A PLEASANT BUT EXCITING NIGHTMARE. Is that possible? That’s what setting up a restaurant is like. :) Why so many people do it is beyond me; food must be a serious motivator indeed. It can’t logically be about profits, as some 80+% of restaurants fail or fail to make money at all in their first few years. As I announced in this post some 4-5 weeks ago, Zubuchon is opening two simple lechon restaurants where customers can enjoy our lechons sitting down at a table, rather than having to take them home to eat. Our simple objective is this, when people (tourists or locals alike) have a hankering for lechon and related dishes and they say, “where should we go to eat good lechon?” (without having to buy a whole roasted pig), we hope they will choose to come to us. For a city so famous for lechon, there aren’t that many comfortable restaurants where you can enjoy lechon as the main event, supported by a supporting or complementary cast of dishes. A secondary objective is to have a retail larder stocked with porcine delights. We hope to have frozen, chilled and dry goods section including ready to heat and eat portions of lechon, dinuguan, paksiw, local salads, etc. along with chorizos, tampalen lard, chicharon, etc. Who knows, in future we might find it useful to stock ready to cook bagnet, crispy pata, bacon, etc. A sort of epicenter of pork, for the pork lover in many of us… So the next time you visit Cebu, you can drop by to enjoy some lechon, then fill a few boxes with porky delights to bring back home with you. :)
Our first restaurant will be located at One Mango, a small sort of strip mall (actually several strips of restaurants) on Mango Avenue, fairly near the Fuente Osmena. We took possession of the space in early March, and were hoping to open for business by the end of May. But selecting an architect, developing the concept, detailing the plans, hiring a contractor, obtaining the permits, etc. took nearly 7 weeks total, and I am assured we moved at pretty warp speed. So despite our early hope for a late-May opening, it is safer to say we will likely open for the general public in late June 2011 instead…
Our first space is rather small at 50+ square meters, and as you can see in these photos, rather unremarkable. We are not setting up a high-end dining restaurant, more like a “fast meals” kind of concept, but we are totally gutting the space and starting from scratch, to get it just Marketman-so. :)
The existing kitchen was a bit scary, but it has potential. Not trying to make things simpler for ourselves, we and the architect/interior designer agreed that we had to move the one external door in the kitchen, and cover up a window as well.
The photo above is about 1.5 weeks into construction, and you can see the new door on the left in the back of the photo, and the window and door on the right will be cemented up and covered in fire bricks…
While all the planning, approvals, etc. were going on, we weren’t sitting around idle twiddling our thumbs. We were experimenting and trying to come up with an opening menu and list of larder offerings. Here, a truly unusual experiment, a brioche filled with sisig, done by the wonderful bakers of Artisan. It tasted okay, but I found the mixture of sisig with brioche to be a bit too unexpected, and I don’t think this is something that will make the menu… :)
Another idea we really liked were lechon “sliders” or sandwiches in small hamburger buns, served two or three at a time. In this particular iteration the lechon filling didn’t pass the “committee” so we have to re-think the filling, but the idea of lechon style sliders is something we are excited about.
A slam dunk hit for us were these large sisig stuffed pan de sals! Definitely going to be something we carry in the outlets. The more modern, pillowy and softer bread enrobes a well-seasoned portion of sisig in the center. I suspect a lechon paksiw version would be brilliant as well. We hope to sell these frozen or chilled as well so folks can take it home and heat it up again in their own ovens for merienda, breakfast or baon.
We are also very happy with our large pork belly roast, in a variety of versions that have seasonings from more western/Italian roots to more Filipino taste profiles. Sliced thinly and placed in a small baguette, these make for the best sandwiches I have had in a long, long time. Definitely going to be on the menu. And if you have a small party and don’t quite want a whole lechon and have to deal with the bones, head and legs, think about ordering one of these giant, meaty, festive porchetta style pork bellies instead. Tastier than turkey or a large capon, and probably much cheaper than a roast beef or leg of lamb. Half the price of the smaller lechons out there, but all belly meat and unctuous belly fat, without any bones whatsoever. :)
Our complement of 10 chefs, sous-chefs, cooks and restaurant managers have been on board for over a week now, and we brought them in at least 6 weeks before the restaurants are likely to open. They have been getting a feel for several of the dishes we plan to serve and have been experimenting. Each day we prepare 3-5 different dishes that they all get to cook/taste/tweak/critique to their hearts content. They assure me that they have never had this kind of experience in previous jobs. Let’s just say they are very well fed. :)
Once the menu, recipes, portions, etc. are nailed and priced, we bring in our waiters and other crew members, at least 4 weeks before we open for business. They will undergo service training and we want them to taste each and every dish on offer at least once over that period. We want them to be better informed than most waitstaff tend to be, even though this is nothing more than an upscale fast food kind of place. The time and investment to do this is major, and we are hoping it makes a difference once we open.
Not all of the dishes will be pork, but even fish dishes often have a link back to the pork thread. We experimented with a boneless bangus fillet deep-fried for a minute or two only in pure pork lard, then slathered with a bistek tagalog like sauce with onions and tampalen bits. It was wonderful, but still needs tweaking before we put it on the menu. We have several vegetable type dishes on the menu and I suspect a vegetarian would survive a meal here, but it is pretty pork-centric.
We have also been building our competitive information and have been ordering lechons from other purveyors in Cebu City. We check out the skin, the weight, flavor, etc. to see how they compare with our own.
A close look at the stuffing reveals a whole lot of green onions, tons of garlic and a strong hint of msg. Our own stuffing costs several hundred pesos more worth of ingredients, and we realize we have to emphasize that that is where the flavor ultimately comes from… our own stuffing has fresh lemons/lemon juice, fresh and dried herbs, organic lemongrass, onions (2-3 kinds), garlic, sea salt, peppercorns, olive oil, etc.
We have been practicing with small or fast meal portions, in convenient take out packages. We love these chinese style take-out boxes, but I have yet to find a reliable supplier of these in the Philippines. I bought this on restaurant row in Hong Kong a couple of months ago, and we have to decide if we have to place a bulk order for them from China.
And our second outlet is going to be in a brand-new extremely snazzy modern building on Escario Street, just a few steps from the provincial Capitol building and the Palace of Justice. Here a photo of the space, which is only 30+ square meters, or only up to where the guy on the ladder is. We won’t have a full kitchen here, so this outlet will serve a smaller menu than the other restaurant. But here we will also experiment with a little bit more esoteric dishes… my favorite so far? A sisig and fresh tomato pasta that is absolutely delicious. Yup, a sisig pasta. Wish us luck, we are getting super-crazed at this point and we hope to welcome you to our two small Zubuchon restaurants in about 6-8 weeks time. :)