malls in the Philippines

Go local: Homegrown food brands get spaces in SM’s new malls in Caloocan, Batangas, and Laguna

Isagani de Castro Jr.

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Go local: Homegrown food brands get spaces in SM’s new malls in Caloocan, Batangas, and Laguna

LOCAL. Elliot Bar and Restaurant (left) and Mahiwaga Café are two homegrown food and beverage outlets in the new SM City Caloocan which opened on May 17, 2024.

Elliot Bar and Restaurant FB/SM Investments

Homegrown brands Elliot Bar and Restaurant and Mahiwaga Café open in SM City Caloocan. There's Kwatogs and Juddie's Bulalohan in SM City Sto. Tomas, and Malia's Café and Restaurant in SM Center San Pedro.

MANILA, Philippines – A visit to an SM mall sometimes gives the impression there are limited choices in terms of local food offerings – there’s always a Jollibee, a Chowking, a Mang Inasal, all national food brands. 

Aren’t there homegrown or local community food and beverage brands in SM Malls? 

Well, there are, but you’ll have to be inquisitive in case you see a store in an SM mall you haven’t seen in other places. 

Since local brands aren’t as well known as national brands, they’re easy to miss. Only those who live in the particular city or province would easily recognize them.

Take, for instance, the new SM City Caloocan, the first in the northern part of Caloocan City next to Bulacan province, which opened on Friday, May 17. There are two homegrown food and beverage brands there: Filipino restaurant Elliot Bar and Restaurant and milk tea and coffee place Mahiwaga Café.

IN PHOTOS: First look at SM City Caloocan

IN PHOTOS: First look at SM City Caloocan
Elliot Bar and Restaurant, Mahiwaga Café

Elliot Bar and Restaurant has become a favorite go-to place for Filipino food for those who live in or visit Caloocan City since it opened a branch along Malapitan Road, Saranay in Barangay 171 in March 2023.

The restaurant’s owners’ mission is to be recognized for their “exceptional” Filipino culinary experience and service. 

Due to strong patronage, the restaurant’s Saranay branch is often full, with many customers waiting in line, especially during holidays.

To help meet demand, they now have a full restaurant in SM City Caloocan serving favorite Filipino dishes such as lechon kawali (fried pork belly), bulalo (beef marrow soup), chicken inasal (grilled chicken), chop suey, and pinakbet (mixed vegetables with shrimp paste).

Mahiwaga Café started in March 8, 2020, just days before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. Its first store is in front of University of Caloocan City Congressional Campus along Congressional Road Extension. Due to the lockdown, they had to close five days after opening. 

Owners Dandy Alberto and Dr. Nicole Gonzales found a way to weather the pandemic crisis through deliveries, reopened in October 2020 when restrictions were eased, and grew the business when restrictions were lifted. In September 2022, they opened a store in Calauan, Laguna. The Mahiwaga Café in SM City Caloocan is their third.

They serve premium quality milk tea, specialty coffee, and Filipino fusion cuisine. 

SM Supermalls president Steven Tan said in a press release on May 29 that their “malls also serve as a hub for different brands and enterprises both local and foreign, all of which support economic activity.”

Caloocan City Mayor Dale “Along” Malapitan said the northern part of Caloocan where the new SM City Caloocan is located used to be a “bukid” (farm) area which is why people who live in this part of the city had been looking forward to the opening of the “first big and leading mall” in the area.

The SM Group has two other malls in populous Caloocan: SM City Sangandaan and SM City Grand Central, both in the southern side of the city close to the capital Manila. SM City Caloocan is the SM Group’s 86th mall in the Philippines.

“There is a substantial economic impact in having SM Sangandaan, SM Grand Central, and now, SM Caloocan in our city,” Malapitan said. “Given the large workforce that mall operations entail, it has created jobs and more opportunities for our constituents.”

