MANILA, Philippines — The last two years alone have seen urban Manila become pockmarked by kitchens big and small, dishing out everything from spaghetti to sushi, kebabs to kimchi, Mexican to American.

These days, it seems like the national ambition is to join the bandwagon of restaurateurs making it big in the city. But opening a restaurant is no joke—fact is, it can even be a headache. In cities where good restaurants are a dime a dozen, and where diners are already spoilt for choice when it comes to cuisine, opening a restaurant brings with it a set of challenges that goes beyond coming up with a great concept.

Nowadays, a restaurant is no longer just a place to eat. It has to be an experience. “It isn’t even about ‘location, location, location’ anymore,” shares Chef Day Salonga, co-founder of MonDay Chefs, a restaurant solutions provider. Whereas in the past, scouting for the perfect location was the end-all, be-all of a restaurant’s bottomline, Salonga says that this rule of business is slowly becoming defunct. “People are now more willing to drive far to go to as liblib (remote) as the outskirts of Marikina so long as it serves great food and has a great ambience,” he says, “more than convenience, people go for the experience.”

Restaurant Solutions
Opening a restaurant now entails a big financial investment that factors in elements like social media management, food styling and photography, public relations, and architectural and kitchen design, among others.

This is where restaurant solutions provider MonDay Chefs, Inc. comes in. Co-founded by Salonga and his partner, Chef Mon Acosta Urbano, MonDay Chefs provides ideas and solutions for restaurants, hotels, bars, gourmet markets and practically any enterprise in the food industry. One of the first organized groups offering chef and restaurant consultancy services, MonDay Chefs started in 2008 when Salonga was diagnosed with a muscle disease that prevented him from working for a commercial kitchen. “Working as a chef had always been a dream, so instead of seeing my condition as an obstacle, Mon and I decided to take it as an opportunity to start a business,” shares Salonga. “We started as a catering company, but eventually we were approached by Fez (a restaurant in Serendra) because they needed a chef consultant to help create their menu, and that was when it all started.”

Companies offering restaurant solutions are a thriving industry in countries like the United States, but here in the country, start-up restaurateurs rely mostly on the services of a well-known chef to develop their menu. Once a menu is crafted and the chef is paid, the service ends. But what differentiates MonDay Chefs is that they go beyond menu development. “We also have the management aspect of the business where we go to restaurants on a weekly basis to check the quality of the food, and we do everything from scratch,” Salonga shares.

A one-stop shop for both new and seasoned restaurant operators, MonDay Chefs provide solutions from business plan and concept development to architectural and kitchen design, recipe standardization and ingredient sourcing, safe food handling, sanitation training, market and competitor analysis, and even social media management and web design.

“What we really do is provide the system that will enable the restaurant to really take off,” informs Salonga. “When Mon and I started, we saw ourselves as ‘alternatives’ for people who cannot afford the expensive rates of chefs,” he adds, “Our role is to lighten the workload and share in addressing potential problems, giving clients time to concentrate on areas of their business that are most important.”

Dining Trends
More than the services the company offers, clients benefit from Chef Salonga and Urbano’s insights into the food business. A particular trend they’ve observed is that more and more diners are advocating the slow food movement, which strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and encourages the sourcing of ingredients grown locally.

“Today, the trend in Manila is going back to basics,” observes Salonga. He adds, “People prefer food that’s more straightforward…you’ll notice that restaurants like Kanin Club (which offers homegrown flavors) are becoming a hit again, while fusion is fading into the background.”

Oddly enough, with the plethora of culinary choices available in the city, diners have taken to restaurants that dish out the basics. Apparently, fusion now spells confusion. “It’s because we have an ‘aspirational’ market that’s into exploring new concepts,” Salonga says, “so you can put up a fusion restaurant and while it’s guaranteed that people will try it once, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be coming back.”

Opening a restaurant is more than just a numbers game. Interestingly, the key ingredient to success is still good ’ol passion for gastronomy. “Every time we take on a client, we ask them, ‘do you really like food?’,” says Salonga, “because if you want to be successful in the restaurant business, mas matimbang ang passion for food kaysa money—and established institutions in the food industry will tell you that.”

For more information on MonDay Chefs, visit www.mondaychefs.com.

Published in the June 20, 2011 issue of the Manila Bulletin’s Business Agenda section.

 

 

 

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