On August 8, 2017, Reyes Barbecue will celebrate its 15th year as a brand. As it approaches its fifteenth year, it looks back on its own history and on the family culinary tradition which has been its strongest anchor as a brand, and looks forward to see how this tradition will continue in the coming generation. Here is that story …
Reyes Barbecue was founded in 2002 by Mr Francisco “Frank” Reyes whose family culinary roots span more than 140 years. Frank’s maternal great grandmother was Luisa Garcia Cruz, who was born in the 1870’s in Navotas, Rizal. Luisa was an unschooled but highly skilled cook who provided for her family by running a “carinderia” (local eatery) in front of their house. Her specialty, Kare-Kare (a peanut-based stew), was so delicious, it earned her the nickname “Luisang Kari” in her community. Her story, in fact, was featured in Liwayway Magazine in July 1992.
Luisa’s daughter, Frank’s maternal grandmother, was Engracia Cruz Reyes, the pioneer restaurateur of the Philippines, and founder of what is generally acknowledged as the longest surviving restaurant in the Philippines, The Aristocrat, located in Roxas Boulevard in Manila, and which, incidentally, celebrated its 80th anniversary the previous year.
Frank’s “Lola” (grandmother) Engracia had ten children and 71 grandchildren. Frank, all his siblings as well as all his first cousins were required to work in their Lola’s restaurant every summer to earn their allowances. As a teenager in the early 1970s, Frank Reyes’ first summer job was in the Accounting Department of his Lola’s restaurant, where he was tasked to check the cash register tape readings. It was during this time he noticed and wondered why despite the numerous dishes on the restaurant’s menu, the majority of the sales of his Lola’s restaurant was contributed by the Chicken Barbecue with Java Rice, Peanut Sauce and Atchara (pickled green papaya). This thought was planted in his mind early on in his life … Frank grew up tasting his Lola’s personally-cooked dishes and it was during this period of exposure to his Lola that Frank’s taste buds and taste standards were honed.
Frank finished Mechanical Engineering at De La Salle University in 1983 and decided to join his much older sister in managing her franchised restaurants. Frank spent eight years helping his sister manage her three restaurants and it was during these next nine years, while learning the ropes of managing a food business, he started writing up the details of the operating manual he was developing for a business of his own,
In 1990 Frank married, and in 1992, armed with a strong determination and the inspiration of his Lola’s success, ventured on his own, acquiring and setting up his own franchises at the food courts of Ali Mall in Cubao, Quezon City of SM North Edsa in Quezon City too, and in Shangri La Mall in the Ortigas area. By this time he had developed his own operating manual and all his three stores were using it.
In 2002, Frank Reyes faced a crisis. His franchises reached their ten-year term, and his renewal application was not approved.
After recovering from the shock, Frank had to ask himself : where would he get his livelihood ? What would happen to his people, his equipment, his lease contracts, his mall deposits, his plans ? Should he close down his stores ? OR … could he replace his franchises with another business ? … Hmmm … He boldly asked himself – is this the time to create my own brand ?
At that point, memories surged through Frank’s mind … of many years ago … of his teenage years in the Accounting Department of his Lola Engracia’s restaurant … Suddenly, Frank realized what he should do … he would finally take the gamble on his long standing idea of a restaurant focused on a single barbecue specialty item. He would now put up his OWN food service brand and FOCUS the business on BARBECUE !
And why not –in 2002, there was no food chain focusing on barbecue. Frank had already written an operating manual and acquired more than ten years experience in managing his three food stores. He also had the semblance of an organization, even if his team consisted mainly of his household helpers and some daily wage workers.
Thus, like a true entrepreneur, Frank immediately set out to think about his new barbecue formulations, new brand name, new brand positioning and new menu.
Frank used his bicycle and motorcycle to move around Metro Manila and try all the barbecue products he could find, whether on the street side, in eateries, or in restaurants. He tried more than a hundred barbecue types – studied their taste, portioning, shelf life, and benchmarked all of them with his own formulation. Soon after, he was able to develop his own, new barbecue formulation, improving on the traditional barbecue formulation he had grown up with.
In 2002, Frank then registered his brand name “Reyes Barbecue” at the trademarks office, and from that time on, Frank and his small team joined bazaar after bazaar, with Frank personally manning the bazaar kiosks the whole day, promoting his new brand name and new barbecue formulation. Response was encouraging, so he made the decision to retain his store locations and rename his stores to Reyes Barbecue.
Frank then faced the major hurdle of convincing the management of the SM and Shangri La malls to allow him to replace his two franchised food court stores with his own brand concept, Reyes Barbecue. He had to really fight tooth and nail for this because in 2002, not only was Reyes barbecue completely unknown, people thought that setting up a branded barbecue business was really CRAZY because barbecue was so cheap and available in every street corner. Thankfully, after much discussion, debate, persuasion and pleading, both SM City North Edsa and Shangri La Mall allowed Frank to move forward with his new business concept.
