MANILA, Philippines – Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the food scene in Poblacion, Makati City, billed as one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Metro Manila, was vibrant. It was packed with visitors who wanted to enjoy great food, music, and company, especially in the evenings and on weekends.
No wonder establishments in that part of the business district known as the “Center for Food and Culture” experienced challenges that were “mostly good problems for a business”.
NoKal, a bar-restaurant created in 2017, is one of them.
“We were a fairly popular nightclub so crowd control was an issue. We also had some theft or security issues that we dealt with on an ongoing basis, ”said Marco Viray, Managing Partner of NoKal in an interview with Philstar.com.
However, in March 2020, it faced new challenges after the national government placed the country under enhanced community quarantine, the most stringent lockdown phase, due to coronavirus threats.
The Interagency Working Group for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) then stated that only private establishments providing basic activities related to the production of food and drugs, including preparation and delivery services food, will be opened.
Food establishments were allowed to operate, but the IATF-EID memorandum dated March 16 of last year stated that “management must ensure a strict skeletal workforce to support operations as well as social distancing measures “.
It started with confinement
This time, NoKal was no longer dealing with crowd control or the pre-pandemic business issues its management was used to. Instead, he struggled with footless traffic. There was an alcohol ban and curfew in place and the bar and restaurant also abruptly changed their day-to-day operations from 50 employees to a skeletal workforce.
All the changes brought about by the lockdown then took their toll on the food company and its employees, but NoKal did what it could to survive.
When meals were allowed at a limited capacity of 30% in June of last year, they opened their doors to the public. They have implemented health and safety measures such as disinfection, physical distancing, cashless transactions, putting up plastic barriers, among others.
The bar-restaurant has also tried to innovate to boost its sales.
“We tried to adapt and offer food delivery. We were primarily a bar or club, so most of our sales came from alcohol. As a bar, we cannot operate continuously, regardless of the different phases, ”said Viray.
But, in addition to those limitations, he said the demand to pay the rent in full left NoKal with no choice but to leave the premise their lease is tied to.
“Unfortunately our landlord was very adamant about being paid in full for the rent. We did not receive any kind of concessions or discounts so we decided to close,” said the managing partner. .
Viray hoped the government would give them government reprieve, but there was none.
At the end of July 2020, it was with a heavy heart that NoKal announced that it had decided to close its beloved establishment.
“We would like to thank everyone who supports our house. Nokal is what he is thanks to the people who come to support him. Our success as a business in this industry is directly linked to the community that has been built by our home, The LokalsOfNokal, ”reads the announcement of the bar and restaurant closure.
“For the past 3 years we have operated in Poblacion, we have been welcomed with open arms. In the neighborhood, the success of one is the success of all. We would like to thank the business community for their continued support and wish everyone at Poblacion the best as they go through this pandemic, Poblacion will always be our home, ”he added.
NoKal is just one of the countless victims of the COVID-19 pandemic in food establishments, not only in Poblacion and the Philippines, but also around the world.
In Metro Manila alone, dozens of restaurants large and small, affected by the health crisis and containment, have been forced to cease their activities.
Facebook timelines were inundated with farewell messages to internet users’ beloved restaurants, almost like a virtual obituary.
Today x Future
Among the first establishments to announce their closure in June last year was Araneta City’s hole-in-the-wall nightclub, Quezon City, Today x Future, considered one of “Manila’s LGBT places.”
“Today, x Future is closing. After long days and nights of deliberation, wrestling options, and far too much alcohol to dampen the emotion, we are left with the decision to say goodbye. We would have been 12 years old, but alas, the uncertainty made things incredibly difficult, ”said the restaurant-bar.
Shangri-la Finest Chinese cuisine restaurant
The following month, even the longtime Shangri-la Finest Chinese Cuisine restaurant in Quezon City was not spared the wrath of the COVID-19 pandemic and also had to bow after 37 long years of service and development. ‘exploitation.
