Applebee's 4-cheese Mac and Cheese with Honey Pepper Chicken Tenders. Photo from Applebee's website
MANILA – The American chain Applebee’s and the Japanese restaurant Ramen Iroha will soon open branches in the Philippines.
The two brands will be brought to the country by Global Restaurant Concepts Inc. (GRCI), the same company behind the local franchises of California Pizza Kitchen (CPK), Morelli’s and PF Chang’s, among others.
GRCI president and chief executive officer Archie Rodriguez said they are bringing in Applebee’s following the success of its sister brand, IHOP, in the Philippines.
“We’re bringing in Applebee’s. Applebee’s is the sister brand of IHOP. We might bring it here early next year,” Rodriguez told selected members of the media during the launch of CPK’s first island concept in the world at Century City Mall in Makati.
“The location at the moment is Eastwood… Not in the mall, it’s a stand-alone restaurant,” he added.
Applebee’s is known for serving all-American comfort fare such as sandwiches, burgers and ribs. It has several branches across the globe – aside from the United States, it has outlets in Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Jordan, Kuwait, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.
Meanwhile, Rodriguez said Ramen Iroha will open “in around 30 to 40 days” at the W Global Center in Bonifacio Global City, joining GRCI’s other concepts such as IHOP and Mad for Garlic.
Rodriguez proudly said Ramen Iroha is owned by Tokyo’s “most relevant ramen chef,” Kiyoshi Kurihara.
“It’s a joint venture, not a franchise,” he said of Ramen Iroha’s partnership with GRCI. “They have one of the top ramen chefs in Tokyo. He’s won the Tokyo ramen competition for four years in a row, so he’s the most relevant of ramen chefs. He’s the most recent winner, from 2009 ‘til now.”
Rodriguez said Kurihara will be coming to Manila for the opening of Ramen Iroha and to train the local staff. A second location is already reserved for Ramen Iroha at the Rockwell Business Center in Pasig City.
When asked if he thinks that the ramen craze will soon die down following the opening of several homegrown and global concepts, Rodriguez said: “I don’t think so. If you think about it, in Japan there are around 4,000 ramen shops and they’ve been there since time immemorial. While the restaurant scene is becoming more global, it’s also becoming more local… You’ve got concepts in Asia springing up in the US, and concepts in the US springing up in Asia.”
“I think ramen is going to stay the same way pizza is here to stay,” he added. “Ramen is comfort food, eh.”
Burger restaurant coming soon
Rodriguez said GRCI is also in talks with other international partners, including a burger restaurant and three other concepts.
“We’re talking to a few people. I can’t disclose yet, but we’re planning to bring more brands,” he said.
“Hopefully we can do it by first quarter of next year. Maybe not at the same time, but one after the other,” he added.
Rodriguez noted how the country’s dining scene continues to grow with the entry of not only global concepts, but also smaller, mom-and-pop restaurants.
While it is a challenge to compete in such an environment, Rodriguez said the current setup is good both for the consumer and restaurant operators as it encourages creativity and high-quality food.
“The industry is very challenging now – there’s a lot of competition, a lot of boutique operators, a lot of mom-and-pop restaurants as well, and then we have the larger franchise operators.
“From an operator’s perspective, it’s harder for us to draw in customers. But that’s good for the customer because they’ll always have the best of the best to choose from. So we always have to innovate things that consumers will enjoy. We always have to introduce new products,” he said.
Rodriguez went on to note how the Philippine economy is improving and people have more money to spend.
“There’s growth everywhere… It’s inclusive growth, not just in Manila,” he said. “So we’re starting to look at different areas also to expand our operations.”
To date, GRCI’s strongest brand in terms of sales is IHOP, according to Rodriguez. This is followed by CPK, which has over 10 branches in the country.