We are in the mid­dle of an Amer­i­can rev­o­lu­tion as pan­cakes, hot­dogs, and US food brands dom­i­nate the lo­cal restau­rant scene

F&B World - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - Text by MAAN D’ASIS PAMARAN with ad­di­tional re­port­ing by AN­GELO COMSTI Photos by ARTU NEPOMUCENO

A di­verse din­ing scene in Manila is en­cour­ag­ing, but fa­mil­iar Amer­i­can fare con­tin­ues to dom­i­nate

Mex­i­can tacos, Viet­namese pho and Hawaiian poké may have had to do a lot in stir­ring ex­cite­ment in the Manila food scene. But while they may have eas­ily stood out from the pack and made their pres­ence felt, an­other culi­nary trend made a silent killing. It may not have made a lot of noise and gained much fuss and fol­low­ing com­pared with the oth­ers, but what it was suc­cess­ful in ac­com­plish­ing— un­like the rest—is longevity.

If there’s one food many Filipinos de­lighted in this 2016, it would have to be Amer­i­can cui­sine. From fried chicken sand­wiches and hot­dogs to clas­sic donuts and whim­si­cal milk­shakes, our pa­tron­age for the stars and stripes is un­de­ni­able. And proof of this is the es­tab­lish­ment of a num­ber of big food fran­chises hail­ing from the US.

Com­mon Ground

Amy Pal­isoc, vice pres­i­dent for busi­ness devel­op­ment at the Bistro Group, ac­knowl­edges our affin­ity for any­thing Amer­i­can since we have a strong con­nec­tion with it. We have all be­come so fa­mil­iar with Amer­i­can cul­ture and life­style that nat­u­rally fa­vor­ing Amer­i­can food has be­come sec­ond na­ture. “We love ev­ery­thing Amer­i­can,” she says. “This is ev­i­denced even by the suc­cess of our Amer­i­can brands, with th­ese be­ing the ones that have the high­est con­tri­bu­tion to our prof­itabil­ity. At 22 years, TGIFri­day’s is still our high­est in­come earner,” Pal­isoc re­veals. Through the years, it has been the burg­ers, sal­ads, and baby back ribs that have re­mained the high­est sell­ers for the fam­ily-friendly brand. It’s a tried-and-tested the­ory and that’s why the restau­rant group finds com­fort in bring­ing over Amer­i­can brands to our shores. The con­tin­ued suc­cess of Ital­ianni’s, Vil­lage Tav­ern, and Buf­falo Wild Wings sup­port and re­in­force its busi­ness di­rec­tion.

This year alone, the com­pany launched three promis­ing state­side con­cepts: Moe’s South­west Grill, a Tex-Mex cantina of­fer­ing cus­tom­iz­a­ble bur­ri­tos and tacos; Texas Road­house, a steak place known for its big serv­ings in keep­ing with its name­sake state; and its most re­cent fran­chise, 24/7 diner Denny’s.

Apart from serv­ing all-time fa­vorites and fa­mil­iar fare, Denny’s also serves nos­tal­gia, es­pe­cially for those who have trav­eled abroad and found them­selves be­ing brought to the gen­er­a­tions-old restau­rant that can cater to cus­tomers any time of the day. Con­sider Pal­isoc to be among them. “I guess it is a com­mon ex­pe­ri­ence for many Filipinos to be brought to Denny’s di­rectly from their flights be­cause it is one of the restau­rants that are still open by the time they ar­rive,” she muses. “This has cre­ated a sort of con­nec­tion for our lo­cal mar­ket, so they were very ea­ger to try it out when we opened.” There is also a mil­len­nial con­nec­tion, as the brand is ea­ger to push its celebrity con­nec­tions with stars such as Katy Perry and Daniel Rad­cliffe mak­ing a pit­stop for their sam­mies on late-night food runs.

In any con­cept, Amer­i­can or oth­er­wise, there are cer­tain fac­tors that the group looks for when it comes to fran­chises. “The food has to be good, the con­cept has to be well ac­cepted, and the peo­ple be­hind it should be easy to talk to. This was the rea­son why launch­ing con­cepts like Denny’s has been suc­cess­ful in the Philip­pines. When I talk to them, I make a pre­sen­ta­tion where I high­light the pop­u­la­tion, the growth po­ten­tial, and the sit­u­a­tion of the F&B in­dus­try in the coun­try, in­clud­ing the rise of re­sorts and casi­nos and this helps en­cour­age them.” She says that even though they al­ready have many brands un­der their group, they will con­tinue to bring in new fran­chises

We have all be­come so fa­mil­iar with Amer­i­can cul­ture and life­style that nat­u­rally fa­vor­ing Amer­i­can food

has be­come sec­ond na­ture.

in the com­ing years. “We will con­tinue to grow as long as there is po­ten­tial.”

