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Tracing Aristocrat’s beginnings

By Margie Quimpo-Espino
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:33:00 03/30/2008

Filed Under: Restaurants & catering

MANILA, Philippines?The anecdote goes that when The Aristocrat Restaurant founder Doña Engracia Cruz-Reyes, or Aling Asiang, was thinking of a name for her rolling store (the predecessor of the restaurant), she thought of naming it after her eldest son, Andres.

The initial name of the enterprise was ?Andy?s Rolling Store,? and it was going to be located near the Ateneo de Manila then along Padre Faura Street in Manila.

But Andy did not feel too proud having a moving kiosk type of store named after him. Thus, the story goes that when he told his mother that he did not want his name used, this upset Lola Asiang who declared: ?Then, I will just name the store after your aristocratic friends!?

Thus was born The Aristocrat, 72 years ago in 1936.

An old American van called a Studebaker was used to haul the rolling store around Manila.

Prior to this, Aling Asiang had opened a small canteen in 1928 on the ground floor of their house along Marquez Street, just in front of the then St. Theresa?s College. It helped augment the income of the family, which consisted of 12 kids, plus 10 other relatives who lived with them. Husband Alexander was a lawyer who later on became a Supreme Court justice.

The canteen was called Lapu-Lapu, and it was the first restaurant to serve native fare at a time when American cuisine dominated the land.

Raymund recalls that the students at STC were among their customers. The school was then run by nuns from Belgium, where the food, it is said, tastes bland.

After attaining a measure of success, Aling Asiang in 1938 decided to put up a rolling store, which became a permanent restaurant, on its current landmark site on Roxas Boulevard. Raymund says the location was chosen because the rolling store would sell well whenever it made a stop in that area.

At first, they subleased the property from an American Jew who, himself, was renting the entire place?measuring 5,000 square meters?turning it into his home, complete with a stable.

The Reyeses eventually expanded and occupied the entire place which, to this day, they continue to lease from the Fernandez clan.

Many generations have partaken of Aristocrat?s chicken barbecue and java rice?its best sellers. But the fare was actually not the original food Lola Asiang served. According to her son, Vic, one of only three surviving children out of 13, the original fare consisted of adobo, chicken sandwich, dinuguan and arroz caldo.

Vic recalls that the barbecue fare started in the 1950s, when his mother opened a resort along Quirino Avenue, then a beach area. When they started serving the grilled meat at the Aristocrat Beach Resort, the family knew that they had a best seller. Now, it is Aristocrat?s signature dish.

Also, unknown to many, Aling Asiang had to convert the Roxas Boulevard restaurant into a small school, which the Japanese, who then occupied Manila in the early 1940s, allowed them to run.

Almost 50 years later, her grandchildren are now foraying into education, albeit of a different kind.

Last month, the Culinary Institute of Aristocrat opened its doors to budding chefs and bakery owners.

CIA?s major offering include The Fundamental of Culinary Arts, a course which ensures the mastery of the basics of cooking, including an introduction to the food service industry, sanitation and safety, basic cooking principles, mise en place, hot kitchen preparations and bakeshop production.

CIA also offers Home Bakeshop, which teaches operation concepts, legal aspects of home bakeshop operations, marketing, product-costing and profit analysis, food safety, baking principles, ingredients and equipment identification and types of baked goods.

Raymund A. Reyes, president and COO of Aristocrat Franchise Corp. and a grandchild of Lola Asiang, says the school has been a 20-year dream for the family.

?The idea has been lingering around for quite some time now,? says Raymund.

The aim of the school is to train culinary professionals to be able to work in hotels, restaurants and luxury liners. They have a six-month Tesda accredited course, as well as certificate sources on bar-tending and international cuisine.

Raymund says the school is meant to take advantage of the increase in demand for members of the hospitality industry, given the booming tourism industry in the Philippines as well as the increase in demand abroad.

For instance, Macau, which is aggressively pursuing its goal of becoming the gambling capital in this side of the world, will be needing some 200,000 workers for the industry.

CIA has forged tie-ups with international placement agencies like Chesham Recruitment and Oceana Luxury Liner to help their graduates.

It was only in 1984 that Aristocrat decided to franchise, but even then, the expansion was not as fast. Today they only have nine branches. But the Reyes clan has expanded, using different names such as Serye, Reyes Barbecue, Alex III.

One of her daughters, Teresita, is the woman behind the Mama Sita line of food sauces.

Although members of the Reyes clan have opened numerous restaurants, there has been no animosity among them.

The group has since opened The Aristocrat Bakeshop, a grocery store in the Roxas, branch and now the school.

Aling Asiang and Don Alex have long passed away, but they will be happy to see that the clan has continued their tradition of serving good food.



Copyright 2014 Philippine Daily Inquirer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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