AS part of its continuous rebranding and expansion plan post-pandemic, successful Filipino food enterprise Gerry’s is all set to open at least 15 new outlets by 2024—all fully clothed as a family restaurant with a homey ambience and extensive menu.
Gerry’s Vice President for Marketing Francis Villaluz bared a list of their committed areas to welcome customers, whether in free standing format or mall-based. The upcoming franchised and company-owned branches are located in Sumulong Highway, Antipolo; Carmona, Cavite; Catarman, Northern Samar; Cotabato; Tacloban, Leyte; Vigan, Ilocos Sur; Estancia Mall, Pasig; North Star Mall, Ilagan City, Isabela; Robinsons Galleria, Ortigas Avenue; Quezon City; Robinsons Gapan, Nueva Ecija; R Square Mall-Taft, Manila; SM City Bataan; SM City Sto. Tomas, Batangas; SM City Dasmariñas, Cavite; and Vermosa, Cavite.
“At least seven of these will open in time for the Christmas [season this year],” Gerry’s Vice President (VP) for Marketing Villaluz told reporters in a recent interview at their flagship branch in Tomas Morato in Quezon City. “And then by the first quarter of next year, the balance will be finished.”
Without citing the exact amount of investment for these soon-to-rise outlets, he cited that each store would cost around P15 million and P20 million for mall-bound and stand-alone, respectively.
“I think some of them were put on hold during the pandemic,” he admitted. “But when we saw the business environment was changing, we [decided to] resume the opening now [that the Covid-19 crisis is over].”
From restorer to family bistro
MONTHS prior to the Asian financial crisis that crippled the economies in the eastern and southeastern parts of the region, Gerry’s Grill owners Gerry Apolinario and Jerome Ngo opened its first branch along Tomas Morato on February 14, 1997.
Originally, its concept was a bar and grill place for people to unwind after a day’s work. What used to be a loud, smoky hangout destination of group of friends or officemates, this has become a favorite spot to bond not just with colleagues and pals, but more importantly with loved ones over a sumptuous spread of Filipino cuisines and, of course, the drinks. Such acceptance from a broader market, eventually, led to changes in the business.
“The rebrand started about 10 years ago,” shared the top executive. “We cannot do it like a one time, big time change. So it’s by phase.”
As a headstart, the word “Grill” in the bistro’s name was dropped four years ago, thus, making it simply called “Gerry’s.” Even the logo with the full-body image of a blue marlin with a beer mug was altered to a close up version.
In terms of its offerings, the menu now has less options on drinks and “pulutan” compared to an extensive lineup of local cuisines as the store now caters more on the diners (lunch and dinner) than the “gimmick” crowd.
“Around 75 percent of the menu from day one in 1997 is still here, and it’s balanced with enough veggies and seafood,” Villaluz said, adding that they also developed items that customers can enjoy even at home, such as frozen packed items kare-kare sauce, sisig, lumpiang Shanghai, Gerry’s stuffed laing and crispy pata as well as bottled sauces, bagoong, and Gerry’s iced tea.
For him, the biggest transformation could be seen in the interior. The store renovations started during the pandemic. He noted: “Last year, we closed [the Tomas Morato branch] for like a month, and then we changed the interior because [the business] was quite low. This was reopened in November of last year.”
Unlike before when Gerry’s was popular for its signature bar in a middle, all outlets would be turned into a cozy, relaxed and homey food place—thanks to ornamental plants and wood accents—that’s open not only for regular dining, but also for family gatherings and events. Only a few will have live bands.
“This is the new look we wanted to give our customers from the previous one, which was open air, dim, and a party place. Now the lighting is more inviting, brighter, and fully air-conditioned. Right now, the emphasis is on family,” Apolinario, the president and chief executive officer of Gerry’s, said in a previous interview.
THROUGH the years, Gerry’s has set an example of a resilient business that has stood the tests of time. From the economic tailspin during its inception, it has faced and survived several more headwinds along the way.
The latest of which was the Covid-19 pandemic, which gravely affected various industries, including the food service sector. While most, if not all, restaurants in the country closed down, either permanently or in an interim, Gerry’s has managed to still operate, though with limitations and drastic business measures and decisions that the owners had to take on in order to continue their business existence.
“Actually, we had 130 [stores nationwide] at our peak. Then, we went down under 100 during the pandemic because many [of our franchisees] could not carry it. We also had branches abroad that closed down. Those that closed were a combination of temporary and permanent [shutdown]. But when the bans [or the lockdowns] were lifted, we looked at the stores with potential and not [to reopen]. So we had to make decisions,” recalled the VP for marketing.
Because dining was prohibited at the height of quarantines, the restaurant had to rely mainly on delivery during the health crisis. He said: “If there was like a major lockdown in an area, then, proportionately sales will go down. But in some provinces that were not greatly affected and allowed like 50 percent dine-in, they survived.”
In order to cope up with the situation, Villaluz conceded that they also resorted to cutting down on utilities consumption and number of employees.
“Human-labor intensive items were removed for a while because [our manpower] was so lean. We just had to manage with what we had. There were cases [that we laid off people] to keep the business afloat,” he explained.
While the World Health Organization and the Philippine government declared the end of the Covid-19 as a public health emergency, another setback has challenged Gerry’s: the rising inflation.
“We had to also adjust [our prices, but only at a] minimal because we are also careful not to have too high prices since we know that the strength of the brand is the overall value we give. Of course, like in any business, if you’re cost goes up, and you don’t have a [leg] room, you’ll have to do adjustments. But just enough to meet [the buying capacity of customers],” he pointed out.
On the road to recovery, expansion
NOW at its 27th year of operations, the rebranded enterprise is now on track to recovery with more exciting surprises in the pipeline.
Business-wise, Villaluz disclosed that they are on a growth trajectory towards achieving their pre-pandemic sales level.
“I don’t know exactly how much of it. But more or less, we recover now,” he said. “We’re optimistic that the people, if they are able to recover [from Covid-19], will continue with their lifestyle and dining habits. Then maybe, slowly but surely, we will also go back [to that level].”
Citing their sales data, sisig, grilled pusit, kare-kare and crispy pata continue to be the bestsellers at Gerry’s.
“We’re happy that they sell well. But also we want to keep on introducing new offerings so the next time you visit, you will try different items. So we will be coming up soon [with new] meat dishes,” he revealed.
Apart from new store openings in the offing to add to its current inventory of 99 outlets, more branches are expected to rise in the coming years to strengthen further its footprints here and abroad.
“We want to do about at least 10 or more stores a year,” Villaluz stressed. “As much as we want to be fast [in our expansion], we have to be careful that we can execute it properly.”