During this pandemic, a restaurant ending its business should not have been a surprise, considering the loss of revenue of several months’ lockdown and having to support its staff without any income. But for a restaurant that has been part of our eating out experience, the news still elicits shock and ultimately sadness at its passing.
That’s what happened when news flashed on everyone’s social media network that Alfredo’s Steakhouse had shut down. Lamentations were expressed as well as happy times recalled for a restaurant that has been part of the culinary landscape for more than 50 years.
Then came the denial of what was really “fake news” by Lisa Araneta, second generation owner. She wondered why it had come out right after Alfredo’s announced on its Facebook page and via a streamer that hung on its building façade last June 6 that the kitchen had reopened and was accepting steak orders. It seemed like a deliberate attempt to close the business. But why? Lisa Araneta said that an earlier piece of fake news had also circulated that their building was for sale.
When I asked Lisa’s mother, Mitos Araneta, she confirmed attempts by a real estate broker whose client is reported to be a local official who wanted to buy the land and building. But no one, she said, will sell on Tomas Morato Avenue because real estate there is valuable. Alfredo’s moved there in 1972 when the selling price was such a pittance compared to today.
Alfredo’s beginnings, however, was not where it stands now. It started somewhere else in Quezon City, on Timog Avenue in 1968. Its name then was Alfredo’s Country-Style Steaks located at a small apartment row opened by husband and wife, Alfredo and Mitos Araneta. Steaks were imported from New Zealand and Argentina and grilled by Alfredo or Freddie.
My memories of the place were of a simple restaurant with no frills but with great steaks that were quite affordable and where we could even mix our own drinks, sing if we wanted, even dance. It had the same vibe as the hit TV series Cheers, “where everyone knows your name.”
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Steakhouses during that period were always where to bring a serious date, a potential client, or have a grand celebration. Steak, after all, was considered more expensive. Alfredo’s on Morato added to that mystique by enhancing its interiors with lighting fixtures fashioned out of chuck wagon wheels with period gas lamps. The hush-hush atmosphere was punctuated by the sound of sizzling steaks that came to your table, like an unneeded announcement to everyone there that you ordered steak.
While other steak places offered the usual table sauces and gravy, Alfredo’s concocted different ways to have your steak—Mediterranean style with herbs, spices and anchovy, a la pobre with fried garlic, or with a lot of a pepper and a sauce of pepperoni. For those who would rather not eat steak, there were other grilled items like chicken, burger, fish, pork ribs, and pork chops. Pasta and pizza would be added and, of course, cakes for dessert.
When the fake news appeared, customers through the years came out with stories to tell the Araneta women about what Alfredo’s Steakhouse meant to them. For some it was a lucky charm because their proposal was accepted by either the intended or a future business partner. For others, it was where they felt at home and relished their steak lunch or dinner. Even with so much competition, Mitos Araneta said that before the lockdown, the average steak consumption for three months was three tons or 3,000 kilos.
When interviewed, Mitos Araneta prefaced with a statement we all know to be true: “Life will not be the same.” Every restaurant in the “new normal” has had to redefine its operations. Alfredo’s Steakhouse has reopened, but only for takeout orders. Their employees have been given their retirement benefits and signed their quit claims. The company has closed its books. The restaurant also redefined what “open” means. As long as the kitchen is cooking and people order, then Alfredo’s Steakhouse is still open.
Alfredo’s Steakhouse, Tomas Morato Avenue corner Scout Dr Lazcano, Quezon City, (0917) 811-1655, Alfredo’s Steaks on Faceboo