What if, in the search for a constant and reliable watering hole to frequent, you put up your own bar and restaurant?
That’s what a group of friends—which eventually turned into a whole host of business partners—did when they came up with and established Tittos Latin BBQ and Brew in Kapitolyo, Pasig. Initially opened in an old house in the area which a former partner saw, today Tittos had done well enough to expand to a second branch in Greenhills.
If you’re a Greenhills or Kapitolyo regular or resident, you’ve probably dined at Tittos a few times, maybe even more. While the restaurant was intended to be an evening hangout (both Tittos branches have a built-in, hidden speakeasy-like bar (aptly called Vault) to cater to drinking sessions and private events), the Latin American fare proved to be pretty popular.
Once we sampled the fare, it was pretty easy to understand why Tittos had done well enough to last almost seven years.
“At the time, we were eating around [the Kapitolyo area] trying to look at the scene, looking at what was lacking,” says head chef Jerwyn Rabo, who is in charge of directing Tittos’ entire menu. “After a few brainstorming, I just thought, ‘Why not do Latin American food?’ I’m not really an expert on Latin food, I don’t have any background, but I just liked that it was a challenge, and maybe Filipinos could relate being that it has a lot of Spanish influences.”
Once we sampled the fare, it was pretty easy to understand why Tittos had done well enough to last almost seven years. You’ve got your typical nachos and sweet potato fritas that are commonplace in any Latin restaurant, but a standout you don’t see everywhere is the grilled elotes made of shaved corn, coated in spices and paprika butter, and topped with subtle flakes of queso fresco and chicharon. You could probably order a couple of plates of those and drink your night away.
The menu comes loaded with stuff that will resonate with many palates. The 18 Hours Gaucho Steak, a sous vide hanger steak chopped up into easy-to-eat slices, dippable in good old chimichurri salsa, is potent to say the least. The Paella de Carne—which has bacon, chicken mojo, and chorizo—is just as satisfying, especially if you pair it with another of Tittos’ prides, agua frescas, a wide range of indigenous-style fruit and herb juices that go well with the food.
Just enough to get by
Here’s the thing, though: The story of Tittos is not that of wild success. It is, however, an admirable change of pace because it’s a tale of survival, perseverance, and resourcefulness. The Tittos partners’ beginnings basically involved crawling around in the dark, figuring out how to run a restaurant as they went along.
“It was a struggle, actually, because it was the first time for everyone,” says Winslow Justin Co, the partner in charge of marketing. They started with seven partners so that as many people as possible could pitch in and, as they expanded, the number also grew to 13 partners today. However, only three actively manage the restaurant: Co, Rabo, and Genn Oliver Co, the partner in charge of operations.
“No one really owned a restaurant per se—one partner owned a restobar, an ice cream stand, side businesses that eventually closed,” adds Winslow.
Over a year after the Philippines pretty much got over pandemic lockdowns and precautions, Tittos is chugging along, getting by with decent (though not mind-blowing) traffic numbers. Like many other places, the partners took a hit during the pandemic, had to let go of people when the money wasn’t flowing in, and recovered when the country reopened. Now, they’re experiencing the buzz for their restaurant normalizing, especially since many other options are open as well.
“Some places closed [during the pandemic], and you would think there would be an opportunity there. But with everyone else trying to get in the restaurant industry, you’ll have a lot of competition,” says Rabo. “The others will get hyped, and you’ll get left behind. You have to provide good food and good service at the end of the day.”
“Expansion is in our minds because that really is the way to scale up,” says Winslow Co. “It’s even better because having more branches makes our purchase of raw materials easier and cheaper,” adds Genn Co.
“Until now, one of our struggles here in Greenhills is we were expecting a lot of people to come after the pandemic, but it still looks like only people from the area come in. So what we really need is patience for this struggle,” he adds.
Finding good help is also a bit of a concern, as a wider range of employment options are now available due to more places being open, and a place like Tittos needs more than rookie service staff.
A complete focus on Tittos
Despite these struggles, Tittos makes up for it with good weekend numbers, which go a long way towards keeping them rolling along. Another part of it is that the management team works hard in making sure they maximize opportunities to both learn and succeed, keeping an eye on an eventual expansion.
“Expansion is in our minds because that really is the way to scale up,” says Winslow. “It’s even better because having more branches makes our purchase of raw materials easier and cheaper,” adds Genn.
“But getting there, we feel like the seven years we have in the industry isn’t enough,” continues Winslow. “So we wanted to learn more, fix our backends, and how we process things.”
For the plan in place, their only gospel to preach is to persevere, keep things moving, and never give up. There’s nothing fancy about it, and it doesn’t have to be as long as they believe what they’ve got is good enough—it will only get better from there. They’ll continue to devise ways to make their product and service enticing, such as regular and seasonal promos.
“Every day, anything can happen. Be it a problem with the staff, the customer, your backend, suppliers, anything like that,” says Jerwyn Rabo. “It’s a chaotic mess that’s actually sometimes beautiful. So you need to appreciate it, if you really want to be in this field. And then never give up.”
“We try everything just to see who comes in, who’s interested in these things, and we want to retain those customers, get them to come back, and tell their friends that we have promos,” says Winslow. They’ll keep tweaking because they keep learning; for the partners, there’s always a lesson to be learned, as every day’s a new opportunity to take in something new about the business.
“Every day, anything can happen. Be it a problem with the staff, the customer, your backend, suppliers, anything like that,” says Rabo. “It’s a chaotic mess that’s actually sometimes beautiful. So you need to appreciate it, if you really want to be in this field. And then never give up.”