Currently in fashion: Retail brands are sending food down the catwalk
International retail brands are no strangers to playing the food card. In Tokyo, Bulgari’s four-storey fine dining restaurant called Bulgari Il Ristorante serves Italian dishes created by a Michelin-starred chef. Café Dior, located in the luxe fashion district of Seoul, is home to French pastries and macarons. Ralph Lauren’s New York City flagship store has an elegantly minimalist café on its second floor called Ralph’s Coffee, serving gourmet South American and African beverages.
Even fast fashion brands like H&M have jumped on the bandwagon. Its new concept store Arket will soon open in London with an inhouse café serving organic Nordic dishes. Such brand extensions have been happening since the ’90s and early 2000s, but finally, Manila is catching up.
SURF IN THE CITY
It’s a strange but pleasant surprise that a relaxed space like Tenant Manila could exist in Makati’s central business district. Located right next to a small hotel, café and surf shop Tenant Manila personifies the laid-back beach philosophy its owners Anton Reyes, John Esguerra, and Mike Te are inspired by. With wide spaces and minimalist interiors, the establishment is a temporary seaside getaway from the hustle and bustle of urban lifestyle.
“My partners and I frequently spoke about opening a creative space that housed premium brands with a café to match,” Reyes reveals. “We felt like creating a place where you can shop, eat, and have a cup of coffee. [ Tenant Manila] embodies the retail experience we thought was missing in the local landscape.”
Tenant is home to a number of surf and menswear brands like Mollusk, Converse, Surf is Dead, Kapital, and Saturdays NYC. The shop carries sunglasses, shirts, shorts, shoes, and even customized Mandala surfboards. Esguerra, a Hawaii native with Filipino heritage, also sells merchandise from his own brand Quality Peoples.
While the actual store is located on the second floor, Tenant’s ground level houses a quiet coffee shop frequented by students, creatives, and professionals. A big chunk of the shop’s market is composed of millennials, thanks to a highly curated playlist and good coffee. An added element to the ambiance are Tenant’s friendly sun-kissed
baristas, whom you can immediately tell are surfers and frequent beachgoers.
To create the menu, Reyes and his partners worked closely with a Japanese chef to make sure their items are concise and always freshly made. “We felt like the combination of Western and Japanese influence captured the clean and fresh flavors we were after,” Reyes says.
When one thinks of Sunnies, what immediately comes to mind is the eyewear retail giant helmed by prominent personalities and social media influencers Georgina Wilson, Martine Cajucom, Bea SorianoDee, and Eric Dee Jr. In less than five years, Sunnies Studios has managed to build itself a lifestyle empire, now with roughly 40 outlets nationwide and branches as far as Singapore.
Though the concept for Sunnies Café only came after the swift rise of the eyewear brand, Eric Dee Sr. of FooDee Global Concepts notes that he and his younger brother, Sunnies Studios finance director Dee Jr., had planned it from the get-go. Since the Dee Family brought Todd English Food Hall, Llaollao, and Tim Ho Wan to Manila, it was only natural that the brothers come up with a homegrown food concept.
Dee Sr. oversees the branches and shares that the label’s eye for good design and aesthetics plays a role as big as the food they serve. “It makes sense to make a café because it’s relevant to the brand. Design-wise, we deliberate over what we need and what we’re going to do—for example, with the height of the bar and such. We pay attention to small details. Menu-wise, we’ve been studying and trying to do California a lot since it’s also in the branding,” he says.
Was the opening of Sunnies Café simply a ploy to grow the main retail label? Dee Sr. clarifies, “We were adamant about not having Sunnies products whatsoever inside. It’s really about opening a legit restaurant with the Sunnies branding. At the end of the day, it’s the marketing, and that’s where we decided to join forces in the sense that the synergies are there. We’ll do a café, make sure we run that well, and then we scale the business.” He adds that a Sunnies Milkbar will open sometime in February 2018.
Does a brand counterpart give these establishments an edge to the saturated restaurant scene in Manila? Despite being initially wary of the Instagram-crazed hype surrounding the launch, Dee Sr. thinks that their brand marketing started them off on a high note while continuing to deliver throughout time.
“We were actually afraid when we first opened the restaurant. For the first two to three weeks, the place was filled with [female bloggers]. It’s good, yes, but we knew
Both Tenant Manila and Sunnies Café are not only delving into food to support their labels but are also building brandspecific cultures Filipinos can relate with and
that we won’t survive on that,” he says. “We wanted to focus on the food, but the marketing itself is super strong. As we progressed, the clientele has now grown and that’s what we want in a restaurant. We can’t rely on those fly-bys.”
While Sunnies Café does not sell specs and sunglasses inside restaurant premises, Reyes believes that having Tenant Manila’s products and food in one location provides a refreshingly unique and all-around experience to the Filipino diner. He notes that while discussing Tenant’s concept with his partners, all had agreed that the café and the retail shop must coincide—one cannot open without the other.
Recently, Manila has been witnessing more players in the game. Empire Fashion Café, with branches in Maginhawa and Pasig, share a similar concept with Tenant Manila. Local luxury brand Harlan + Holden opened a pop-up coffee shop in Greenbelt 5 for a brief period this past year and are currently planning to launch a full-time café.
Solid branding and a unique customer experience are putting dining into a totally new light. Both Tenant Manila and Sunnies Café are not only delving into food to support their labels but are also building brand-specific cultures Filipinos can relate with and subscribe to.
Though both shops are only about a year old, the F&B business in the country is already visibly evolving into one where sitting and eating is simply not enough for its diners. Restaurants are turning into an active experience that carries out even after a meal, whether it’s taking home some merchandise from in-house shops or getting inspired for creative endeavors by colorful imagery. Considering their circumstances and everything they’re offering, it’s likely that these concepts will endure both competition and the test of time.