Businessman Paul T. Holaysan took over Marjo’s Pochero in January 2020, just as a previously unknown infectious disease was beginning to cause concern across the globe.
Holaysan, president of Scrumptious Food and Beverage Corp., said he and his wife Christine saw a huge potential in Marjo’s, a homegrown restaurant known for its beef shank soup and lechon kawali (deep fried pork belly). They used to dine in the Gorordo Ave. branch regularly because of the food.
“But the place was not really attractive. The facility was not well-maintained. There were a lot of items (on the menu) that were out of stock. There was no system. Inato lang gyud kaayo,” he said.
He had started running the restaurant's two branches but had not initiated any improvements when Cebu City and the entire Cebu province, along with other key urban centers in the Philippines, went into lockdown in an attempt to stop the rapid transmission of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Non-essential establishments were shuttered but food outlets were allowed to stay open, although their operations were limited to takeout and delivery.
“It was really a big drawback. Naa miy partial operation, naa man tuy takeout lang or delivery. We tried that, but gamay ra gyud kaayo. Online orders are inconsistent, naay time mukusog, naay time nga hinay. We even tried to cater to hotels (with quarantine or isolation facilities) by supplying meals to their staff. Pero the contract was for a month lang; hinay-hinay sad sila og cut og tawo,” Holaysan shared.
He said they tried to cope with the economic fallout as much as they could. He assured the restaurant’s six regular employees that they will keep their jobs. But there was generally nothing much to do except wait out the lockdowns.
Amid the uncertainty, Holaysan saw an opportunity to reinvent Marjo’s as a brand.
“Rather than doing nothing (during the lockdown), we decided to renovate both branches,” he said. The Escario branch, which required only minor improvements, was done first. The Gorordo branch, however, required a major renovation.
Holaysan purchased new kitchen equipment, facilitated training for the staff to professionalize services, and set up a restaurant management system.
He experimented with some new dishes to improve the menu, which originally listed less than 10 dishes. One new offering was lechon manok (roasted chicken) with a selection of Asian sauces. But the market wasn’t ready for it yet and it was discontinued.
In June 2021, more than a year after the first massive lockdown, Holaysan opened a fully renovated al fresco restaurant along Gorordo.
He also came up with new items on the menu, such as kinupusan (crispy bite-size pieces of pork), calamares (breaded squid) and chicharon bulaklak (deep fried pig intestine).
He introduced a pasalubong corner, where diners can order chicharon and frozen sisig for takeout. Recently, he also introduced rice bowls for P99 each — humba, chicken adobo and beef pares — to serve office workers who don’t want to go out for lunch.
Holaysan envisions to expand the business and set up at least a couple of additional branches. He is aware of the risks, but he also believes that Marjo’s has yet to reach its full potential. (Marites Villamor-Ilano)