Rico’s Lechon closure linked to mayor’s daughter-in-law

By: Jose Santino S. Bunachita August 17,2017 - 11:10 PM

Mayor Tomas Osmeña says ‘nothing personal’

THE owners of a chain of restaurants that sell Cebu lechon suspected that personal vendetta may be behind the decision of City Hall to close down two of its branches.

Enrico “Rico” Dionson, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Rico’s Lechon, pointed out that the closure order issued by City Hall on their branches on Escario Street and Barangay Mabolo came days after they told Bea Villegas-Osmeña that they were ending their business partnership.

Villegas-Osmeña is the wife of Miguel Osmeña, only child of Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña.

She owned 30 percent of the Rico’s Lechon branch in Mabolo, Dionson told in a news conference at their branch in Escario on Thursday.

A week before their five-year contract ended on July 31, the family told Villegas-Osmeña that they would no longer renew it since they had decided to keep the business within the family.

“After we requested her that we wanted the family to take over the business, ingon sya nga ‘storyaan sa namo ni Miguel’ (she said that she would talk to Miguel first),” said Melanie Grace Oyas, Dionson’s daughter and general manager of the Rico’s Lechon restaurants.

She said they were waiting for the couple to contact them for a possible negotiation, but they never heard from either Villegas-Osmeña or her husband.

On Aug. 3, the Dionsons received a notice of closure from City Hall for their branches in Escario Street and Barangay Mabolo for operating without a business permit.

Dionson said he believed their decision to keep the business within the family started their problem with City Hall.

“That’s where it started. After that, we received a notice to comply, show cause order,” said Dionson. Based on their agreement, Villegas-Osmeña was supposed to be in charge of securing all the permits, including their Mabolo branch.

Villegas-Osmeña also provided the branch’s bookkeeper.

Dionson lamented that they were not aware that they were operating without a business permit for the past five years because they thought Villegas-Osmeña had already secured them.

“Nisalig mi sa among partner (We trusted our partner),” he said.

Still, he added, their branches were not remiss in paying other taxes and regulatory fees to the city even if they didn’t have a permit to operate.

In a post on his Facebook page, Mayor Osmeña said that Rico’s Lechon was not the only business that the city had shut down for not having a permit.

“Because of your own incompetence, I was forced to shut down a business that is a major source of my own daughter-in-law’s income. I even made a post saying that I didn’t want to do it, but I had to,” the mayor said.

He added that Villegas-Osmeña had been following up the Dionsons since February to comply with their business permit.

“And now you’re angry because she could not pull special favors to stop her own restaurant from being shut down?” he said.

Dionson said he had been trying to reach Mayor Osmeña to appeal their case because they were willing to comply with all the requirements.

His text messages and calls remained unanswered, he added.

Dionson said they had been losing revenues since the closure. The two stores would generate more than P500,000 per day.

Aside from the revenues, Dionson said their more than 100 workers had also lost their jobs.

Despite what happened, he added he was not angry at Mayor Osmeña whom, he said, he supported financially during the campaign in the 2016 elections.

Two months before receiving the closure order, Oyas admitted that they received a notice to comply from City Hall on June 1.

But she said they had difficulty securing the requirements.

There were only two requirements when they first received the notice on June 1. More requirements were given when they received the second notice on July 13.

But Oyas said that since there were more requirements, they could not meet them within the deadline.

Susan Claire Gabuya, another daughter of Dionson who serves as general manager of the Rico’s Lechon corporate office, said they were finalizing all the documents required by the city so they could hopefully reopen within the week.

She said they remained optimistic despite the mayor’s pronouncement that they may not be able to reopen even if they complied with the requirements.

But she added they might consult their lawyers should City Hall refuse to grant them a business permit even if they had complied with the requirements.

Gabuya said they would only be submitting the requirements for their branch on Escario Street which just opened last December.

They would not push through with the reopening of their Mabolo branch since their five-year lease with the building owner had expired, she added.

“Of course (we are still willing to continue doing business in the city). We are already a brand and we are giving Cebu the pride. Wherever there is a market need, we will open,” Gabuya added.

Aside from their branches in Mabolo and Escario, Rico’s also operates a commissary and plant in Barangay Talamban, Cebu City, and another branch in Lapu-Lapu City.

Last August 8, the City Treasurer’s Office sent a notice to comply to the Rico’s Lechon commissary in Talamban. They were told that they needed to calibrate their weighing scale since it was reportedly not sealed and tested by the city. Gabuya said they immediately brought their weighing scale to City Hall on the same day they received the notice. They received another show cause order from the Office of the Mayor dated Aug. 14 for them to explain their alleged violations.

The management sent a reply the next day that the concern had been addressed upon.

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