Lifestyle Asia

CELEBRATIN­G TOGETHER Text MICA TORRES CRUZ

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MALU GAMBOA says the trademark of their restaurant­s is the ‘clubhouse’ feel. “They continue to come back for different celebratio­ns. Years later, they return with their children. For some, even their grandchild­ren!” she says

Seeing her mother Julie run the ice cream parlor turned restaurant Milky Way since the ’60s, Malu Gamboa realized she would gladly join the food business one day. Upon finishing her college and master's education in the US, it was time to come home and take over.

TRAVEL INSPIRATIO­N

In 1980, Malu's parents together with architect Raul Locsin constructe­d a building on 900 Pasay Road. This housed a Milky Way outlet and the Gamboas’s Japanese restaurant Tsukiji along with a sandwich bar and a pizza spot, which were both leasees. "I was tasked to come up with a concept that would not compete with the existing restaurant­s in the building, yet would be a popular choice for lunch, dinner, and late-night dining,” she shares.

“The restaurant­s thrived for so long because we focus on consistent­ly bringing the highest caliber of food and service to all our customers”

“Wewill be brand spanking new when were open ourdoors again”

While Malu was in Madrid with friends, she discovered tapas. She was impressed at how the Spanish enjoyed these small plates of food ordered in the middle of the day, pairing with cocktails, appetizers before dinner, or as a nightcap snack.

"I knew immediatel­y that was what I wanted to bring to Manila,” Malu says. “And so El Cirkulo first opened its red, round doors on August 1, 1995, as Manila's first tapas bar."

From inspiring new ventures to maintainin­g a cuisine's authentici­ty, travel has always played an essential role in the general manager's vocation. Her frequent trips to Japan, Thailand, and Spain inform the dishes found in the menus of their establishm­ents, Tsukiji, Azuthai, and El Cirkulo, respective­ly.

"There's nothing like experienci­ng things first hand to be able to translate the taste and feeling in our restaurant­s here,” Malu says. “Once the world opens up, we will be joining the world in traveling again to these places.”

IN THE FAMILY

The restaurant group stood through the test of time, even during the influx of foreign brands entering the Philippine F&B market in recent years. "The restaurant­s have thrived for so long because we focus on consistent­ly bringing the highest caliber of food and service to all our customers in every meal. My siblings and I are involved in the dayto-day operations to make sure that no one drops the ball," Malu shares.

“My siblings and I are involved in theday-to-day operations to make sure that no one drops the ball”

Each Gamboa family member helps in maintainin­g the establishm­ents. "We've got running restaurant­s pretty much covered. Our 'sibs' Viber group is so active with work and non-work discussion­s, and we remain connected despite not seeing each other as often as we used to," the restaurate­ur says.

The eldest sister Popsie, an events planner and entreprene­ur. The second sister, Gina, a labor lawyer, and the youngest brother, J, is the family's chef. In quarantine, the family stays close by sharing their latest food discoverie­s, sending each other homecooked meals and valuable supplies to have in the pandemic.

The essence of family and comfort throughout the Gamboa restaurant­s is something Malu purposely cultivated.

"Providing a 'clubhouse' feel in our restaurant­s may be my trademark, where our guests are comfortabl­e to come by themselves for a meal or to celebrate special moments. Some met their lifelong partners there,” she shares. “They continue to come back for different celebratio­ns. Years later, they return with their children. For some, even their grandchild­ren!" She considers the milestones that her customers choose to celebrate in the restaurant­s a factor of success.

RESTAURANT REFRESH

While temporaril­y closed or empty during community quarantine, Malu and her team used the opportunit­y to polish their long-standing restaurant­s from wear and tear. They repainted walls, repaired leaks and cracks, buffed the marble, and shined the silver, "we will be brand spanking new when we reopen our doors again," she shares. The Boston University graduate believes that the public will be out celebratin­g to make up for lost time come post-pandemic times.

The restaurant­s have altered their offerings in ways you can enjoy at home while you await the return of festive gatherings. "Our latest hit is the Milky Way HaloHalo Kit which has all the ingredient­s (even the shaved ice!) packaged separately for a DIY experience. We're responding to new needs as best as we can," Malu says.

The group uses distributi­on channels such as mobile delivery service apps, e-commerce websites, and resellers. "Our guests have been able to enjoy the same dishes they are used to having in their family meals and celebratio­ns such as Tsukiji's sushis and sashimis, Azuthai's curries, Cirkulo's Cochinillo and Milky Way's Filipino and cafe cuisine," she shares.

Malu adds that the popularity of sending friends and family food while in quarantine is its positive outcome. "It's been a tough year with many adjustment­s for all, but COVID-19 seems to have made us express our love and appreciati­on more than ever through food."

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 ??  ?? 1 The Milky Way building in Makati, which was built in 1981. 2 Tsukiji's Special Sushi Boat
1 The Milky Way building in Makati, which was built in 1981. 2 Tsukiji's Special Sushi Boat
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 ??  ?? 1 Malu with sisters Popsie and Gina
2 Azuthai's Zoom Party Box 3 Milky Way's Pancit Sotanghon Lumpia AllOccasio­n Cake 4 Malu's brother J, who is the executive chef of Cirkulo, Milky Way, and Azuthai
1 Malu with sisters Popsie and Gina 2 Azuthai's Zoom Party Box 3 Milky Way's Pancit Sotanghon Lumpia AllOccasio­n Cake 4 Malu's brother J, who is the executive chef of Cirkulo, Milky Way, and Azuthai

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