Juddie’s Bulalohan, Kwatogs

It’s a similar story in SM’s 85th mall in the Philippines: SM City Sto. Tomas in Batangas, south of the capital, which opened last October 2023. This mall has at least two homegrown food brands: Kwatogs, which serves, among others, Batangas lomi (chicken soup with egg noodles), and Juddie’s Bulalohan, known for its nilagang bulalo (beef marrow soup) – perhaps the most famous dish of Batangas and Tagaytay City – and other Filipino food. 

Kwatogs started as a homegrown brand in September 2022 in a small outlet in Barangay Sabang, Lipa, Batangas. It’s signature dish: Lomi Batangas. 

LOCAL. Kwatogs’ signature dish, Lomi Batangas. SM Investments handout

In just a few months, word about its good local food spread and it now serves other noodle dishes such as miki, miki bihon, chami, black gisado; sisig, lechon kawali; and rice meals such as pork binagoongan (pork in shrimp paste), and adobo with egg.

It now has over 10 branches in Batangas and in Laguna, provinces that are south of the capital.

In October 2023, Kwatogs Lomi was opened in SM City Sto. Tomas. 

Kwatogs owner Sherwin Libuit said having a space in SM City Sto. Tomas gives them the opportunity to expand the reach of their dishes, especially Lomi Batangas.

Another favorite restaurant in southern Luzon is Juddie’s Bulalohan in Tagaytay City. SM City Sto. Tomas called and asked the owner, Juddie Alegre, to be one of their tenants in the new mall. 

GO LOCAL. Juddie Alegre of Juddie’s Bulalohan (left) poses with a customer in SM City Sto. Tomas in this undated photo released on February 23, 2024. SM Investments handout

Alegre said she had always wanted to have a space in a mall. “Iyon po talaga ang pangarap ko. Pinaganda pa po dahil kay SM po kami napunta,” an SM press release quoted her as saying in February.

(That has been my dream. And it’s even made more special because we were able to open it in SM.)

Santo Tomas City Mayor Arth Jhun Marasigan said in the same press statement that the opening of SM’s new mall in Batangas has given some of the city’s residents a chance to get jobs and grow their business, which help the city’s economy. 

“Many of our residents have found opportunities to open their own business within the mall and its surrounding areas. The provision of employment brought by its opening has catered to thousands of job-seekers, most especially Tomasinos and, in turn, had an impact on the city’s economy,” he said. 

Malia’s Café and Restaurant

In SM Center San Pedro, SM’s 84th mall in the Philippines and the fourth in Laguna, the mall invited entrepreneur Vina Dauz to open a restaurant.

Dauz had been in the business of selling cooked food party trays, desserts, and other treats in San Pedro City. 

When SM Center San Pedro asked her if she wanted to bring a café concept to the community, she said yes. Dauz put up her first Malia’s Café and Restaurant.

“You know, I grew up going to SM. Laking SM ako e (I grew up with SM). That’s why we were very thankful when they gave us the award notice. If it weren’t for SM, we wouldn’t be able to support this dream,” she said in an SM press release after the mall opened in October 2023. 

SM’s mall strategy is now focused on the regions which are now big contributors to the country’s economic growth. 

SM to open 5 new malls in 2024 as PH retail rebounds big

SM to open 5 new malls in 2024 as PH retail rebounds big

With its 24 malls in the National Capital Region, SM Prime says these cover almost all the key cities and they account for 41% of the company’s total gross floor area. 

“SM Prime Holding’s mall expansion is geared towards the provinces. The focus is to cover most of Northern Luzon, Visayas, and the progressive cities in Mindanao,” SM Prime said in its first quarter 2024 report on May 10. 

“The regions are providing a lot of growth potential for all of our businesses as we continue to expand in many underserved areas,” Frederic DyBuncio, president and chief executive officer of SM Investments Corporation, said in a press release last February. –


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Isagani de Castro Jr.

Before he joined Rappler as senior desk editor, Isagani de Castro Jr. was longest-serving editor in chief of ABS-CBN News online. He had reported for the investigative magazine Newsbreak, Asahi Shimbun Manila, and Business Day. He has written chapters for books on politics, international relations, and civil society.