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A Walk in the Food Park 

April 10, 2017

Contributor

Cover art Samantha Gonzales with Isa Bernardo

One day, we all woke up to a new kind of park. Gone is the soft blanket of grass—it’s been replaced with gravel—and what blooms on it aren’t flowers, but a plethora of food. It’s not the turf of children, but the playground of businessmen.

Behold the food park.

Spreading like wildfire across Metro Manila, this new dining trend has breathed life to vacant lots, marking niches across Quezon City to as far as Tagaytay. Unlike the other types of food venues—halls, courts, markets, the list goes on—the food park concept strikes a chord with pumping music, cramped parking, a notorious amount of comestibles , and a laidback vibe that drowns out the workday woes. More importantly, for the empowered middle class, it unlocks risqué cuisines (some even as peculiar as Southern Louisiana Creole) at rather painless prices.

Establishing them certainly took an enormous amount of effort.

Cheska Del Castillo, founder of StrEAT Maginhawa Food Park in Quezon City, knows all about it.

STREAT

Art Samantha Gonzales

She pioneered the concept, as we know it, in 2015 to help startup entrepreneurs. Ms. Del Castillo, who is a 24‑year‑old Fine Arts graduate of the University of the Philippines, has a soft spot for small businessmen because her mother gave up a career in marketing to also launch her own pet projects.


BUILDING A FOOD PARK BRAND

The younger Del Castillo conceptualized a convergence point for food and beverage micro and small enterprises. She picked the word “park” because of the sense of community it connotes.

“Since we want to be the starting point for entrepreneurs, we don’t really charge that much when it comes to the rent,” she admitted. Rent varies depending on proximity to the entrance.

Her and her family’s brainchild rapidly gained traction.

While she did not divulge exact revenues, the idea that the brand has expanded to Commonwealth and Tagaytay in a span of two years is enough to conclude that the business pays off.

But beyond he financial returns, what gives Ms. Del Castillo more fulfilment is their social relevance. “One of our first tenants, The Lost Bread at StrEAT Maginhawa, has managed to put up a branch in a major mall,” she said. “And we couldn’t be happier for them.”

“That’s the goal,” she added. “To be the stepping stone.”

Right now, she is focused on their expansion in Tagaytay: their food park aptly named South StrEAT. The first of its kind on this side of the country, it already boasts 27 food and beverage stalls spread across 1,200 square meters.

To distinguish itself from its two Metro Manila brothers, South StrEAT follows a Memphis design theme, a postmodern eighties movement marked by geometric motifs and mixed media artistry. Already, the branch is showing signs of success. Ms. Del Castillo is adding more tenants on a second floor that will launch this year, and is targeting to raise the number of parking slots from 35 to 100.

But the more important thing she started building is a new dining culture.

CARNIVAL

Art Samantha Gonzales

Carnival Food Park, which opened late last year, spans 1,600 square meters.

And just like any other business, it wanted to be known for its own unique brand.

“We want a happy place, a family place,” mused 23‑year‑old Brian Florendo, co‑owner of this family business.

Aside from the obvious carnival theme, events were put in place to attract customers: acoustic shows, KTV nights, even costume parties. Each specialized in a particular target market.

No business is devoid of problems, and the range of those that Mr. Florendo encounters includes tenants’ daily demands and city regulations, as Marikina City has a strict ordinance against noise beyond 10 p.m.


DEALING WITH PROBLEMS

“I lose sleep often,” Florendo quipped semi‑seriously, adding that his response to problems is to give‑and‑take. “But you have to be a risk‑taker,” he warned. “I borrowed money from my parents and at some point, I feared that I won’t be able to return it,” he admitted. “Yet I realized that if we won’t try, we won’t fail but neither will we accomplish anything.”

So far, the risk has reaped some rewards. After only a few months of operation, Carnival Food Park already expects to hit its Return of Investment (ROI) in July in terms of rental, but if you include the profits they earn from a stall they built in their food park, they have already reached their ROI. Likewise, they are growing, with food parks in Quezon City, Las Piñas and soon, even as far as Cavite. A lot of new sources of income, and also a lot of new neighbours.

Meanwhile, in the Katipunan Area, the London‑inspired multi‑level container food park The Yard has also dealt with complaints that it causes “horrendous traffic problems,” according to some social media posts, on Xavierville Avenue.

THE YARD

Art Samantha Gonzales

The negative image, however, was borne of something rather positive: that the venue has been getting a massive reception.

The Yard—founded by sisters Bobbie Soriano, Cohleen Soriano‑Ipapo and Hazel Soriano‑Fariñas, who are also behind Fariñas Ilocos Empanada—easily reversed its reputation into being known as Quezon City’s most successful food park.

Being meticulous is key, says Ms. Soriano‑Fariñas. “We make sure that every stall is offering something unique,” she said. “We’re very picky in terms of the tenant’s fare and design concept.” It also helps that they are hands‑on in managing their social media accounts, and using those to remain aware of the latest trends. In addition, they involve their husbands in the business for more manpower.

Ms. Soriano‑Fariñas shared that a number of tenants at The Yard, Xavierville received their ROI in less than a month of operations, while The Yard itself had already received theirs in eight months’ time, despite incurring more costs like additional parking space.


STARTING UP

After recently opening a branch in Pasig called The Yard Underground, the brand is already preparing for another one along Timog Avenue, Quezon City.

The competition is tight. More than 200 concessionnaires applied. Only 25 tenants will be accepted.

Among The Yard’s tenants across its branches are millennials.

“This is the continuation of their schooling,” chimed the three. With the exception of Bobbie Soriano, the sisters consider themselves “millennials-at-heart.” The two added: “We tell millennials that entrepreneurship requires not only a high IQ, but also a high EQ.” Fariñas Ilocos Empanada, which has more than 20 branches, also began in a seven‑square meter space, so the owners understand how it is to start up. At the same time, also believe that their tenants, who are operating in similarly sized spaces, can grow beyond their stall.

And even though the three have the advantage of more experience, they are also learning from the younger ones. They employ the help of their teenage children to keep updated with the next generation, the centennials.

Which is practical, given today’s fast-paced, disruptive lifestyle, which might render food parks obsolete in a sudden.

But until then, food parks will continue to sprout. At least we can take a break from the usual mainstream restaurants, and bite into comestibles that are unique, exciting and extraordinary. 


Photos used in the graphics courtesy of Isa Bernardo, Alexx Esponga, Klarissa Javier, Bryan Florendo and Cheska Del Castillo.