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Davao City restaurants struggle amid pandemic

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HOMEGROWN dining places and cafés are found along Torres Street, one of Davao City’s oldest restaurant rows. — BW FILE PHOTO

SAGING Repablik (SagRep), a restaurant that has become one of Davao City’s iconic dining places with its hip café-style decor and menu highlighting bananas, would not be celebrating its 6th anniversary this month. Instead, it is closing its doors.

Owner Renato “Gatchi” Gatchalian, also president of the Davao Tourism Association, said he will not be reopening the restaurant even when quarantine restrictions are lifted and dine-in services (subject to health safety protocols) are again allowed.

“I will not reopen because SagRep is an experiential brand. You go here to seek, feel and smell the entire brand with the company of other people. With the restrictions, it prevents the brand to do so,” he said in an online interview.

Other restaurants in the city, including those that redirected operations to delivery and takeout services, are mostly struggling.

“Income is not enough,” Benjamin A. Lizada, president of the Restaurant Owners Association of Davao City, Inc. (RestoDC), said in a phone interview.

There are more than 1,500 restaurants in Davao City, employing about 30,000 workers, based on the group’s data. Many of these are owned by local entrepreneurs with a single shop or a small network of branches.

Mr. Lizada said commercial space rent is the biggest cost for majority of these establishments.

He said they are currently negotiating with lessors on possible adjustments in rental fee, and have appealed to Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III to allow them to settle their 2019 income taxes on a six-month installment from June to December 2020.

“We will discuss with the lessors on how much we will pay for the rent for the next three months…After that, we will evaluate. We also don’t want the lessors to lose. We just want them to understand that people are still scared to go out and eat in the restaurants,” Mr. Lizada said.

“We are willing to pay (the taxes). We are trying to find a way. Just give us time until people are confident enough to eat in the restaurants,” he added.

RestoDC members are also grappling with the mushrooming unregistered food service providers, mostly using social media as marketing platform, who have taken the opportunity presented by the lockdown.

Mr. Lizada said they cannot compete with the prices of these “unregistered and unregulated home-based food providers that have no employees, no rental fee, and no tax” to pay.

He said the group is looking at collaborations to stay afloat and keeping optimistic that they will reach a workable deal with lessors “until a level of normalcy is reached.”

Mr. Gatchalian — a seasoned entrepreneur who founded but has since sold the BluGre Café, another iconic Davao brand — said he has not given up on the Saging Repablik concept.

“In the future, I hope we will reopen,” he said. — Maya M. Padillo





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