Tak­ing Com­fort

Ana Loren­zana-de Ocampo at­tributes the Filipinos’ affin­ity for Amer­i­can food to the fact that a lot of us choose it as a des­ti­na­tion for long va­ca­tions and are there­fore more fa­mil­iar with it. “US brands that have been there for a long time have al­ready been tested, there is a mar­ket for it and there is less risk than bring­ing in some­thing that no­body has heard of. Be­sides, our palate is more Amer­i­can than any­thing and we have grown up with a lot of stuff from Amer­ica.” In the fourth quar­ter of the year, she opened Pink’s Hot­dogs.

“We de­cided to bring it in be­cause we be­lieve in the prod­uct and think that it is a fit for the mar­ket. Filipinos like hot­dogs; it is one of our pri­mary com­fort foods. What we did with Pink’s is to bring hot­dogs to an­other level with more el­e­vated in­gre­di­ents,” she ex­plains. For one, the ex­pe­ri­ence is dif­fer­ent, as Pink’s in the US is for curb­side eat­ing while in Manila, de Ocampo’s guests can dine in the com­fort of an air-con­di­tioned room. The prod­uct names are dif­fer­ent too, as they had to make it eas­ier for the Pi­noy cus­tomer to make a choice. Pink’s menu in the US taps into the Hol­ly­wood cul­ture with names such as the Char­lie Chap­lin, while here, she and her team found it eas­ier to call a wasabi- fla­vored and nori- topped sausage a Ja­panese Dog for eas­ier re­call and brand­ing.

Her chal­lenge with Pink’s is that the hot­dogs fol­low the for­mula and yet are made fresh in the Philip­pines. The wieners are not frozen and shipped from the States, and it was a chal­lenge to of­fer the ex­act same thing given the avail­abil­ity of in­gre­di­ents. She is happy that they were given the trust and free­dom to op­er­ate by the own­ers, even though it was the lat­ter’s first time to ven­ture over­seas. “We be­lieve in the brand, it has been time-tested be­cause it has been around since the 1930s. We have learned a lot from them, too. We know a good hot­dog, but we had no idea what a per­fect hot­dog would be, so it would be to­tally dif­fer­ent from cre­at­ing some­thing on your own.” Her ex­per­tise from the other two brands comes in at other as­pects, as they make their own hot­dog buns and their own ice creams and so­das. “A hot­dog bun is eas­ier to make than a baguette,” she smiles.

Celebrity Cul­ture

In the US, The Sugar Fac­tory is a touristy des­ti­na­tion, one where peo­ple would line up to go in­side and have their pic­tures taken. This is driven by the cul­ture of celebrity, as the brand’s am­bas­sadors in­clude the Kar­dashi­ans and Brit­ney Spears, who have launched their own line of blingy lol­lipops. This is what April Pas­cual ex­pe­ri­enced for her­self as a tourist trapped in a New York snow­storm. “One of my brother’s friends took us out for din­ner and when we were told we were go­ing to The Sugar Fac­tory, I ini­tially thought it would be about desserts. When we got there, we were served pink cham­pagne and liqueur candies. I was hooked.”

She de­cided to bring the ex­pe­ri­ence to Manila, and made a cold call through e-mail. “I had no idea I was al­ready cor­re­spond­ing with the own­ers but when I talked about the Philip­pines and told them how much we like Amer­i­can brands here, with the pres­ence of the larger chains, they con­sid­ered us.”

They only opened re­cently, but she has al­ready no­ticed a dif­fer­ence in the clien­tele. “Here, we have fam­i­lies, par­ents have their spiked drinks while their chil­dren run around all hopped up on the sugar. That way ev­ery­one is happy,” she grins. The school kids walk in with their par­ents to try out the selec­tions of candies on dis­play on one side of the restau­rant and the par­ents re­al­ize that there is also real food avail­able. Come 10 p.m., the shop dims the lights and the brunch and din­ner place takes on the char­ac­ter­is­tics of a lounge. “It is all about ed­u­cat­ing the cus­tomers that we are more than just a candy store,” she says.

She talks about the Amer­i­can vibe that Filipinos have learned to im­bibe, where they place im­por­tance on hav­ing fun, free­dom, and positivity. While ev­ery­thing fol­lows the tem­plate that they set in the US from the black and gold in­te­ri­ors to the stud­ded chairs, she plans to mesh a lit­tle bit of lo­cal cul­ture in. “We are given about 20 per­cent space to ma­neu­ver around in and we plan to in­clude a Filipino break­fast on the menu with fried rice. How­ever much we love Amer­i­can food, we still look for our own home­grown fa­vorites.”

With fine din­ing dip­ping, the Amer­i­can diner con­cept couldn’t have found a bet­ter time to be on trend than now. We may have gone through a taco phase this year and ra­men and

be­fore that, but it seems like at the end of the day, af­ter sa­ti­at­ing our mo­men­tary crav­ings, we still rely on burg­ers and fries for un­ques­tion­able sat­is­fac­tion. We are crea­tures of com­fort, af­ter all.





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