MANILA -- When actor-TV host Edu Manzano was asked by brothers Paolo and Miguel Guico of the popular band Ben&Ben if they could be his business partner for a restaurant venture, Manzano did not need any convincing and readily gave his nod.
Not that he instantly knew who Ben&Ben was. Admittedly, Manzano even had to Google the information about the twin brothers and their band.
“A month ago, I never even heard of Ben&Ben,” Manzano told ABS-CBN News. “I’m turning 65 next month. I didn’t realize how big a following they have. They have such strong following.”
It was Manzano’s first business partner, Patrick Gregorio, his long-time friend whom he fondly calls “Pato,” who bridged the way for Manzano to eventually meet the Guico twins.
“Small world, really,” Manzano mused. “Lo and behold, Ben&Ben’s dad, Noel Guico, is my friend. We have been friends for so many years. Then, I listened to Ben&Ben. I heard them singing Basil Valdez songs. I used to be the PA [production assistant] of Basil.”
The “six degrees of separation” between them became closer. “Pato used to be part of Philpop and Ryan Cayabyab, too, who worked with Basil,” Manzano revealed. “Pato worked with Ben&Ben before. He told me, ‘Edu, you have to met these guys. They are hot.’ Those guys are really, really good.”
Manzano partnered with the Guico brothers for the 41st branch of JT’s Manukan Grille, a popular franchise of actor Joel Torre’s restaurant chain that recently had its soft opening at 115 Kalayaan Avenue, behind Quezon City Hall.
“No need of convincing [for me]. Just listening to Ben&Ben’s music, I knew they have to be part of this. Without question, I said yes. I didn’t even have to give it a thought. Ang galing nila,” Manzano said.
Manzano planned to start construction for his JT’s Manukan Grille as early as February. However, when the lockdown happened, they had no choice but to stop because the executive community quarantine was declared.
“When we resumed after May, we went full blast,” Manzano said. “We did double shift come June. So far, we were able to catch up. During the MECQ (modified enhanced community quarantine) we didn’t stop and did everything indoors.
“We started talking about the operations, how we are going to bring the best out of the staff and deliver the food at the soonest possible time. We’ve been busy non-stop.”
Manzano’s JT’s Manukan Grille is a new venture for him, as he had always been managing restaurants, the last one being Erwin’s Gastro Bar at the City of Dreams, a franchise from Singapore. However, it closed down last December.
“I love the restaurant business,” Manzano said. “I’ve had restaurants my whole life, although more on the high-end stuff. I realized the high-end part will never be existent now. If you’re looking to spend a lot of money, now is not a perfect time.
“What is important is that you provide the service and quality of food. You make it look decent. The bathroom is clean. We have a beautiful location. I’ve been scouting locations everywhere I go. We are very fortunate, we have a good product.”
JT’s Manukan Grille, according to Manzano, is “everywhere and you go, everybody’s talking about it” with 40 branches nationwide including Siargaon and Boracay. The flagship branch is in New Manila, Quezon City, near the offices and studios of Regal Films, Max’s Restaurant, Ferino’s Bibingka and Casa Marcos.
Manzano pointed out that he specifically opted for a non-high-end restaurant this time. “All of a sudden, we realized things will never be the same again after COVID,” he explained. “We really have to adjust if we want to continue in the food business. Everybody is talking about JT’s even in the provinces. Everybody knows JT’s Manukan, so we had to talk to Joel Torre to extend to us a franchise.”
Although the restaurant is still on its soft opening, JT’s Manukan Grille is set to fully open for business by the first week of September, according to Manzano. “We are now doing delivery, take out and pick-up,” he said. “We will be ready for dine-in after the ghost month.”
The place has two function rooms that are fully air-conditioned. It has an al fresco area in the veranda, as well as a covered area that is “very, very comfortable.” The restaurant can accommodate a total of 150 persons.
“There are three private rooms and anybody is most welcome to sing,” Manzano shared. “There are days when Ben&Ben can also sing for the guests. The sound system is for everybody’s use and diners are most welcome to sing.”
Even before they had a soft opening, Manzano said they already practiced and adapted social distancing, safety protocols, sanitation and the use of thermal scanners for their guests.
“People need to be more understanding,” Manzano said. “Everyone needs to adjust. We all need to work. Everyone needs to make a living.”
Aside from his new restaurant business, Manzano is busy with his weekly show on cable, “Good Vibes with Edu” on the Metro Channel. He is also preparing for a teleserye on the Kapamilya Channel as well as shooting for the Mamasapano story for the Metro Manila Film Festival this December.