Eating out in the open

I Have never hankered for Pad Thai, not since I started experimenting with my palate in the late 90s.

That is until one late night prodding from my sister to meet her down my office lobby led to my affair with Asian street food fair that is Sugbo Mercado’s Banana Pancake Trail.

Their Pad Thai is unassuming, but just hands down appetizing.

Remember, this was two years ago, in the out-of-the-way Garden Bloc in IT Park. Going there is an adventure in itself.

“It seems only like it was yesterday when we set up on a tiny corner lot at the Garden Bloc with only a handful of vendors,” says one of the organizers, Michael Karlo Lim.

“Sugbo Mercado opened on Sept. 26, 2015, with the goal of being the first and biggest year-round weekly food market in Cebu and as a venue for the best of the best of Cebu as well as budding new players in the local food industry in a collaborative environment.”

Workers, celebrities, businessmen, politicians or even just the curious passersby can now experience and enjoy anything from soups and fresh greens to a delicious selection of eclectic rice, noodles and skewers, “From our original regular two-day, Friday and Saturday operations, we extended to three days due to popular demand adding Thursdays.

Since June of this year, we added a fourth day, Sundays, to cater to more of family market. We still maintain the 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. operations throughout,” Lim added.

As of 2016, Sugbo Mercado was officially endorsed by the Department of Tourism-Central Visayasas Cebu’s “First Weekend Food Market … promoting individual brand identity and presenting diverse culinary delights from the Philippines and other parts of the world while supporting micro food entrepreneurs by providing the perfect venue to enable these to reach and expand their market.”



Sugbo Mercado has indeed diversified and has now found new venues for the convenience of foodies as well as to those who just want to have their fill. It’s the first time a food market here in the city to open various branches outside its usual premises.

“In the third quarter of 2016, we launched our first expansion at the nearby Cebu Business Park with the intent of exploring the lower half of the city as a three-month pop-up.

We extended our stay at that location with its relative success and later closed it in the second quarter of 2017 as the neighboring construction works no longer made it feasible to continue operating an open-air food market.

“Our second location, also intended as a pop-up over the last quarter of 2016, opened at CityDi Mare on the South Road Properties to great reception by the South market.

The seaside location and silt substrate of the area later proved challenging for tented operations, and we have halted operations in consideration of conversion to a more permanent container van park operation.



Proudly, nine of the pioneering vendors and a good number of others reaching a year’s mark are now known for their signature dishes and contribution to the market and the local food culture at large.

It has since tripled in number and size from when it first pitched its tents. And just like that, Sugbo Mercado is now on its second year.

For avid foodies and those looking for a cool place to hang out, Sugbo Mercado not only showcases local food start-ups, but also homegrown musical
talents, “As part of our nightly entertainment lineup, we put out local bands, some careers of which have been launched by their exposure to the Sugbo Mercado crowd.

Assembling the weekend’s lineup now includes fielding and scheduling band auditionees that the group now jokes about branching into talent management.

Seasonal film showings, art festivals, and other performances enrich the dining experience.”


The food market in its signature red and white table linens has indeed grown by leaps and bounds, announcing not only of its expansion but also of paving the way for local food business to a different level.

“We are excited to announce our intent to enter Mandaue City with weeklong operations and a themed setup in the burgeoning entertainment and lifestyle hub in the area.

Expansions to Mactan are also being explored. As to the specifics… we’ll cross the bridge when we get there. In our position as a start-up incubator and with our thrust to encourage job creation versus job-seeking, we launched the Foodtrepreneur Challenge in the second quarter of 2017.

“Of 20 applicants we narrowed down to six finalists which we first introduced to the public in a grand taste test returning two weeks later for the live selling segment of the competition over two weekends. In the interim, the contestants received mentorship from Sugbo Mercado management, Sugbo Mercado vendors and our event partner AICA Cebu.

“The competition is intended to simulate the real-world process of start-up food entrepreneurs at Sugbo Mercado where they were judged by the value created by the new product, attractiveness of the market opportunity, the competitive advantage, the operational viability, the capability of the vendor, the capital requirements and financial forecast, and the clarity and persuasiveness of the oral defense.

The very first Sugbo Mercado Foodtrepreneur received one-month free booth space at Sugbo Mercado, P20,000 in cash, a Certificate Culinary Short Course worth P30,000 from AICA Cebu.

The competition was also to invigorate the market with new concepts to add to its diversity, and two of our contestants—the champion and the runner-up— maintain booths to date. The second installment of the competition will be launched on our anniversary celebration.”

TAGS: Biggest, book, city, day, eating', food market, market, night, open, operations, OUT, round, saturday, weekend, weekly
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