Family fare: inside a Manila dining empire

The Virays have a new addition to their roster of hospitality businesses in Poblacion, an area of the Philippine capital that thrives through communal effort.
Manila hospitality 16x9 hero

Alongside their siblings, Marco and Celine Viray run a collection of local businesses in Manila's Poblacion: Ebi 10, Kampai, The Spirits Library and House of Joe. Their most recent enterprise, a restaurant named Fook Yah, is inspired by Hong Kong's street-side roasts and has been developed with diners' lockdown habits in mind.

What's Poblacion's delivery landscape like?

A. ‘Poblacion was always known as a late-night party place, with little to no lunch crowd. The pandemic pushed us to reconsider our delivery experience by signing up to platforms, exposing us to a larger customer base outside Poblacion. These apps take a big chunk – 20% to 30% of sales – but the reach is wider compared with organizing your own delivery service, which includes overheads, like training and quality control, that take time to nail down. Convenience is why we're sticking to delivery platforms.’

Why did you choose to open a storefront for Fook Yah instead of a ghost kitchen?

A. ‘It's future planning – we see our spot as an investment. Cloud kitchens are great concepts but, at the end of the day, when things go back to normal – and they will – dining out still provides a different type of satisfaction for customers. The experience of dining out is incomparable to eating at home.’

How is the concept of ‘family’ fostered across Poblacion's neighborhood mentality?

A. ‘As a family business, we focus on different things, but we help each other out. The success of one establishment is the success of others. This extends to our relationships with other small businesses. We're all fighting the same battles and, when someone is in trouble, we all feel the heat. It's a community effort to let everyone do their part in keeping our businesses running. Nobody wants to see anyone close.’

The best place to…

Sai Versailles, multimedia journalist and DJ, recommends her favorite food and drink spots in the neighborhood.

• Grab a late-night bite: Kampai. ‘Part of the Viray family's host of Poblacion businesses, this moody watering hole serves Japanese-inspired food and drinks, and has a frequent DJ rotation playing house music.’ 

• Hang out and work: The Grid Food Market. ‘This indoor food hall has a curated selection of independent traders. It's inside the Power Plant Mall, part of the upscale mixed-use Rockwell Center.’ 

• Have an after-work drink: The Spirits Library. ‘This bar, also operated by the Viray family, catalogs bottles dating as far back as the 1900s, including a 120-year-old absinthe.’

• Visit 24/7: The Filling Station. ‘Opened by an ex-US Navy chief cook in 1994, The Filling Station is a kitschy, American-style diner located at the heart of Manila's red-light district. Its neon-lit display has endured as an icon of Poblacion.’

This article was first published in Courier issue 45, February/March 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

You might like these, too