The First 50 days — The Flowers (and Plants) of Zubuchon Makati…

Our nightmare in flowers. :) I could literally write a book on how to open a restaurant and the 3 months or so surrounding the pre- and post-opening of Zubuchon’s Makati branch was the perfect setting for a either a thriller, axe-murderer, comedy, mystery, strangling-in-the woods, zombie, baldness-inducing non-fiction novel that could make you laugh, cry and want to commit murder all at the same time. But that’s for the book, here’s the shortcut version in plants and flowers, a much more pleasant take on it. :)

A few days before our scheduled opening, Mrs. MM and I got into a car and went to Los Baños on a blind mission to “green” our cement-y parking lot and back outdoor area at the restaurant. We hadn’t been to Los Baños in years (me not in at least 20) and we didn’t even know who to look for. So we perused the roadside offerings, stopped the car, ended up being taken to some interior nursery setting, and ended up buying some 2,000+ pots of plants in less than 90 minutes! Everything was agreed our new landscaping best-buddies and it was all delivered that same evening with 4 workers to set it all up. It was the most efficient transaction/implementation of all the things done for this branch, I kid you not.

Back in Makati, the plants worked almost exactly as I had envisioned in my mind, despite all the last minute preparations that were going seriously awry, like firing half of the opening team when it became clear during training that they just simply wouldn’t make it (obviously original screening and selection failed miserably). Fast forward to two days before opening, and we decided to fly in 20 or so staff from Cebu, an emergency measure that saved us by the skin of our teeth.

Meanwhile, a bunch of cats were making their presence felt, and on one “trial” evening, two cats decided to fornicate noisily right on top of our roof directly above the dining room, and when I went out to look at all the ruckus, I watched in amazement as they put on a porno-worthy performance that was youtube worthy. They somehow lost their footing, tumbled in extreme ecstasy, and literally rolled off the roof STILL DOING IT, only to land on their feet!!! If I had the presence of mind to take my phone out and video the whole thing I would have had a viral video for sure…

We busied ourselves with last minute vertical plant placement…

…and realized we would have to put some sort of watering system in place or hire one person just to keep the plants hydrated. Meanwhile, the final countdown had started and test evenings were running surprisingly well, but that was with just 100 or so folks at the same time, and friendlies at that. We were ready for an opening day with up to 300 guests. And now the nightmare goes live… On opening day, we served 600 plus (poorly for the most part) guests, and turned away another 600 more. Why anyone would go to a new restaurant on day 1 is beyond me?!? Besides a quiet announcement on my instagram account, we didn’t announce the opening at all. We wanted a slow start. And while we struggled to cope with the tsunami of guests, we would go on to welcome an average of 500 guests and a high of nearly 800 guests a day for the next 50 days! Let’s just say it almost did our team in, literally. And forget Lent as a “slow time for meat” as we were jam-packed on Fridays and weekends, and folks were definitely eating lots of pork… :)

This was a picture of the final calm before the storm. The last night of testing had a modest display of flowers, a calm crew, an organized kitchen lulled into believing we were ready…

…well-wishers sent pots of phaelaenopsis or butterfly orchids…

…blog readers sent amaryllis, hydrangeas and other potted plants and orchids. Let me tell you, I was just flabbergasted that readers would do this, and you know who you are, we are truly most grateful.

So now cut away from the real pandemonium on site, and let’s float off to floral centerpieces that changed about every 5 days or so. First was a pretty mix of pinkish tropicals paired with oodles of native cymbidiums that were a bargain at weekend markets…

…then some Zubu red tropicals that seemed a tad severe, but the logic was to buy hardy and long-lasting (not true, these lasted just 4-5 days)… and to reality:

Annoyed client waiting more than 30 minutes (my translation) : “That’s so dumb, just remove those damn flowers on the central table and we can eat there! What do you mean I have to wait 30 more minutes? Why would anyone use a table just for flowers??” or “just put benches by the side tables and we can eat bent over…” SERIOUSLY. And “why did you open if you can’t feed everyone who showed up, no??? NO???” and to some I seriously considered this reply but bit my tongue:

“Why would anyone torture themselves by visiting a restaurant during its first few days, when things are bound to be a relative disaster, and when you torture yourself further by insisting on waiting for a table when we indicated at least a 60 minute wait and pointed at a line of 50 people well ahead of you??!!” Take several deep breaths.

Another book on the entitled behavior of today’s social media savvy diners would also be in the offing, but it’s not my place to offend people who are nice enough to want to eat our food.

