‘There is so much more than just offering good food and service’By Marlet D. Salazar
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Specialty Restaurant Inc., mother company of American-themed restaurants Burgoo and Gumbo, chooses to keep a manageable number of restaurants because it doesn’t want to compromise food quality and service.
According to Albert Alavera, managing director of Specialty Restaurant Inc., not everyone who wants to put up a restaurant can just do so at a whim. There is so much more than just offering good food and service.
“Restaurant is perhaps the most ‘overused’ business,” Alavera says, “but if the person doesn’t have the passion and knowledge in entrepreneurship, he or she won’t go any further.”
He also notes that there are currently so many franchises from abroad because many people believe that “the surest way to be successful is to get a franchise (of a popular brand).”
But not all of them make money, he stresses.
“It’s because of the different markets. What may work for other cultures may not work for Filipinos,” Alavera explains.
However, he believes that American food will appeal to Filipinos because “we are already familiar with the American way.”
In 1999, owners of Specialty Restaurant Inc. asked him to come home from the United States and open up a restaurant for them. The first branch is still standing-and thriving-along Tomas Morato Avenue in Quezon City. Burgoo now has nine branches in Metro Manila and Cavite.
Contrary to popular belief, Burgoo is not a burger but a stew with origins in Kentucky. Burgoo is prepared by mixing different kinds of meat and vegetables, herbs and spices. In the early days, this dish is cooked for 20-30 hours.
Burgoo’s specialties include steaks, burgers, pizza, and pasta served in American-sized servings.
The first attempt at American-themed dining was so successful that the company decided to open another one, Gumbo. Alavera says they chose New Orleans cuisine for this one because “it is a melting pot of different cultures” which would allow them to offer a diverse choice of food. Gumbo, according to Alavera, “is derived from African word for okra, a pod-like vegetable introduced by the Africans and was often used to thicken their stew. It has a rich flavor and texture and derives from the cooking of French, Spanish, Indian, and African residents of the area.”
Gumbo has six branches in Metro Manila. Its menu is gearing toward seafood but has almost the same contents as its sister Burgoo.
Alavera says that even if they have a different menu from other restaurants, other fast food chains are still competitors. This is why Specialty Restaurant Inc. is reinventing Burgoo and Gumbo restaurants. Some of its outlets are undergoing renovations, giving them eclectic and New York-inspired interiors. They are also adding function rooms in bigger restaurants to cater to families and other family and corporate functions.
Alavera decides what to add or take out of the menu in the two restaurants. He had been to different culinary schools in London, Singapore, and New Orleans. “We change some items in our menu every three months,” he says.
He adds that the biggest challenge for them is how to keep loyal customers. “We want to offer them something that would make them come back to our restaurants,” he says. “At the same we also want to offer something new every time.”
Many of the ingredients used in Burgoo and Gumbo are imported, but there are also some that are outsourced locally.
Now that Filipinos are becoming more and more fond of eating out, Specialty Restaurant Inc. is looking at expanding in the near future. Its newest Burgoo and Gumbo outlets opened in Robinsons Magnolia, SM Southmall, and The District (by Ayala) in Cavite.
“We are also considering having a branch in key cities—possibly in the South—but nothing is definite yet,” Alavera said.