Here's How to Keep a Restaurant Successful for 20 Years
In today’s continuously evolving food scene, where chefs and restaurateurs are dedicated to innovation and keeping up with their international peers, it is easy to forget the game-changing restaurants that set the stage. While many have already served their last meals, there is a shortlist of those that have endured and continue to flourish; Sala by Colin Mackay is one of them. Never transformed by trend, nor curbed in taste or technique by culinary dogma, Sala has remained true to its vision of serving accessible modern European cuisine and has become to its patrons that “special occasion” restaurant where they are comfortable dining at even when it’s not.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and having recently undergone a complete renovation, Sala has always been a reflection of Colin’s cultivated taste and refined style. “We set out to create something similar to what I was doing in Hong Kong before I moved here,” he says. “The vision was stylish but not stuffy, conservative but not traditional. I started with a small menu and made everything in-house—fresh bread,
Colin first arrived in Manila as a tourist in
The vision was stylish but not stuffy, conservative but not traditional.
Sala’s success was undoubtedly seminal to Malate’s commercial revival in the late 1990s and poised the
Colin with fellow chef Margarita Fores; Colin with Feli and Kim Atienza
Colin’s impact on the dining scene extended beyond the corners of Nakpil and Orosa Streets. In the mid-90s, and with few exceptions, Manila’s fine dining choices were limited and relegated to the confines of the glitzy hotels located in the Makati business district, where Western chefs served well-executed but expected classics. The dining rooms they occupied were often well-appointed but devoid of the conceptual character and atmosphere that has now become essential to a restaurant’s survival. His intimate, low-lit restaurant that housed pale green walls adorned with gilt mirrors, comfortable banquettes, white-starched linens, and a casually dressed waitstaff broke the
Food shouldn’t be complicated or challenging, it should be delicious. After years of trying everything new, I find myself returning to my standards, and I hope that is what Sala is for its diners—a place that they keep coming back to.
In 2000, taking advantage of the rise in popularity of the
The choice of Thai cuisine had as much to do with the restaurant’s success as did its calculated execution. “I ran through my regional choices: Japanese was already overdone, there were quite a few Korean eateries in the area, and no Chinese person was going to come to a Chinese restaurant run by a white boy from Scotland, so Thai it was.” Serving food that was true to traditional
By the mid-2000s, however, Malate began to lose its edge. Although Colin’s restaurants had become destination dining spots, geography began to take its toll, and business slowed. He made the astute decision to relocate People’s Palace to the then-new Greenbelt shopping
Inside the original Sala
A decision needed to be made about Sala. “Sala was my first man in and the last man standing,” Colin continues. “Business was not good. We knew the concept worked but I did not see Sala in a mall setting like People’s Palace.” While he was deliberating his next move, a group of friends who had opened a restaurant in the Locsin building in Makati were getting ready to close down. “They were not restaurateurs and asked if I was interested in pitching my concept to the building’s administration. I did so immediately—it was me or a 7-Eleven, and I won.” Sala in Makati opened in 2007, 10 years after its Malate opening, to rave reviews and became the go-to fine dining establishment in the central business district. Within months, Colin leased a space adjacent to People’s Palace in Greenbelt and opened Sala Bistro, a diffusion line to Sala that expanded not only his menu but his brand.
Sala’s original location in Malate
In the years that followed, new opportunities presented themselves. Some were put on the back burner while one project took front and
Since then it has become one of the city’s most important dining rooms. Since its opening a decade ago, Sala’s Makati branch has enjoyed uninterrupted success. This year, to celebrate its 10th anniversary, and a personal milestone in Colin’s life, he decided to quietly close the room down for a major facelift. The room has been revamped into a “jewel-box” and fitted with a decidedly feminine aesthetic that includes more
The menu and wine list have also undergone a full makeover. The menu will continue to be short and sweet, and a tasting menu will still be offered. Gone, however, are the
“Although the concept has been refined, the integrity is still there. Sala will always remain a classic where the emphasis isn’t a trend or something that we think is good at the moment. Food shouldn’t be complicated or challenging, it should be delicious. After years of trying everything new, I find myself returning to my standards, and I hope that is what Sala is for its diners—a place that they keep coming back to.” Podium Level, LV Locsin Building, 6752 Ayala corner Makati Avenue, Makati; 750.1555.
*This story was originally published in the December-January 2017 issue of Town&Country.