Another day was all roses…

…then days later roses with alstromeria, for a special evening where the U.S. Ambassador dropped in for a casual meal of lechon and other Filipino dishes. Hello?! The U.S. Ambassador on the third week of operations? Complete with advance security party?! He is really nice, btw, as Mrs. MM and I sat with them for an hour or so… Total professional and career diplomat.

Well into Lent, we decided on a white theme to lighten things up…

…and a pungent centerpiece with tuberoses and thai grass…

Even the bathroom areas had greens. We also had bromeliads, hard greens, etc. at one point or another.

While my Chief of Stuff accompanied me to the wholesale flower market a couple of times, I started going at 4am and made several more trips on my own, hauling tens of kilos of greens and flowers each time. Let’s just say I can find my way around that part of town rather nicely now…

The selection of flowers varies greatly from day to day. My best piece of advice? Go late Thursday night or very early Friday morning for the widest choice. Do not go the day before Easter, you will have to battle it out with nuns for the prime blooms… :)

I briefly toyed with the idea of buying pre-arranged flowers, but the do-it-yourself gene in me is dominant, so we slogged on…

…when roses were abundant and cheap, read PHP3 pesos each or less, we ended up with hundreds of blooms, only to groan at the thankless task of de-thorning them first before arranging them.

Quite a few guests have commented positively about all the blooms, but my pet peeve are those you have to touch and feel them up, only to exclaim “it’s real, really real?!” or they just pull out a few stems for them to take home. Honestly, since when do folks think it is appropriate to just take something on public display and use it for their own purposes?! But for the most part, the arrangements have been a welcome distraction, and very much a part of our opening days…

When pressed for time, or you’ve broken several stems, just cut off the blooms and float them in large glass vases.

Side tables got huge arrangements as well. So everyone sitting in the booths near the side tables felt like they had their own floral arrangement just for their party.

Hurricane lamps and snazzier succulent arrangements made a brief appearance, but I haven’t repeated those yet…

…the most beautiful flowers included these gloriosas, but they didn’t last long enough…

…I wish they did.

A surprise hit were these deep purple statice. They were easy to arrange, cheap and lasted well over 8 days. They we used them on shelves hanging above, as they dried out. Note to self, use more statice.

Alstromeria are another favorite. Economically priced, abundant, but require a lot of prep work to remove leaves and keep changing their water. But we change the water of all arrangement daily for the most part.

A surprise for me was the use of everlasting flowers en masse in a large vase… they are so stiff and woody up close, but so voluptuous in a large massing. Beautiful. I would use them more if there were a steady supply of them. And they dry nicely.

I was never a fan of mums, but they are a necessary evil as they are bright, cheery and last forever.

I wanted to use masses of these hydrangeas for Easter, but the supplier couldn’t deliver them the day before and the markets were closed.

I toyed with using several dozen vanda orchids but worried about vases tipping over.

A part of me wanted to re-create this bounty of jackfruit on the center floral table. Like have a giant trunk with fruit on it’s side, but that is getting fantastical. I just needed a creative diversion every once in a while. :)

If only the nearly 100 lush ferns we have in Cebu were here in Manila, I would use a dozen of them indoors.

The other day, after avoiding bidding for flowers that were church-bound, I ended up with nearly 400 pink roses (good grief, with SERIOUS THORNS!)!!

And they were on display for Easter Sunday, when after a welcome respite and lull over Thursday through Saturday, we were yet again blasted with 600+ guests, but this time all handled like we have been at it for years. Yes, Easter marked our 7th week after opening. And we have figured it out for the most part. Things have settled down. I would come in for a meal now. :)

Sunday saw a basket of over 90 colored easter eggs added to the floral table, and by the end of the day, kids and adults alike had emptied the basket of most of its contents.

So all’s well that ends well. My sincerest apologies to folks who came early in our tenure that had to wait for a table, were served by less than totally competent staff, whose food wasn’t 100% of expectations, and who helped us in no uncertain terms, deal with opening our first Manila branch. Thank you to the nearly 22,000+ people we have welcomed so far in just 50 days, and we hope to see you again sometime soon. Just not all at the same time, please. :)


54 Responses

  1. I literally just came back from lunch at Zubuchon (it was the pink roses today). I actually remarked to my lunch companion that you guys could still fit in a couple of tables if you wanted to but probably wont so that the space will still feel airy and open. There were only 2 of us (both ladies) and we thought the small lechon would suffice but I’m embarrassed to say that we ordered another small lechon between us and even had dessert. Excellent lunch!

