Arts & Leisure

20 years in PHL and still going strong

Posted on March 23, 2017

CHILI’S has been in the Philippines for over 20 years (the franchise was brought here in 1996), and has been in the US for 42 (the restaurant chain was founded in 1975). In such a span of time, there has to have been a lot of space for both memories and constant improvement.

CHILI’S Philippines’ Luigi Vera
Luigi Vera, one of the founders of Chili’s in the Philippines, brought over the brand after a stint studying in California. There he had met Richie Yang, a former schoolfriend from Xavier School, and Robert Epes, who had also been studying in California. After returning to the Philippines, the three decided to open a business, immediately thinking of their California haunt, Chili’s. “We wanted to do something on our own, and not just work,” said Mr. Vera, now Managing Director of Am-Phil Group, which owns the franchises for Nanbantei of Tokyo, Tokyo Tonteki, Salvatere Cuomo, and a homegrown brand, Superbowl of China. “We chose Chili’s because we liked to eat at Chili’s,” he said during a lunch at the SM North EDSA branch on March 9. “Each time, we’re always looking for another brand that can be comparable to Chili’s,” he said. “It has to be good food, good value, nice ambience.”

While BusinessWorld gobbled up the burgers, fajitas, chips and dip, and bowls of chili that are a staple of many 1990s childhood memories, Mr. Vera discussed the constantly changing menu. “The US menu is a bit different from ours, because we follow the global menu,” he said. Apparently, in the beginning, as Chili’s had only expanded then to Singapore and Egypt, they were given the directive to simply follow the US menu. However, as Chili’s global operations increased (now in over 28 countries), there was a need to develop a menu for franchisees abroad. While many franchise deals allow for some flexibility in the menu, Chili’s in the Philippines has only come up with two dishes of its own: the beef salpicao and the country-style pork belly. “It’s difficult to get approval for items,” said Mr. Vera.

In the 20 years in has been in the Philippines, Chili’s has restricted its expansion to Metro Manila, with branches in Greenbelt, Greenhills, Tomas Morato, Rockwell, Alabang Town Center, SM Megamall, Fairview Terraces, SM Mall of Asia, UP Town Center, and SM North EDSA. Asked about the many regions the company has not yet tapped, Mr. Vera said: “Cebu, Davao. Definitely the key cities. We haven’t started in that part of the country, because I still need to build my back office. A lot of the imported items still go through Manila [first].”

Pointing out that over half the menu has changed in 20 years, he said: “You just keep the workflow inside the restaurant the same, but you try to use different spices, different ingredients.”

As Chili’s is fast becoming older like its original customers, Mr. Vera said: “The way I see the market of Chili’s is, they also grow. So, here are some people who stop going to Chili’s because they don’t go out, or it’s not their thing anymore. We also have young people coming in, so it kind of goes through time. I think they still come for the good food, they still come for the good service.”

As for the burgers and fajitas that we were gorging on, they still move out of the kitchen as fast as ever, despite being on the menu since “forever,” according to Mr. Vera. “They know when they eat that, they have fond, good experiences with it.” -- JLG