Food

Is BF Losing Its Status as the Food Capital of the South?

At a time when "food neighborhoods" are all the rage, can the South keep up?
ILLUSTRATOR Jasrelle Serrano
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BF Homes Parañaque has become quite the food destination for South residents, as well as hard-core foodies from the North who are willing to go beyond the toll gates. This massive residential area, once touted as “the biggest subdivision in Asia,” straddles three cities—Muntinlupa, Las Piñas and Parañaque. It has become a hub for many food concepts, from Japanese to Italian and everything in between, drawing visitors from all over the Metro.

But with great fame comes great consequences. It's become a crowded scene, literally and figuratively, turning what used to be a celebration of start-up concepts into a survival of the fittest, resto edition. Many restaurants have closed down in succession, an ominous trend that does not bode well for even the most solid of businesses.

"The juice wasn't worth the squeeze,” says Miguel Vargas, owner of Bucky’s BF, a tiny second-floor space that served the “not-brownie,” coffee and the like. “We were pouring in resources and what was coming back just wasn't worth it anymore.” Miguel, who is now focused on Bucky’s Poblacion, said that the BF crowd was looking for a place to unwind after work—a dessert place like theirs just wasn’t appealing enough. Likewise, Outre, a liquid nitrogen ice cream joint, also closed its Aguirre Avenue location.

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While sandwich concept Bread & Botany tried to target the after-work crowd with its gin-and-tonic concoctions, it also closed its doors: “At the time, we were barely breaking even, and we were about to open Exchange Alley [Coffee House] in Alabang,” owner Jonathan Choi says. “It was a matter of refocusing our efforts on a new business with a bit more potential.” Jonathan plans to use the lessons Bread & Botany in his other businesses, such as his first BF venture, four-year old Magnum Opus.

Sinigang, which tried to target families with its wide variety of sinigang options and other home-style Filipino meals, is now looking into other ventures after their restaurant had to close early this year. “We are venturing into the food stall business where we will be selling our bagnet products inside the malls,” Sinigang co-owner Korinne Ortega says. “If the opportunity turns up, we'd rather open in a more commercial area instead of BF because then, we'd be able to rack up sales five out of seven days (the weekdays), instead of just two (the weekends), the latter being the usual case for residential food spots like BF.”

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Korinne adds, “BF Homes has long been notorious among us restaurateurs as a place with a high mortality rate for those who have just a small business. To succeed in BF Homes, an establishment must have ALL four [features]: Good food, good service, good interiors, and a huge parking space. We had all, except the parking space.”

As BF became more popular, the more congested its streets became. On weekend nights, Aguirre resembles a parking lot as waves of cars move very slowly toward their restaurant of choice. The homeowners association, then the United BF Federation of Homeowners Associations Inc. (UBFHAI), and now the BF Federation of Homeowners Associations, Inc. (BFFHAI), has been trying to mitigate traffic for years, with its regulations usually receiving negative responses from residents and business owners alike.

“Two years ago, they installed two gates that made it harder for people from Las Piñas and Alabang to enter Aguirre,” Jonathan recalls. “In my opinion, that move discouraged non-residents from considering BF as a food option—unless they invested in costlier non-resident stickers.” BFFHAI’s non-resident stickers cost P2,200. 

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In 2016, BFFHAI implemented a street parking ban on major roads like Elizalde and Aguirre, where most of the food establishments are located. “Parking is hard, but people manage to squeeze in their cars somewhere,” says Philane Ponio, owner of Aguirre resto Spoon eat+drink. “But if they can't [park] then there goes a table that could've been dining in your restaurant heading off to a drive thru.” 

“Kantori  [Yakitori] had a problem with parking, I heard,” says Butch Adiviso, owner of Fat Butchik’s. “They were one of the few who took the brunt of the BF Homes policy on no parking on the main road. Having expanded their dining area all the way to their parking area robbed them completely of a place where their patrons could park.”

"The juice wasn't worth the squeeze,” says Miguel Vargas, owner of Bucky’s

The influx of businesses also led to higher rents, which Sinigang could attest to. “Our landlord has informed us that he will be demolishing the house come 2018 and will be replacing it with a new, bigger building which he will also be putting up for lease,” Korinne explains. “We were not willing to stay for another year because there is also a price escalation in the rent that just didn't make sense in the grand scheme of things.” Their rent, Korinne adds, would have been around P10,000 higher than it used to be.

