamboanga had an ROI in just three months.

Of the 499 branches nationwide, 62 are company-owned. Turks is now one of the fast-growing food franchise businesses in the country. Their target is mindboggling. Turks intends to open 22 branches a month this year.

Turks is not content with the local market alone, it is spreading overseas after it has captured the discriminating palate of Pinoys.

“We are happy to announce that Turks will open this year our first overseas branches in Hong Kong and the United States,” says Gem.

Turks is also riding on crowd drawer celebrities. But Gem staged a marketing coup when he decided to bring the country’s most bankable actor John Lloyd Cruz into Turks. The theme “Ang Pagbabalik” has captured both the anticipated comeback of the actor after a long hiatus, as it is also about Turks Small Pita Doner, which will be available again in all its branches.

“JLC is an excellent actor and a lot of people may not know it, but he is also a brilliant artist who thinks out of the box. He knows how to recreate himself.
Despite his absence in the movie industry, he has strong and solid followers who will always support him all the way. And I thought that he would be the best to endorse our Small Pita Doner because we removed it from our menu for a while and now, we want to bring it back for our customers to give them option,” says Gem.

Gem said the talent fee is confidential, but it must be substantial. “I think he is happy and we are happy to have him,” says Gem, who made the first move to befriend the actor.


Gem knows poverty. During his high school days at the New Era University in Commonwealth, Quezon City, he can still vividly recall many instances where he could not pay his jeepney fare going home to Malabon from school.

“To evade the fare, I always sat in the middle of the jeepney and voluntarily handed the fares of other passengers to the driver so I won’t get noticed that I haven’t paid yet,” says Gem.

Hardship continued even during college but that did not stop him from finishing a college degree in BS Nursing at the Fatima University in Fairview, Quezon City.

“My parents were just simple people who know the importance of faith and belief in God, education, hard work and perseverance. These were just the few things that they instilled in me, which inspired and drove me to dream big,” says Gem.

But the number one lesson that Gem has learned as a businessman is not about how to make money, but to pray all the time.

“Put your heart in everything you do and pray for His mercy at all times,” says Gem, who also serves in their church. Every decision he has to make has to be offered first to God. He consults his creator always and asks for his blessings and guidance all the time.

In business, he looks up to the late retail magnate Henry Sy, Sr. and Injap Sia and lot more successful businessmen who started small.

“The growth of our business, of our company is overwhelming and I know I owe it first to God, then to our commitment to bring palatable, quality and fresh products to our customers, to our business partners/franchisees, to our staff and of course to our loyal patrons who trust our foods. And this is also the reason why I personally don’t stop from researching and developing our product line so we can provide them with better food offerings,” says Gem.
Success indeed is very elusive but it is also true that unfathomable blessings and provisions come to those who trust in the works of the Lord.

Gem’s faith in God has strengthened him to do good, push for greater heights. Gem is a living testimony of how the Father works in the lives of those who work hard according to God’s will.

The success of Turks made Gem even more devoted to a life in prayer.