Bicol’s biggest food chain opens first Manila branch

Mavic Conde
The Bicol icon is finally coming to Manila

HELLO, MANILA. The Bicolano icon finally hits Manila's shores. Photos courtesy of Laurie Mae Gucilatar

ALBAY, Philippines – What is the Filipino counterpart of a diner? A carenderia? Maybe not.

A diner is an American cultural icon for attracting people from all walks of life. It is where comfort food, including regional cuisine, is enjoyed any time of the day in repurposed lunch cars. These became permanent establishments with a retro-inspired setting.

Thus, bringing this concept to the Philippines means positioning in a new market segment hinged on the psychology of familiarity.

One Filipino diner that successfully does that is Bigg’s, a 36-year-old family owned business in the Bicol region that is set to open its first store in Manila – at SM Fairview – in November.

Its bestseller, the one-piece crispy fried chicken deliciously tastes of Pinoy flavors: savory and tangy.

Bigg’s Diner Chief Executive Officer Carlo Buenaflor said if you want to be a strong contender in a quick service restaurant (QSR) industry, you’ve got to have this product because it is the number one selling restaurant meal in the Philippines.

Fast casual restaurant

Bigg’s carved a niche in-between fast food and casual dining restaurants, as it grew from a burger takeout stall in Naga City seven years after it was launched in 1983.

Buenaflor said there are limited players in there; but if you look at fast food restaurants, there are people who can afford a bit of upgrading.

Where would they turn to if the price point they have to jump to is too high? There came the Bigg’s Diner we know now: fast casual restaurant that serves cooked-to-order meals in bigger servings.

“Bigg’s chicken is 30% bigger than everybody else, that we sometimes find a hard time looking for suppliers because they are used to serving the size requirements of the other food chain brands,” he said.

These same benefits that Bicolanos have embraced and identify with are what Bigg’s Diner wants to bring to Manila.

If you find something worth celebrating about your day, but don’t want to spend too much for something unfamiliar come to Bigg’s, Buenaflor said.

Photos courtesy of Laurie Mae Gucilatar

Ambiance, expectations

Drawing from its inspiration, retro interior decorations will greet you in every store, surprisingly with odd familiarity.

How come it feels like Bigg’s has known you for long? One spot in its old Albay branch became an instant favorite because of that one relatable text in a poster hung on the wall.

It said: “I just want to create beautiful things, even if nobody cares.”

Or that one in Masbate, which goes, “Life is full of ups & downs. Sometimes, it feels like a RODEO. The secret is to enjoy the ride.”

For anyone familiar with that popular culture in this Bicol province, there comes the instant connection.

Recent innovations took over in the majority of its stores– now 16 in total and spread over the Bicol Region, as well in Batangas– for a vintage industrial look.

How Bigg’s personalized it is what got you, ultimately.

Challenging familiarity

For a homegrown brand, some Bicolanos can’t help but set different expectations from Bigg’s.

“Will it serve Bicolano dishes?” 

“I can’t wait for the Manila opening! Hello, pinangat!”

Fellow Bicolanos raised these in a personal poll about Bigg’s and its plans for the new venture.

Indeed, what can Manileños and Bicolanos expect from its first branch in a mall in Fairview?

“In the beginning, we’ll be serving only the bestsellers which are the fried chicken, burgers, and ribs,” Buenaflor answered straightforwardly.

Bicol dishes will be available too, on special occasions. From there, Bigg’s will add meals depending on customers’ responses. He said presenting Bigg’s as a regional brand would confuse people, especially those not familiar with it. “Naturally, they will look for Bicol dishes which we don’t specialize in,” he said.

In that case, for him, having a clear message is both a strategy and a challenge especially Manila is saturated with food brands.

Legitimate QSR brand

Bigg’s takes pride in being a legitimate QSR (quick service restaurant) brand that can stand its ground against multinational food chains in the region.

“In fact, our top performing stores are those beside the multinational ones, and we cannot do this without the Bicolanos. It’s them who have taken us to where we are now,” Buenaflor said.

Its employees, stores’ designers and stylists are from Bicol, where its commissary and head office are too. The store decorations are also locally made.

He said, “There should be no mistaking in us taking pride in our Bicolano roots,” adding how “Absolutely. Absolutely. No one can take that away from Bigg’s.”

The same way with how it lives up to the region’s credo: that Bicolanos can do it. –

Bigg’s Dinner is set to open its first Metro Manila branch at SM Fairview in Quezon City 

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