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“We were toying with the idea of moving Bread & Botany instead of closing,” Jonathan recalls. “[But] it seemed that a lot of spaces were hiking up rent.”

A few other BF resto owners have been lucky enough to thrive. Mama Lou’s Italian comfort food concept has been around for seven years and counting, spawning several branches, including Evia Lifestyle Center in Daang Hari and UP Town Center in Katipunan. Tucked away from the busy BF main roads in Tropical Avenue, its location is a boon for business, a corner spot that is easily seen when coming from the Las Piñas side of the subdivision.

“We have been very blessed to open in a location that doesn't compete with the typical Aguirre [businesses],” owner David Sison says. “We're fortunate to have sufficient parking for Mama Lou's.” David also credits their success to their people. “It’s all about hospitality—the experience, how you treat our guest, going above and beyond the line of service.”  

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Butch agrees. “My business model was to create community more than anything else,” he explains. “I started with friends and turned my new clients into friends. I remembered their names, I remembered their last orders, their preferences.” Fat Butchik’s roofdeck grill concept opened in 2015. Like Mama Lou’s, it’s away from all the action in Aguirre, but at El Grande Avenue, it’s a bit closer to the main road. It also opens late (hours start at 5 p.m.), which helps it avoid the off-peak morning hours in a residential area. 

“BF Homes has long been notorious among us restaurateurs as a place with a high mortality rate for those who have just a small business,” Korinne adds. 

Spoon also opens in the afternoon, from 4 p.m. until midnight. Weekday mornings are usually quiet in BF, making it more profitable for restaurants to open after schools and offices let out. “I find myself very lucky to still be here in our little 2nd floor spot,” Philane says. “We make an effort to do things right, from the beginning, in everything we do. We open everyday hoping that this is felt through our service, our food and our vibe.”

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Each of these restaurateurs have worked hard to keep their businesses alive, and yet not all of them succeed. There’s no hard and fast rule as to who survives and who doesn’t in BF. “It's a case-to-case basis kind of thing,” Korinne says. “Some were able to successfully override all that with the power of sheer luck.”

But those who are still around are not taking their luck for granted. Being in a small restaurant community like BF’s can easily bring one’s guard up.

“Once you're part of the roster your spider senses are heightened instantly,” Philane explains. “You notice which ones are showing signs of closing down, which establishments have promos, what those promos are, who changed their paint, their logo, everything.”

“Every time I got complacent a restaurant similar to mine would close down,” Butch recalls, referring to other barbecue joints like The Smoking Joint and DA’s Ranch. “And it would scare me to action.” He admits that since opening two years ago, he has developed new products to help boost sales. “I’ve suffered a major decline which pushed me to create products I never envisioned I would.”

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“I think the restaurant business is one of the easiest business to venture into,” David says. “For every restaurant that opens, there is one restaurant that closes. If you don't have proper systems in place, then it will be very difficult to survive the first year.”

Despite the risk, people still take a chance on BF. The sense of community helps inspire creativity among chefs and restaurateurs. “There was good energy when we opened,” Miguel recalls. “When we opened, we weren't sure about the concept but wanted to do something so it provided us with a place to experiment and learn. We definitely learned a lot.” 

“BF will always be a destination, even if currently, there are a lot of factors causing this ebb and flow,” Jonathan says. “But despite the closures, I still believe there are gems worth seeking out.”

“The BF community has become so diverse,” Philane says. “That we are given a chance to try dishes in small quantities to test on customers who would actually have an appreciation for bold flavors.”

“BF will always be a destination, even if currently, there are a lot of factors causing this ebb and flow,” Jonathan says. “But despite the closures, I still believe there are gems worth seeking out.”

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Several concepts that opened this year include Catalan-inspired resto Picada Tapeo, Bruce Ricketts’ Mexican taqueria La Chinesca, and 34-brand food park Container Turf, all located on Aguirre Ave. 

Butch is currently working on expanding Fat Butchik’s into a food park, with an opening (along with a new menu for Fat Butchik’s) slated for September. As everyone operates on business as usual, it’s possible that the subdivision will continue to be the food destination that it's known for. With the ever-changing attractions, the difficult logistics, and the choices in much more convenient areas, however, only time will tell how long people continue to journey south for food.

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Monique Therese Avila
Monique Therese Avila is a self-proclaimed woman-child with a lifelong obsession with chocolate. Her attempts at staying fit are hampered by her part-time gig as a professional food taster.
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