Elephant Grounds Manila Shifts the Future of Manila’s Cafe Culture
“What makes Elephant Grounds so great is the sum of its parts, how it all comes together,” says Michael Concepcion, the retailer and restaurateur, who's been on top of the whole process of bringing the café franchise from Hong Kong to Manila’s shores.
This, of course, isn’t his first venture catering to the desires of the Filipino market. Concepcion is the man behind lifestyle brands Commonwealth, Ronnie and Joe, and Adidas Philippines. His family, meanwhile, has long been in the business of food. The Standard Group has introduced innovative brands such as Yabu, Ippudo, and Mighty Quinn’s to the market.
Elephant Grounds finds itself in the intersection between retail and food. “Elephant Grounds fits right down in the center. It’s a brand that encapsulates the lifestyle that brings together art and food and fasion and music in a very organic way. You see that synergy very clearly. It’s not forced,” says Concepcion. “Personally this is a concept that I’ve had a vested interest in because of my personal preferences. I’m always on the run, I’m always looking for a café that has food that isn’t pretentious. Just good quality.”
Elephant Grounds has been a product of collaboration right from the beginning. “The guys behind this are good friends of mine,” shares Concepcion. “Kevin Poon, Gerald Li, and Fed Tan do really exciting things in Hong Kong.” Just like Concepcion, Poon is a fashion retailer who’s dabbled in food (he brought Wagyu Mafia to Hong Kong). Their friendship began in Paris where the two attended shows for their retail brands.
“He was curious about the Filipino market,” says Concepcion. The owners of Elephant Grounds Hong Kong found it amusing so many Filipinos were visiting any of their six stores, posting about it on social media, and even tagging them in photos. “Then I thought I could be a great partner for it since I had experience in food with The Standard Group,” he adds. The group wanted to get into the café culture and they couldn’t have chosen a better brand to franchise.
With a couple of foreign concepts in The Standard Group’s repertoire, Concepcion is not one to think that franchises fail in the Philippine market. “I think franchises do very well,” he says. He reveals the factors why their franchises continue to succeed: “It’s the operator, and the skill level of that operator, and the concept itself. And The Standard Group prides itself for being an operator that does things at a very high level. We pride ourselves in five-star customer service and consistency in food at an affordable price point.” This is why the group is also careful in opening concepts immediately and at once.
“With this concept in particular, I think we’re really confident because of what we’re working with,” says Concepcion. “We got a good location. We’re working with a great team for food. The coffee is good. Everything’s at a good price point.”
Behind Elephant Grounds Manila’s interiors is the Hong Kong-based creative JJ Acuña, who ensured Filipino elements also made it to the space. “We considered things that would contextually apply to the market,” says Concepcion. “Everything is rooted from the same ethos of the brand. Ultimately, we wanted to create a concept that best fits Manila.” The sitting planks, the floor, the plants are loyal to the city’s DNA.
Cooking up the food are no less than esteemed chefs, Nicco Santos and Quenee Villar. The two have developed a menu replete with brunch favorites, as well as classic café food you'll find in Sydney, New York, and London. There are Yuzu Salmon Eggs Benny and Bacon Steak and Eggs Waffle for those looking to fuel up in the morning. Lighter options are the Coconut Chia Bowl and a scrambled eggs toast resplendent with smoked white fish and mushrooms.
The rice bowls, a personal favorite of Concepcion’s, offer complex Asian flavors without trying too hard—a signature of Santos and Villar. Available for lunch and dinner are Tapa Donburi, Duck Krapow, and Prawn Paste Chicken. There are also the Smoked Bacon Carbonara, Gruyere Grilled Cheese, and Thai Shrimp Salad to be had on days yearning for comfort. The Twice Cooked Adobo Pork Belly, served with a fried egg, atchara, and a sprinkling of chicharon, is an ode to Filipino flavors.
And of course, there’s coffee. The usuals are up on the menu, but so are innovative beverages, including the Dirty, chilled milk stained with double shot espresso, and the Black Tie, layers of condensed milk, iced black, and whipping cream. There’s also a tea bar, offering alternatives to non-coffee drinkers. Its versions of Thai Milk Tea and Masala Chai Latte are musts.
Completing the trifecta of its delectable offerings is ice cream. Elephant Grounds' is smooth and creamy and milky, and come in some of the most playful flavors in town. Scoops of the EG Latte or the Acai Mixed Berry are sure to please, but it’s the Toasted Rice, a product of Santos’ genius, that is worthy of expletives.
“[Our] ice cream sandwiches are going to be talk of the town,” adds Concepcion. Indeed, the self-explanatory Red Velvet Oreo Smash and the High Societea—Earl Grey ice cream between choco chip cookies—are out to put Elephant Grounds on the map.
Beyond the food, the concept itself and its promise of a great time will make Elephant Grounds a runaway winner. “It’s good food, it’s good ice cream, it’s good coffee, it’s a great space. It’s going to be a place you can go to five times a week,” promises Concepcion. He adds that Elephant Grounds is the venue for customers who just want to sit down, do work, have coffee, and enjoy dessert.
“We’re at a space right now where we just want to have fun. We want to build new experiences for the city. Our approach is to give the city what it deserves,” says Concepcion, who is amped up to keep pushing the city forward. “I’m privileged and humbled that I have a hand in setting the tone for what retail and food could look like. It’s an exciting time to be in Manila.”
Elephant Grounds is at One Bonifacio High Street Mall, 5th Avenue, Bonifacio Global City. It opens on June 5, 6 p.m.