  2. ami, thanks for dropping by. I am impressed, a third of a kilo each of lechon, you guys are eaters! The prize, however, went to a Frenchman who once dropped by, ordered a kilo of lechon and a bottle of red wine, nothing else, and proceeded to demolish the platter and polish off the entire bottle of wine. I was completely in awe… :)

    As for the seats in the resto, yes, we are trying to keep it less tight than our other branches, intentionally trying to achieve a spacious airy setting with green outdoors in a fairly unexpected setting near the skyscrapers of Makati… it’s nice when guests get or notice little things like this… it isn’t about chasing as many customers as we can manage… Thanks.

  3. Look on my Works, ye Jeff Leatham, and despair!

    Eons ago, while exiting from a showing of Dahil Sa Isang Bulaklak whose backdrop for the closing credits was slowly cascading flowers, I heard somebody commenting that the movie should have been titled instead Dahil Sa Pagkadamidaming Bulaklak.

    I mindlessly walked into a Swiss Chalet branch on opening day once on my lunch break and surely enough, it was crowded. But a gracious hostess was handing out free rain checks to appease disgruntled customers so I was not disappointed.

  4. Congratulations! That’s really grace under pressure.
    My favorite arrangements are the gloriosas and that of the graceful curvature of the calla lilies.

  5. CONGRATS MM!! the flowers look AMAZING!!!

    I make it a point to visit a restaurant 4-6 months after opening to better get a feel of the place but several of my work mates visited already and they wax poetic on the lechon! (not so much on the squid for some reason hahahaha)

    BTW do you guys accept reservations? they’re planning a team eat-out and they want it at Zubuchon (there’s 30 of us plus those who want to tag along from other teams ;) )

  6. Congratulations MM and Mrs. MM. Only you guys can pull-off something like this like it was as easy as eating a piece of cake!

    Still have to visit this property.

    Hate to be your accountant justifying all the flower expense. LOL.

  7. I can’t wait to try your restaurant. I’m so glad I don’t have to go to Cebu to have your lechon. :) Gotta say that I was also very surprised with your everlasting arrangement. Your photo/arrangement is just gorgeous, it looks like a Van Gogh painting!

  8. WOW! and there isn’t anything much more to say but… Marketman! the name is Marketman. Congratulations!

  9. I haven’t gone back to the restaurant since the test run (except for that one time when I bought guava jelly) because it’s always full. I have a colleague, though, who goes there almost every Tuesday morning. He says it isn’t so full on those days.
    My parents liked the guava jelly, by the way. They were amazed by its consistency, so unlike the jellies bought in the supermarkets these days. They like pairing it with coco jam on pan de sal. :-)

  10. teth, thanks for dropping by, I hope your meal was a good one! Gillyweed, your friend is right, Monday and Tuesday mornings are best for a leisurely meal. And here’s a Marketmanila insider tip… if going for lunch and just walking in, go before 1143am. For dinner, go before 643pm. The consistency of the guava jelly is a result of a long, slow cook, with a bit of natural apple pectin added. ConnieC, thanks! Gladys, yup, the everlasting looks almost European, right? artisan, drop by the next time you are in Manila! Mart, we do take reservations for a limited number of tables for each meal service, call or text 0956.477.1999 during office hours to arrange. :) Betchay, congrats on the full page pre-opting article on hubby’s exhibit today!! Footloose, a raincheck coupon would have been a good idea…

  11. Congratulations! We haven’t visited your Makati branch yet, controlling our urge to do so during the Lenten season. Now we can indulge in all our favorites especially that dinuguaan lechon that has evaded me twice already -once on our stop in CEB from LA and another time during my son’s trip to CEB. Love all the floral arrangements. Will drop by soon!

  12. Gorgeous arrangements MM! Taking a cue from your previous posts about going to new restaurants at least a few weeks or months into opening (to avoid the hectic chaos/pandemonium), I’ve put off going till you gave the all clear. Figured (or wished, more like hehe) you’d also post some tips here for your old-time readers too. Time to beat that Frenchman! :)

  13. MM, your resto cum flower shop is so amazing. Looking forward to visiting your Makati branch soon. (I wish there’s a Zubuchon branch here in Saudi Arabia…lol! in my wildest dreams)

  14. I went there thrice already – even if its busy, I find the service very fast and they know what is being served. We had our director from US and they are very informative on what goes in the dish. :-)

  15. Tok, I spent several weeks in Riyadh on a consulting job many eons ago, it was a hard place to operate in… we hope to welcome you on your next trip home… KRon, my personal favorites are the classic lechon, the bangus sisig, the mustasa salad, the linarang soup and definitely have some of the kakanins for dessert… Ying, I hope we don’t strike out with a third attempt that yields no dinuguan! Let me know if that happens, I promise to give you an all-you-can eat dinuguan coupon for a meal on me…

