How far would you go in search of the food you love? In the case of Duncan Gates, an expat from New Zealand, he had been hunting for the best-tasting hotdog for a long time. Working in a logistics company, a job that brought him to different parts of the world, he made sure to check out hotdog joints wherever he went—Hong Kong, China, the United States, New Zealand, Australia, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Singapore, Indonesia.
“The funny thing is, I’ve been dreaming of having a hotdog business throughout my corporate life—from when I was 21. I was fixated on it,” he admits. So as he traveled the world, he was constantly doing taste tests. “I just didn't think that the world really had a good quality, accessible, well-known hotdog brand. That’s what I thought was missing. For burgers, there are places that you know, whereas with hotdogs, there’s none,” he observes.
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Gates eventually retired from his corporate job, settled in the Philippines with his Filipina wife and kids, and decided to finally fulfill his dream of creating the best-tasting hotdog he could come up with. He partnered with another expat, home chef Tom Thurnherr from Switzerland, to help develop the menu, along with a third partner to start the business (but who eventually left). Then fellow foodie and lifestyle columnist Pepper Teehankee joined the group to make up the triumvirate we now know as Three Guys and A Grill.
“For a long time, the working title was actually Duncan Dogs. Then we did some research and people were more responsive to the name Three Guys and A Grill, so we decided to go with that name. And because our secret agenda was to also introduce burgers, because we love burgers. So we started with a menu comprised of premium and lite sausages, and then we had the burgers eight months ago. So now we're a burger and hotdog joint,” shares Gates.
Suffice to say, the Three Guys and A Grill experience is a multicultural one inspired by a Kiwi, Swiss, and Filipino’s ideas of what great grilled hotdogs and burgers should taste like. They adopted Europe’s sausage bar culture “where people eat their sausages leaning against a bar” and Australia and New Zealand’s barbecue culture where people love their sausages grilled. Starting the brand in the Philippines, they made sure that they have something for the Filipino palate, hence the Pinoy Dog.
“In New Zealand, we love grilled meats, we do a lot of barbecues, and our favorite food is just a really good sausage on a barbecue wrapped in a slice of bread with ketchup with mustard. We thought, why don’t we try to make that a restaurant quality product—that beautiful sausage and bread,” Gates recalls.
“We found these sausages in town, we had them made according to our specifications. Then we got some beautiful bread made. It's not hotdog bread—it has more of a baguette kind of texture. So it’s great bread with great sausage—as opposed to having lots and lots of toppings. We don’t go for an average sausage with an average bread, then it becomes special when we put guacamole on the side. With us, the star is the sausage, and then we add really nice toppings and sauces, but those aren’t the star,” he explains.
And as the name of the restaurant connotes, they cook mainly by grilling. “We don’t steam sausages,” notes Thurnherr. “All our sausages and burgers are grilled, our breads are grilled. We cook our sausages not only on a flat top grill, but also on the flame.”
For flavorful and juicy burgers, they only season the meat once it’s on the grill. “Just a little salt and pepper, so the natural flavor of the meat comes out,” says Thurnherr. They also use 100% freshly ground locally sourced meat, no extenders, no fillers, no preservatives. They always get freshly baked bread and make their own sauces from scratch, including the ketchup and barbecue sauces.
For that Filipino touch, they offer a selection of condiments made from local ingredients. “We use lots of Pinoy ingredients and flavors like organic muscovado sugar, honey from Mt. Apo, molasses from Bicol, different local vinegars. We also mix the local guava jelly with mustard to create a nice sweetish tangy guava mustard,” shares Thurnherr.
Currently, Three Guys and A Grill has six branches—in Poblacion, Makati; Shangri-La Plaza Mall, Mandaluyong City; SM Mall of Asia, Pasay City; South Woods Mall, San Pedro, Laguna; T3, Manila International Airport; and in Escario Street, Cebu City. They also deliver via Food Panda, The Delivery Guy, Grab Food, and Zomato.
“We're accessible. We like operating on smaller foot prints, but having more of them. So anyone who feels like having a burger or a [hot]dog can have one. We're not trying to be exclusive; we’re not going for that kind of vibe,” Gates clarifies. He admits that they also have dreams of expanding their business internationally like Five Guys and Shake Shack, but their goal is to focus first on Southeast Asia.
“We'd love to have at least 10 or 20 branches in the Philippines. We hope to be in Bali, Indonesia by the end of the year. That means we’ll be an international burger and hotdog company, and sky’s the limit, right? It could be fun as well, that’s the idea,” he says.
Photographs by Paul del Rosario