Café Laguna eyes expansion in the US

By Victor Anthony V. Silva |September 22,2016 - 09:16 PM
Café Laguna executive chef Raki Urbina (6th from left) together with his family and Café Laguna founder Julita Urbina (2nd from left) announces plans to expand their restaurant business to the United States (CDN PHOTO/TONEE DESPOJO).

Café Laguna executive chef Raki Urbina (6th from left) together with his family and Café Laguna founder Julita Urbina (2nd from left) announces plans to expand their restaurant business to the United States (CDN PHOTO/TONEE DESPOJO).

WITH 25 years of experience in the food industry, homegrown restaurant brand Café Laguna is considering plans to expand overseas.

Raki Urbina, Café Laguna corporate chef and son of founder Julita Urbina, said they would be targeting the US, particularly Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco or New Jersey.

“We’ve been thinking of expanding. We came to realize that, yes, we can expand in Luzon, but I think it will complement the cuisine and brand more if we set our eyes abroad,” Raki Urbina told Cebu Daily News at the sidelines of a media conference for the restaurant group’s 25th anniversary on Thursday.

Café Laguna, known for its authentic Filipino dishes inspired by the traditions of Laguna, will be celebrating its silver year on Sept. 28.

The restaurant is favored for its specialties such as puto bumbong, pandan chicken, fresh lumpia, pancit palabom, dinuguan with puto and sinigang soup.

At present, it has seven branches across four cities in Visayas and Mindanao. Also under the Café Laguna group are brands such as Lemongrass (Vietnamese and Thai cooking), Parilya (Lechon, Seafood and Grill) and Ulli’s (Street Foods of Asia).

What started out as a small P300-capital business two and a half decades ago has now grown into one of Cebu’s biggest food “empires,” employing 350 workers to date.
Urbina said that while nothing is final yet, they have already begun doing initial leg work and are set to go on full blast next year.

He said it is their family’s dream to bring authentic Filipino food and culture to the US.

“Most of the Filipino restaurants there identify themselves only as generally Asian, not Filipino. We want to market Café Laguna as truly Filipino,” said Urbina.
He said there is a stigma on serving Filipino food in itself, and that is detrimental to a brand’s survival in the US.

Urbina said foreigners don’t quite get how Filipinos share food on the table, making the servings necessarily large.

“If you serve foreigners with sinigang and big bowls of rice, they’ll look at you as if asking, ‘How am I supposed to eat this?’” he added.

Prompted by the success of other local brands in the US such as Jollibee, Jerry’s Grill and Yellowcab, Urbina said he is confident they will also be able to make it abroad with the proper guidance.

Adapting to American laws, health standards and food quality requirements may be challenging to them at first, he added.

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