  16. I was in the Philippines last week and thought of Zubuchon but with our tight schedule and trying to get medical needs done it wasn’t possible. August is the next visit and this time you go to the top of our list! Not only do I look forward to the food but also the flower arrangements : )

  17. Thank you MM! Opening ceremony was very well attended. Hope you can visit anytime during its run.
    I really dont know what’s wrong with my gmail…can not get to you:(

  18. “Why anyone would go to a new restaurant on day 1 is beyond me?!?” –> social media bragging rights, MM ;)

    I SUPER love the place; the vibe is different from the Cebu branches. Not saying one is better than the other, just different :)

    I LOVE how it is so open and airy; even when at max capacity with 30+ people waiting, it doesn’t feel crowded.

    PERFECT place for a wedding reception. *hint* *hint* Hahahahaha!

  19. Hello MM, I may have mentioned that my family braved traffic and the long lines to be able to have that famed lechon (and more) on the second weekend that the Makati branch opened. We couldn’t wait because we were leaving Manila the following day. All the food we ordered were excellent, not to mention the service! What wonderful staff you have there, especially Erick.

    In any case, if I can make one suggestion, you might want to consider giving people with reservations 10-15 minute grace period especially during weekends. I noticed that some groups came late and tables had to be held for them for long periods, this while a lot of people were waiting to be seated.

    I also overheard some customers complaining about the flowers taking up a table they could be eating on (OMG). I wanted to slap them but was too hungry to lift my arms hahaha. The flowers were gorgeous and glorious. It made our meal more enjoyable!

  20. MP, yes, we only give a 15 minute grace period before at least half of the table must be present, otherwise we can give it away if there are folks waiting. We have also curtailed reservations to just about 30 seats per meal, or less than 25% of the seats. And since we do at least two turns on tables per meal, that means only 12.5% of seats are ever reserved. But I know what you mean, it is annoying to see tables set aside and the folks show up late… Kasseopeia, I am glad you like the vibe, it was intentional to do this branch differently… And yes, light, airy and more green in the middle of the cementropolis is intentional… :) Betchay we will definitely go see the exhibit in the next few weeks… Susan, we hope to welcome you in August or thereabouts!

  21. MM, I was at Bulacan Gardens and saw lots of medium sized curly dapos/Birds Nest ferns. A dozen of those would definitely free up manpower spent on dethorning roses!

  22. Haven’t been yet! My partner has been trying not to eat pork since we got a pig for a pet! Except for bacon of course. Will have to show her a menu so she can see what she can eat!

  23. Isa, while pork-centric, the menu is pretty extensive, amongst the non-pork choices are kinilaw, scallops, gambas, calamari and fish skin tacos for starters, fish and chicken based soups as well as mung bean and squash stews, lots of seafood main dishes like seafood kare kare, sizzling bangus, chili shrimp, escabeche, steamed fish, etc. Lots of salads (though mustasa with lechon is my favorite, you can set aside the lechon) and vegetables, and a few chicken and beef main courses as well. Desserts and fruit shakes galore. So a non-pork eater would survive a visit. In fact, I have a Muslim friend who has been some 4-5 times even though we aren’t halal. :) myra, yup, I will have to get some, I love them and they are so practical and beautiful. And the twice weekly dawn raids on Dangwa are taking their toll on even MY sleeping habits. I have jokingly said I might as well open a flower shop now, but mostly targeted on dead people… hahaha. Evil grin.

  24. I enjoy seeing you in the flower market with our “woke up like this look” :-)

  25. Greens and Blossoms, yup it makes it all so real, don’t you think? I love getting up early to go to the market, and I definitely don’t look in the mirror before I leave home. :)

  26. Love, love, love all flowers especially the purple statice. I hope you can take it little bit easy soon. Take care of yourself!

  27. I’ve been waiting for ages for this! Now, how to get there from Rizal with a breastfeeding baby in tow?

  28. Dianne, it’s a spacious place, but loud and noisy at peak times, not the best place for a young baby I would think. Or at least i wouldn’t be happy there if I were the baby… :) But if you should venture into town, head to Makati and turn onto Ayala avenue from EDSA, go all the way to the end and cross Buendia and look for the Makati fire station on the left, turn left onto Yakal Street (between the Fire Station and the Police Station, then turn on the first left onto Talisay street and you will see the restaurant. Thel, thanks, I know the pace has been crazy lately, but as usual, I thrive in these conditions… Anne, sorry, out of place but I didn’t recognize you sooner, and should have.

