While the F&B industry continues to grow, entrepreneurs are well aware of the life cycle of a restaurant—an establishment can open, thrive, and close all within the span of five to 10 years, and it’s only the lucky few who manage to survive in the long run. One example is Milky Way Cafe, a Filipino food establishment that’s celebrating its 57th anniversary this year.
While it’s a familiar brand for the older generation, Milky Way Cafe today is on a mission to tap a younger market and one way it has managed to do that is through a newly renovated store in Power Plant Mall. The establishment has been in Rockwell since the mall first opened in 2000, becoming one of the first restaurants in the area and one of the last to remain after almost 20 years.
A new look with nostalgic touches
“The upgrade is part of revitalizing this outlet and brand,” says executive chef J. Gamboa, son of the late Milky Way Cafe founder Julie Araullo Gamboa.
The new look of the restaurants is an homage to the brand’s first branch, which opened in 1962. The black and white chairs and tables partnered with the wooden motifs and vintage iron grills bring a touch of nostalgia to the already comfortable aura of the establishment. The upgrade also pays tribute to the brand’s roots.
“It’s turo-turo style, just like the original Milky Way. If you are on-the-go and want a hearty Filipino meal, you can get it fast here,” says Gamboa.
Some of the bestsellers are the adobong pusit, sinigang na salmon, lechon paksiw, and dinuguan. Aside from the wide variety of meals available for people to choose, they also offer party trays and their shelves are lined with pasalubong choices ranging from polvoron to atchara.
Consistency is key to survival
A part of the Milky Way Cafe legacy since birth, Gamboa has seen the industry’s progression for decades and realized that consistency is the key to sustaining an iconic brand.
“Be consistent with what you do, your work ethics, your food, and its quality because that’s what people really look for and it’s the hardest thing to do,” says Gamboa.
Innovation is important in keeping a brand relevant, but it’s consistency that makes customers come back for more. Beyond consistency in the quality of food, Gamboa also discusses how it’s important to ensure consistency exists in the management and operations that occur behind the doors.
“Naturally, people want to slack off, they want to do shortcuts. It’s hard to keep [consistency] going, it’s hard to keep the standards going,” explains Gamboa. The only way to do just that is by staying on top of everything and being hands-on in your restaurant and kitchen every day. “There’s no substitute for being present.”
Opening and running a restaurant is not for the faint of heart. It’s not as simple as investing in a business, training staff, and leaving it to fend for itself—it’s a lifelong commitment that will require sacrifices and a lot of grit. Gamboa jokes that not opening a restaurant will save you “some heartache, money, sleep, ulcers, and a heart attack” or two. But as many restaurateurs know, the satisfaction of seeing your restaurant thrive is unlike anything else.
Keeping a brand afloat and ensuring its growth is one of the biggest challenges in the industry, but young restaurateurs and fledgling establishments can take a page out of Milky Way Cafe’s book. It’s all about finding the right balance of adapting to the times while providing customers with the consistency that they desire.