MANILA -- (UPDATED) The Bistro Group recently hosted Barry McGowan, CEO of the Brazilian steakhouse group Fogo de Chão, in Manila to scout for possible locations and to give a preview of what the brand will bring to the local food scene.
Fogo de Chão, meaning "fire on the ground" in Portuguese, celebrates the art and tradition of churrasco – a style of cooking that originated from South American cowboys where whole sides of meat simply seasoned with salt are butchered and slowly roasted over coals and embers on the ground. This low-and-slow way of cooking seals in the flavors while keeping the meat soft and tender.
“The style of dining transcends culture and language because it's really simple. But it's also very adaptable to local markets because we're not trying to make it so authentic that you wouldn't understand it,” said McGowan.
There were several attempts to open a Brazilian barbecue restaurant in Manila in the past. For those who’ve been to one, one would remember the pork, chicken, different cuts of beef, even cuttlefish and bananas being cooked in metal skewers, then being brought tableside by servers to slice those selected by the guests.
Fogo de Chão differentiates itself by elevating all-you-can-eat to what McGowan calls “all-you-can experience.”
The churrasco, with a much bigger selection of protein and seafood, will still be the core offering, which will be supplemented by “Market Table,” a selection of dishes and salads somewhat similar to a traditional buffet. In the US, this is priced at around $50, although McGowan gave an assurance that the local price will be adjusted to reflect the lower cost of ingredients.
McGowan said the restaurant gets many millennial repeat guests, which he credits to the culinary discovery they experience through churrasco. Paying for a full order of unfamiliar entrees that one may not like makes being an adventurous eater an expensive proposition. Having these as small slices and portions make it risk-free to try as many meats, sauces, and dishes as one would want.
Instead of having a one-price-fits-all offering, the restaurant can limit or expand what customers get depending on what they want at the moment. Thus, if a guest just wants to have an entrée and have a drink at the bar, just get food from the market table, or just have one particular meat all night, or indulge in more premium cuts of meat like wagyu and Kobe beef, the restaurant has an appropriate pricing for that.
A much-loved feature abroad is Bar Fogo. Restaurants usually make a lot of money from drinks and liquor. But this is not the case here, with McGowan proudly saying that they cut the margins on their bar offerings, often having promos and sales on selected bottles of wine. Not to be missed are their specialty and classic drinks, including their take on Brazil's national cocktail, the caiprinha.
McGowan jokes that the Bistro Group with its 111 restaurants is much bigger than Fogo de Chão, which has 66 restaurants around the Americas and the Middle East. Seriously, he has much respect for the Filipino restaurant group having first heard about the company when he was in Malaysia doing an Asian food tour.
Even if Fogo de Chão had no plans of expanding into Asia at that time, the talks with The Bistro Group’s president Jean Paul Manuud and his team made the Philippines a great option for expansion.
Fogo de Chão’s goal is to opening in every capital city in the world and talks with The Bistro Group started before the COVID-19 outbreak and further work was stalled until very recently as they finally inked an agreement to seal the partnership back in June.
The Bistro Group and Fogo de Chão plan to put up five branches in the country with the first one in Metro Manila. They are still scouting for possible locations and are targetting to open in the second quarter of 2023.