Iconic Times Street restaurant West Triangle officially closed on July 31 of last year.
“We consider it a distinct privilege to have been one of the many milestones and other special moments celebrated at Shangri-La with your family, friends and loved ones over these years,” he added.
This was followed by another closure of a popular resto-bar, Route 196, in Katipunan, Quezon City in August.
Dubbed one of the metro’s iconic concert halls, the 15-year-old bar is famous for allowing artists to perform their songs live and is known to be the first audience for today’s biggest musicians and bands.
“Alas, we’re at the end of the road for Route 196. We might be heading in a different direction right now, but we wanted to make sure that you still have something to remind you of our wild ride together, the things that we have learned. , the noise we made, the rules we broke and the friends we met along the way, ”read the August 23, 2020 announcement.
The string of restaurant closures did not end in 2020 with the continued evolution of government-imposed closures in Metro Manila.
In May 2021, another bar and restaurant, Tomato Kick, along Malingap Street in Quezon City was mourned by its customers after announcing it would take its last orders on May 21.
Unlike other dining establishments that have closed, this student-favorite resto-bar hasn’t made any formal announcements. The announcement of her closure just circulated on social media platforms and the next thing we know is that she announced that she will be hosting a benefit concert to help her employees before they finally do. their farewells.
“It’s about helping support employees who are facing one of the greatest challenges of their lives due to the loss of their livelihood. Any amount will be greatly appreciated, ”says the invitation to the event.
Local bands and artists such as Miles Experience, Ang Bandang Shirley, Urbandub, Moonstar88, among others, participated in the benefit.
The on-site or take-out restaurant, merchandising and online fundraiser was successful and managed to raise P 207,993.16 for beloved employees.
The chocolate kiss coffee
Outside of these resto-bars, the latest victim of the COVID-19 pandemic was The Chocolate Kiss, a local coffee shop famous for its cakes. It closed its flagship branch at the University of the Philippines-Diliman in August of last year. She continued her business by picking up and taking out at her commissary in Fairview, Quezon City.
However, in June of this year the hobby turned “aside” and later a cafe, announced that it would no longer be selling its cakes, and closed permanently on June 22.
“The last year of navigating through the blocks has been quite exciting, but unfortunately not sustainable, which prompted us to slow things down,” read her Facebook post.
“[On] on behalf of everyone who was part of the The Chocolate Kiss family, we thank you for making us part of your celebrations and your lives. We have built so many great memories over the years, and we only want to leave you with happy thoughts, ”the cafe wrote.
Damage to the F&B industry
Labor group Defend Jobs Philippines said the March 2020 lockdown affected around 80% of food establishments while the rest managed to recover.
However, there were also successive blockages declared by the national government until September of this year.
In light of this, RestoPH, an association that supports Filipino restaurants and their employees to ensure they survive the worst crisis of our lives, said there was no data available yet on the number food establishments affected by the pandemic.
However, its chairman Eric Teng said Philstar.com that the group hopes there will be fewer casualties this year.
For Teng, the recovery of the food industry will be a long-term and constant process, but with the easing of restrictions in Manila, the catering group is optimistic.
Teng cited the “peaks and valleys due to potential new variants and government responses to these scenarios.”
The National Capital Region is currently under Alert Level 2 of the more relaxed general community quarantine allowing half the seating capacity inside a restaurant and 70% of its seating capacity outside .
More food establishments are slowly opening and welcoming customers despite persistent threats from COVID-19.
“But we’re confident we can start thinking and planning for recovery every day,” Teng said in an online interview with Philstar.com.
Despite these developments, restaurants that have closed like NoKal, are still reeling from their losses and do not want to reopen yet.
Until then, these business leaders affected by the pandemic are waiting for the health crisis to subside and for restaurant meals to be frequented again by the majority before deciding to reopen if the opportunity presents itself again.
“Right now our main priority is to get back to where it is now and when the time comes we may be able to consider [reopening]», Concluded Viray from NoKal.