Updated 19:43 PM PHT Tue, March 7, 2017
Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The Filipino-Chinese entrepreneur Linfred Yap currently has a ton of restaurants on his managerial plate. As the managing partner of the Relish Group, he oversees full-scale, inline restaurants located in malls. But Yap wanted to try a food hall concept that was more fresh and hip. “We wanted something youthful,” he says. And so a new addition to the restaurant group was born: Birdhouse, a fried chicken fusion shop in the middle of the Food Hall at the Uptown Mall at Fort Bonifacio.
The concept was driven by a love for fried chicken, most of all, and a desire to appeal to a younger crowd. Yap speaks of this strategy in a self-aware manner — “We wanted to make it ‘young and cool’ with a sort of ‘hip vibe.’” He cites the design elements and the typographical identity of the store. For him, it’s all about the little details. “If you check out the shirts of the staff, they say stuff like “Cluck off,” and “Cluck you” ... Our hashtag [for social media] is #FryBirdieFry. [There are] little things that make it cute and appealing.”
Birdhouse is “not your typical fried chicken,” says Yap, “it’s a mix of Asian and Western flavors.” As a way of letting loose from his earlier, more “serious” food brands, Yap and his team play around with various chicken sauce flavors: peach barbecue, green goddess, truffle ketchup, garlic ranch, and milk gravy.
Before these landed on the menu, Yap’s team experimented with more bizarre flavors. “We started with really out-there flavors, like crab fat caramel, which is salty and sweet, kind of like salted caramel,” he recalls. “But when we did a test, it was a little out there na for people, medyo too wild na. So we brought it down to a more acceptable level, something people are familiar with but [still with] a little twist.”
“Birdhouse is our most millennial concept, I would say,” he says, donning the same dry tone. But despite putting on a younger lens for the store’s conceptualization, Yap still finds it important to be flexible enough to an older crowd, in order to strike a balance. He turns to the greenery and the wooden birdhouses that decorate the column beside the counter. “I think we’re trying to find that right balance of being millennial but not too young that you alienate an older family crowd, which I think is the core dining market pa rin ... So trying to straddle that delicate balance.”
The chicken shop also balances cost and quality, making sure to offer something different and of a “premium” quality with a friendly price. Birdhouse’s prices start at ₱165 for a Barnyard A meal of chicken tenders, dirty rice, a sauce option, and crispy chicken skin on the side. The most expensive item is at ₱290, the salted egg lava chicken sandwich, in which the salted egg oozes out of the chicken patty in a bite.
Also one of Yap’s favorite menu items is the elote corn. “We use Kewpie to coat it up, and then we add paprika and several flavorings, and then we sort of torch it down with cheese. It’s like a Mexican corn that’s very salty and sweet.”
When asked if the menu will be expanded to include wilder items, Yap responds that soon, wings will be added, and more sauce flavors will be up for testing. He then enumerates their sauce ventures, which are more exotic than the ones on the current menu, but until their official release, the new flavor names remain in the testing room.
“Sometimes kasi I think you need something like that to catch the attention of people, just to pique their interest,” says Yap.
However, when asked for advice on how to do so, and on how to build one’s own successful “youthful” restaurant, Yap is at his most jaded.
“For me, honestly, today is such a bad time to be into the restaurant business. Honestly, ah. I think the market is sobrang saturated at this point. When we started seven years ago, it wasn’t this saturated. There weren’t as many malls, as many concepts. But lately it’s become very trendy to open a restaurant.”
In line with Filipino-Chinese traditions, it also might not be a good time to open a restaurant during what they call a “ghost month.” “It’s a Chinese thing talaga. Supposedly, during this period, all the ghosts of the underworld come out to play and they wreak havoc on the people of the normal world. It’s usually August-September,” explains Yap. “Personally, I don’t subscribe to it but my other partners do, so we cannot open, we cannot construct, we cannot make big decisions, we don’t make big purchases during ghost month.”
But he tries to be more hopeful, “If you’re really passionate about food and you’re willing to put in the hours, it might be worth exploring. It might be fun, the social interaction, interacting with customers, getting feedback, it’s a good business to be in as well. [But] I have to be honest that it’s not that easy operationally.”