Updated 18:07 PM PHT Wed, March 8, 2017
Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — For more than 70 years, Harry’s Cafe De Wheels’ reputation has been the “home of Sydney’s best pie." Before being classified by the National Trust of Australia as a “quintessential Sydney icon,” Harry’s Cafe was once a mobile caravan set up by Harry Edwards near the front gates of the naval dockyard in Woolloomooloo.
Amid the misery of the Great Depression, Edwards, with his caravan cafe, served hot and fresh “pies n’ peas” to sailors, soldiers, and cabbies looking for a late-night good eat.
Today, Harry’s Cafe has branches all over Australia, and now, in the Philippines.
In 2011, Dara Bautista Uy was studying her masters in the University of Sydney. In front of the university, she would see a Harry’s Cafe cart, surrounded with many Australians everyday, eager to get their favorite brand of pie. It was a curious sight, and when Dara got back home to Manila, she told her husband, Emman Uy, “There's this brand, Harry’s Cafe De Wheels, and it's very strong in Australia. It’s an icon there, and everybody goes to the store to have snacks or lunch. Maybe you wanna try it for the Philippines.”
And so, Emman went to Australia to check the pie shop out for himself. For a year, he studied everything about Harry’s Cafe — the market, its products, among others. It wasn’t long before he was able to speak with the Australian owner, and seal a deal for a Philippine franchise. Together with his sister, Star Uy, he trained in the Australian stores. The siblings, both Filipino-Chinese entrepreneurs, studied how to bake the pies, and how to prepare and assemble the rest of Harry’s food repertoire.
Now, Emman is the president of Harry’s Cafe Inc. Philippines, while Star serves as its director. They were able to open Harry’s first Metro Manila branch in Uptown Mall in Fort Bonifacio.
When asked what drove her and Emman to bring Harry’s to Manila, Star answers, ”I think the Philippines is ready for something different, since we're all for chicken, and some of the products here are very common, like hotdogs and rice meals. So we said, maybe, the Philippines is already ready for the market of pies.”
Star could be right that the Filipino fried chicken sensibility is ready to expand to different tastes. Even Colonel Sanders, the chicken king, might just agree.
In 1974, Sanders was able to try Harry’s in Sydney and it was even said that he enjoyed the food so much that he ate three pies while leaning on his walking stick in front of the caravan. But Star still acknowledges her love for chicken, which is fortunately part of Harry’s menu.
Aside from the pies, her favorites are the chicken poppers. “It's easy to eat, it comes with chippy chips. Chippy chips are our seasoned and fried potato wedges.”
At Harry’s, the pies are freshly baked everyday. Their Tiger Chili pie is topped with mashed potato, mushy peas, and chili con, while their original classic beef pie is packed with Australian meat filling. Among their other imported products is their Alaska pollock fish. “The hotdogs are also imported,” Star adds. “They are made especially for us. The ingredients are made especially for Harry's, so you can go anywhere and you're not gonna taste the same hotdog.”
Star prides in the restaurant’s capacity in balancing quick service, food freshness, and affordability. “Everything is cooked and prepared as for your order. We [also] brew our teas fresh everyday,” she says. “You get all the healthy food and the freshest ingredients, you get good service, and a pleasing staff. You get all that for a very reasonable price.”
Harry’s almost casual, straightforward approach in serving food also reflects in its interiors. Its classic diner look is an homage to its past, and its slightly tight yet comfy store setup alludes to Harry’s caravan tradition. The design and arrangement, says Star, are partly orchestrated by their family’s traditional Chinese practices.
“Everything is incorporated in the feng shui of the store,” she says. “[For] the movement of the store inside, everything should be smooth-flowing and the equipment [should not be] against each other's energies.”
Harry’s Cafe has big plans for 2017. This year, Star and her team plan to open five more branches in Manila — two of which will be in kiosks in movie houses. And in June of this year, she says, they will be joining the world branches to officially launch the [Manila] franchise for Harry's.