  29. Hi MM! Been in the restaurant twice already. First for a dinner, waited for about 30mins and the second was for an early lunch. Both extremely satisfying experience! My partner, who has been avoiding pork for years now, ordered lechon, ensalada and stuffed squid on the first date and sinigang na lechon & baked scallops on the second! Asked what’s his favorite so far, unblinkingly chose the Lechon. He’s been inviting his relatives to eat at the Zubuchon since. Congrats MM!

  30. Beautiful fresh flowers Marketman. I do believe they make Zubuchon Makati a lot nicer, classier and less bare. I was there in the second week of your opening and you were packed. Good thing I came an hour before your closing and was able to get a table immediately.

  31. Tama talaga tancha ko na sobra dami tao kaya hindi kami punta makati. Pero baka try namin kung may typhoon around august/september para konti crowd.

    Kaya marketman tama talaga after a year or two sa quezon city naman para mahati yung crowd.

  32. dona, we weren’t so full around the Easter holidays. And if coming from QC, best to have reservations to ensure you go straight to the table. We only set aside a few seats for reserved tables, but you can usually get them 2-4 days before… here is the number to text or call: 0956.477.1999 Thanks.

  33. A month ago, I had a meeting in makati only to be reminded of your restaurant around the area. It’s was close to 11 and suggested to my companions to try Zubuchon out.

    It was a great dining experience. We were lucky to have come in that early just before the storm. Our bill had to be asked thrice before it came. It was at this time 12ish that the lunch crowd had come with several waiting for a table to be vacated.

    No worries. I will be coming back for more and with more friends.

    Hoping for branch South Side like Alabang.

  34. Terrific arrangement indeed. The colorful flowers and setup reminded me of one of the dinner halls at the Polynesian Center in Oahu. Cheers & Congrats.

  35. Ate there with my daughter already!! And will be going back when I visit again. Great experience! Wonderful food! Staff were great too despite the looooong queue..
    They said you were there..and really wanted to say hi..but my daughter dissuaded me….so…Congratulations!!!!!

  36. Oh my Marketman! I hope and pray that you can open one here in LA too. Please!!!!!

  37. Lilibeth, I think a fourth of my remaining hair fell off with the opening in Manila, I can’t imagine opening one across the Pacific… :)

  38. mariswalangkaparis, you should have asked them to fish me out of the office in back, would have been more than happy to say hello… thanks for dropping by! Next time book a table ahead of time, so there’s no wait!

  39. Hello MM. I dropped by for the first time two weeks ago, in order to get some lechon and chicharon for one of my dad’s labourers. It’s a simple but special dinner for a diligent worker who chose to celebrate his birthday away from home, finishing home repairs for us. Naunahan pa nila ako makatikim ng Zubuchon, but I did eat with them and got to taste some. Good stuff. I’m happy that they really enjoyed the treat since they are excellent, dependable workers. Kudos to you as you treat your employees well and they pay back dividends through excellent service.

    Thanks for opening up a branch in Metro Manila, and I’m glad that your troupe is doing much better now. Hope to be back with family.

    p.s. Your guava jelly is wonderful. It beats most available honey in both taste and consistency.

  40. Hi Ron, thanks for dropping by! So glad you enjoyed the meal and the guava jelly. If only folks treated their colleagues, managers and staff better, we would all be better off… Thank you for dining at Zubuchon!

  41. I know that the newly opened Makati Zubuchon will be swamped so I am trying to keep myself from going there since it opened and during the test run. Maybe on my birth month (July)!

  42. cecile, it’s settling down… Monday to Wednesday is usually less busy and except between say 1145am and 130pm, there is rarely a long wait for walk-ins… Fridays and weekends are a little bit more crazed… :)

  43. ‘Ate there last Sunday. I find the lechon succulent, sort of eating roast beef, only that it is pork.. Loved the dinuguan also. And the dessert platter. While the mango slice run out, the bibingka replacement suited just fine..and the chicharon take away awaits to be devoured.. BTW, may I know Sir Joel who did the interior? I dnt know if you one calls it minimalist/industrial, but I find the use of black coated steel/ lighting fixtures very now. Thanks.

  44. Boston2007, the whole location was done by our Architect Maya Franco and she had a hand in the interior… but I decided to go with the more black fixtures and service tables/booths and ceiling. Our other stores have more white, I wanted to try something with more black and I think it works well in this setting. Honestly, it’s just a converted warehouse with basic original cement floors… the rest we put in. Thank you for dropping by for a meal!

  45. Hi Superfan, they just started construction yesterday! More than two months to get plans, electricals and temporary permits! So we won’t open until at least late September this year…

  46. Wow sir! Right on schedule ang opening! Went to the megamall branch last night. Sept 18 pla nag open na!



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