Food

How Wildflour Is Thriving Amid the Pandemic

While other eateries are closing left and right, Wildflour is more successful than ever. 
IMAGE INSTAGRAM/WILDFLOURMANILA
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A little over a year ago, it was not easy to find a seat at Wildflour. I lived between two of its outlets and never had I been seated instantly (except for that one time when, by sheer luck, there was an empty table; I was just being ushered inside when I saw my boss a few seats away, so I exited as politely as I could). 

Now, in the face of the new normal, nothing has changed. 

No matter what level of community quarantine was installed in the NCR, I never dared to dine in. My occasional essential errands, however, would sometimes let me drive by Wildflour where I would see that it continued to be full. Full, that is, in the pandemic sense—tables outside and sufficiently spaced apart; a line of socially distanced drivers and customers waiting for their pick-up. It is sparse compared to before, but bustling for the current standard. 

“I am grateful to be able to say that 2020 was still a successful year for Wildflour,” co-owner Ana Lorenzana de Ocampo told Esquire. 

The first Wildflour was opened in BGC in 2012 by Lorenzana and the Manzke couple, pastry chef Margarita, who is also Lorenzana’s sister, and the three-Michelin-starred chef Walter. A runaway hit from the get-go, it offered a range of comfort foods made of the highest caliber. Launching at the cusp of the country’s dining revolution, Wildflour was part of a group of restaurants that signaled how Manila diners were ready for more elevated culinary experiences. 

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From that first Wildflour Café + Bakery, various iterations has spawned, such as Wild Flour Italian, Wildflour Pizza, Wildflour Pantry, Wildflour Rotisserie Chicken & Wings, and the new Wildflour Burger. There is also retro soda fountain Farmacy and the local branch of Pink’s Hotdogs. 

Wildflour was the first local restaurant to step into the cronut craze of 2014. It was revived in October for those who need extra comforting. 

 

At a time when Manila was bursting at the seams with restaurant openings, Wildflour maintained its clientele via a simple formula. It moved past trends—though it did offer the country’s first taste of Dominque Ansel’s cronut—and went straight for comfort, a high-end kind of soul food that was perfect for celebratory meals yet still simple enough that you could eat it all the time. It’s a fine line, but Wildflour toes it well.

It just kept you coming back for more.

Making Comfort Food for Pandemic Stress

“During this difficult time, when comfort is needed the most, the simple but excellently made Wildflour comfort food has kept our customers’ spirits up despite the stresses of the pandemic life,” explained de Ocampo. 

I ponder on this as I looked at the perennial Wildflour boxes of chocolate cake and pies stocked in my fridge. Say what you want about its cuisine—or even pricing—but reliability is part of its core. And one year into the uncertainty of the pandemic, its food remains, well, certain.

“We spare no expense and painstakingly make sure that each and every customer is attended to and given the Wildflour experience they deserve, whether that be ordering a dish for dine-in, pastries for take-away, or meal trays for delivery,” continued de Ocampo. “No matter which store you order from or through which sales platform you use, we do our best to assure that the top-notch quality Wildflour has become known for is there.” 

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Dishes were quickly converted to takeout options. 

But nine years of unchanged service has been complemented by persistent innovation. How do we continue to provide our customers the Wildflour food and service they know and love despite limitations? This is the mantra that the team followed through the years and it’s what keeps it going through the pandemic. 

Instead of agonizing over the variable regulations, de Ocampo shifted her team’s energy toward things that it could control—the most significant of which was its commitment to the Wildflour standard. Ironically, this steadfast vision is what allowed the team to become flexible in making drastic alterations and improvements if only to survive. 

Realigning the Standard to Survive and Thrive

Like many other restaurants, Wildflour doubled down on hygiene and sanitation when it reopened: foot mats and health declarations by the door, hands-free alcohol dispensers, automated temperature readers. PPEs were compulsory for employees and customers; markers reminded people about social distancing; sanitation officers and security guards enforced rigid obedience; disinfections and fumigations were regularly scheduled. The company’s food safety and sanitation head constantly conducted personnel, product, and store audits. 

But these were all superficial amendments. Wildflour’s entire business plan was revised for the context of the new normal. What was supposed to be an aggressive expansion plan was shelved for diversification and marketing. 

De Ocampo and her team revved up their social media presence during the pandemic.

It’s not in Wildflour’s plan—nor brand—however, to just hold tight and wait things out. It wanted to thrive, even when the rest of the industry was trying to claw out of a deepening hole. 

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De Ocampo confessed that Wildflour tightened controls and streamlined processes. It looked into management information systems and data analytics to enhance its operational efficiency. New sales pillars also introduced new revenue that made it less reliant on the currently outdated dine-in model. 

“We were able to re-engineer our financials,” she added. These evaluations helped it become even more profitable percent-wise than before the pandemic. 

Decisions also had to be scrutinized with fresh, more strategic eyes. Everything worked to widen the footprint, grow the product lines, and increase sales. Its cloud kitchens, located in Alabang and Quezon City, allowed it to reach customers that it was never able to before. 

There were no throwaways.

“These measures have been extremely effective in keeping the company not only just surviving, but thriving through the pandemic and its varying quarantine designations and protocols, and we have thankfully emerged as an outlier amidst the beleaguered F&B industry,” she said. 

Expanding the Business for Uncertain Times

Wildflour Café Uptown in Fort Bonifacio, a spin-off of the original Podium branch, is the company’s first new branch since the pandemic. It boasts the company’s largest showcase bakery, which is its answer to the pandemic-fueled demand for more bread. 

The entire space was seemingly fabricated with COVID-19 restrictions in mind: cashless payments, a takeaway window, a bigger alfresco setup. The menu catered to grab-and-go and delivery—bottled condiments, gourmet hampers, pastries. De Ocampo, however, revealed that this had always been Wildflour’s blueprint even before the pandemic, give or take a few tweaks. 

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Wildflour Café in Uptown Ritz opened in December 2020.

“The pandemic has only served to further reinforce our decision,” she said, adding that the entire concept lent itself well to flexibility, speed, and safety for those who just want to have a cup of coffee and pastry then go—which is most of us during the pandemic.

It’s this kind of forward-thinking that de Ocampo recommends to her fellow restaurateurs. “What worked just a month ago, may not necessarily work today given how fluid and volatile the times we live in are,” she said. “So it is very important to be open to reinventing your business to match the times and let go of things that no longer work. [It’s] equally important to do so without losing sight of the driving forces that made your business what it is and that has kept you going despite it all.”

The Wildflour team still has a lot up its sleeve. Recently, it launched Wildflour Burger, which is partnered with GrabFood and Canada Beef. A Wildflour App also introduced Wildflour Bakes, which highlights its best-selling pastries and baked goods. To enhance delivery services, Wildflour is also devising a Wildflour Video Concierge, which would provide an immersive ordering experience and accommodate more specific requests. 

Wildflour Burger was launched only last week.

 

“All of this and we are still proceeding in earnest with our expansion plans for full-fledged restaurants,” she said. 

Since it opened, Wildflour quickly became one of Manila’s most consistently excellent restaurants. But it’s not pining away for the old days. It just wants to make sure that it can still be consistently excellent in the future.

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wildflour.com.ph

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About The Author
Sasha Lim Uy
Sasha eats to live and lives to eat. For five years, she handled SPOT.ph's food section and edited the last two installments of its Top 10 Food books. She also recently participated at the Madrid Fusion Manila as curator.
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