MANILA, Philippines?Andrew Wijangco didn?t grow up in a family of gourmands. He was just born with an adventurous streak when it came to following his taste buds? desires and discovering the best, whether the dish was served in a carinderia or a five-star hotel.
This endless search for the best has also motivated him to want the best served at Berting?s Grill, the eight-month-old restaurant he opened at the Home Depot restaurant strip on Julia Vargas Ave., Pasig City. And since his concept of a Filipino restaurant is one that serves comfort food, he thought of a homey sounding name, one so Pinoy and catchy as Berting.
?It?s nobody?s name in particular,? the 37-year old Wijangco says. Occasionally, a customer tells him that it?s their dad?s or uncle?s name. So right there he has hit the spot along with the 15-20 items that are the staples on his menu.
What sets his items apart from traditional Filipino fare is his constant tweaking of them. Some would call it fusion. His Crispy Pata Kare Kare, for example, has deep-fried pork knuckles served in the middle between the vegetables and peanut sauce. ?Two worlds in one,? Wijangco comments. Crispy Dory comes with a pale green spread of caper butter sauce on top, not the usual dip for fried fish.
He?s not being arrogant when he says he is his own standard. His years as the guy behind the successful Thai in a Box (eight branches at its peak before he sold the business) and ongoing culinary studies at the International School of Culinary Arts and Hotel Management have put confidence in his claim that ?my palate is for the Filipino people. Pag nasarapan ako, tiyak, masasarapan sila (If I find something delicious, for sure they will, too).?
He, Aljun Garcia, Mark Realica, Karl Sanvictores, Angel Roces and Alzhen Santos, his friends from his La Salle Green Hills elementary and high school years and his minority partners in Berting?s, are so heartened by the grill?s word-of-mouth success that they are opening a second, bigger branch occupying 350 square meters on Scout Rallos St. and Tomas Morato Ave., Quezon City, in March.
It has a seating capacity of 250 and two function rooms. The original stands on 120 square meters and can fit 50 people in the air-conditioned area and 50 outdoors.
Wijangco will retain the retro look (thick stripes and large circles in black, orange, red, yellow and white) some partners thought of and which his wife Cherry executed in a mural.
Weekends and pay days are always a full house with hours that stretch from 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. daily, except Sundays. Business doesn?t slacken even during the rains, unless there?s a super typhoon. Wijangco observes, ?If Pinoys want to go out, they will, rain or no rain.?
The most popular staple is its lechon manok, rated the best by a number of chefs. It is Wijangco?s formulation, and the secret is in its 72-hour marination and hour-long roasting. In fact, Berting?s is the first to serve lechon manok in a full-size restaurant; other famous brands are small take-home counters.
But more than the food?s taste, generous portions (?That?s my gauge of portion because I myself don?t like to feel unsatisfied after a meal?) and good location, Wijangco believes that what counts in the restaurant business is ?being hands on, talking to customers and asking what they want and treating employees like family.?
He adds, ?I hire people with a view to regularizing them after six months.? He is aware of how others in the business hire people for a few months to avoid giving them benefits once they become permanent.
So hands on is he that he does the marketing every morning and prepares the food at his nearby home. He is at the restaurant at lunchtime and dinnertime. When he opens his third place, which has a totally different concept but is keeping it secret, he will have to move his four freezers, currently parked at his mother?s house, to a commissary.
He says another key to success is ?prompt payment of suppliers. Even if they offer me fifteen to thirty days credit terms, I don?t use it. I believe in paying immediately.?
And lastly, he abides by the Filipino saying, ?Ang lutong may pagmamahal, nagiging masarap (A dish prepared with love becomes delicious).?