One day, we all woke up to a new kind of park. Gone is the soft blanket of grass—it’s been replaced with gravel—and what blooms on it aren’t flowers, but a plethora of food. It’s not the turf of children, but the playground of businessmen.
Behold the food park.
Spreading like wildfire across Metro Manila, this new dining trend has breathed life to vacant lots, marking niches across Quezon City to as far as Tagaytay. Unlike the other types of food venues—halls, courts, markets, the list goes on—the food park concept strikes a chord with pumping music, cramped parking, a notorious amount of comestibles , and a laidback vibe that drowns out the workday woes. More importantly, for the empowered middle class, it unlocks risqué cuisines (some even as peculiar as Southern Louisiana Creole) at rather painless prices.
Establishing them certainly took an enormous amount of effort.
Cheska Del Castillo, founder of StrEAT Maginhawa Food Park in Quezon City, knows all about it.
She pioneered the concept, as we know it, in 2015 to help startup entrepreneurs. Ms. Del Castillo, who is a 24‑year‑old Fine Arts graduate of the University of the Philippines, has a soft spot for small businessmen because her mother gave up a career in marketing to also launch her own pet projects.
BUILDING A FOOD PARK BRAND
The younger Del Castillo conceptualized a convergence point for food and beverage micro and small enterprises. She picked the word “park” because of the sense of community it connotes.
“Since we want to be the starting point for entrepreneurs, we don’t really charge that much when it comes to the rent,” she admitted. Rent varies depending on proximity to the entrance.
Her and her family’s brainchild rapidly gained traction.
While she did not divulge exact revenues, the idea that the brand has expanded to Commonwealth and Tagaytay in a span of two years is enough to conclude that the business pays off.
But beyond he financial returns, what gives Ms. Del Castillo more fulfilment is their social relevance. “One of our first tenants, The Lost Bread at StrEAT Maginhawa, has managed to put up a branch in a major mall,” she said. “And we couldn’t be happier for them.”
“That’s the goal,” she added. “To be the stepping stone.”
Right now, she is focused on their expansion in Tagaytay: their food park aptly named South StrEAT. The first of its kind on this side of the country, it already boasts 27 food and beverage stalls spread across 1,200 square meters.
To distinguish itself from its two Metro Manila brothers, South StrEAT follows a Memphis design theme, a postmodern eighties movement marked by geometric motifs and mixed media artistry. Already, the branch is showing signs of success. Ms. Del Castillo is adding more tenants on a second floor that will launch this year, and is targeting to raise the number of parking slots from 35 to 100.
But the more important thing she started building is a new dining culture.
Carnival Food Park, which opened late last year, spans 1,600 square meters.
And just like any other business, it wanted to be known for its own unique brand.
“We want a happy place, a family place,” mused 23‑year‑old Brian Florendo, co‑owner of this family business.
Aside from the obvious carnival theme, events were put in place to attract customers: acoustic shows, KTV nights, even costume parties. Each specialized in a particular target market.
No business is devoid of problems, and the range of those that Mr. Florendo encounters includes tenants’ daily demands and city regulations, as Marikina City has a strict ordinance against noise beyond 10 p.m.
DEALING WITH PROBLEMS
“I lose sleep often,” Florendo quipped semi‑seriously, adding that his response to problems is to give‑and‑take. “But you have to be a risk‑taker,” he warned. “I borrowed money from my parents and at some point, I feared that I won’t be able to return it,” he admitted. “Yet I realized that if we won’t try, we won’t fail but neither will we accomplish anything.”
So far, the risk has reaped some rewards. After only a few months of operation, Carnival Food Park already expects to hit its Return of Investment (ROI) in July in terms of rental, but if you include the profits they earn from a stall they built in their food park, they have already reached their ROI. Likewise, they are growing, with food parks in Quezon City, Las Piñas and soon, even as far as Cavite. A lot of new sources of income, and also a lot of new neighbours.
Meanwhile, in the Katipunan Area, the London‑inspired multi‑level container food park The Yard has also dealt with complaints that it causes “horrendous traffic problems,” according to some social media posts, on Xavierville Avenue.
Photos used in the graphics courtesy of Isa Bernardo, Alexx Esponga, Klarissa Javier, Bryan Florendo and Cheska Del Castillo.