Reyes Barbecue was then launched in 2003 at the SM North Edsa Foodcourt and in 2004 in the Shangri La Mall Foodcourt. And like in any new business, the most difficult part is the setting up and the early stage.
Frank Reyes went through the experience of seeing his sales drop by more than 50% when he renamed his stores at Shangri La Mall and SM North Edsa to Reyes Barbecue. But instead of panicking, he persisted, because he truly believed in the marketability of his new, improved barbecue formulations and his newly created brand name. This firm belief, combined with his constant focus on quality, made the market recognize the difference. Eventually, sales not only recovered but even surpassed previous levels !
In 2005 Frank opened his third Reyes Barbecue store in the food court of what was then a relatively unknown location called 168 Shopping Mall in Binondo, Manila. This turned out to be a smart move and a tremendous blessing – the Reyes Barbecue store at the 168 Shopping Mall food court was so successful that word of mouth about it started the queue of franchise applications. The brand then started its take-off …
After 14 years of hard work, and singularly leading the company together with his wife, Frank Reyes can look back with pride. Today, his Reyes Barbecue brand is a chain of 50+ stores, with its own Commissary, Cold Storage and Head Office located in San Juan City, Metro Manila. All from Frank’s vision, frugality, practicality and sheer determination.
The brand has reached as far north as Cauayan, Isabela and as far south as Iloilo City. The brand has had franchise applications from as far as the United States, Singapore, Visayas and Mindanao, and management is excitedly evaluating these for the brand’s future expansion plans.
In many conferences and interviews, Frank is usually asked the question “what is the Reyes Barbecue brand about? “He eagerly explains the brand pillars this way : “we have two anchors of our brand differentiation : 1) our culinary heritage spanning more than 100 years, coming from my two Lolas – Great Grand Lola Luisang Kari and Grandmother Lola Asiang ; and 2) the authenticity of our brand’s unique selling proposition as expressed in our taglines “Barbecue. Peanut Sauce. Java Rice. Best way to go !” and “The Reyes Way is the Way to Go !”
As a brand, Reyes Barbecue always stands for quality and superior taste, and resists the urge to be too commercialized. It is a brand direction to always balance commercial concerns with quality and taste, giving a much higher priority to the latter. This strategy seems to be bearing fruit.
In a Focus Group Discussion some years back, research respondents in Manila revealed that they consider Reyes Barbecue the “The Chef’s Barbecue” – because of their unique meal combination and superior taste. Frank Reyes is humbled by this acknowledgement and firmly resolves to work even harder so that Reyes Barbecue will continue to expand, evolve, fine-tune its menu, and develop its own unique versions of the comfort food of today’s generation.
While Frank Reyes is quite busy with all his Reyes Barbecue product development projects, his eyes are also looking towards the brand’s future.
In 2009, Frank, his wife and two young sons, Patrick (then 11) and Pael (then 8), were featured in a major broadsheet, in an article that highlighted the “REYES TRADITION.” This Reyes family eats out very often, and takes cooking lessons together, especially when on vacation overseas.
In 2010, Frank and his wife Inez were happy witnesses to the emergence of the culinary talents of their (then) twelve year old son, Patrick, who was featured as a budding young chef in the show Jessica Soho Reports, and who auditioned among hundreds and recently became a finalist in the GMA 7 kiddie reality cooking show Amazing Cooking Kids.
While elated by the culinary talents of their son, Frank and Inez believe that their children also need be trained and exposed to the scientific side of the business, with a strong emphasis on organization building and performance management. This exposure started with the boys as toddlers, when they would be taken with their parents on store visits to simply observe. As the years went by, the Reyes boys continued to be honed and exposed to the various aspects of the business.
As they reached the age of 12, they were deemed ready to work in the Reyes Barbecue stores as servers or busboys and were also required to submit one-page reports on their store observations.
By age 14, they attended R&D taste sessions if these would coincide with days of no classes.
At age 15 they worked in the Commissary to observe how the barbecues are actually produced, and whenever possible they attended the Monday Operations Review and Culture Building Meetings – a innovative management process developed by Frank and Inez in late 2013 that drove organizational performance up for the company every year since then.
Patrick, the eldest, is now 18 years old and a Business Management freshman. He is now being exposed to the Head Office support services like Accounting and Logistics, and attends the more strategic meetings like Supply Chain, Succession Planning, Business Planning, and Human Resources Development. Pael, now 15, will follow suit in time.
As Reyes Barbecue approaches its 15th year, Frank Reyes looks back on the 2009 article written about the “REYES TRADITION,” and happily realizes two things : 1) that this tradition, while embodied by him and his two sons, is equally shared by the Reyes Barbecue organization – united in the Reyes Barbecue culture ; and 2) that this REYES TRADITION, because it is imbedded within the Reyes Barbecue culture, will not only continue, but will surely thrive.