24 going on 25
Looks to open more branches in Vis-Min and Luzon
By Mike Baños
On December 8, 1998, three fresh graduates from the pioneer class of the Center for Culinary Arts (CCA) in Manila introduced the first truly intercontinental menu to Cagayan de Oro along Archbishop Hayes street, in an area known as Havelano Square.
On September 8, 2023 it reopened its expanded third branch at SM CDO City Uptown. This originally opened in 2003, just a year after the SM Uptown itself opened to the public.
Bigby’s Cafe circa 1998 along Archbishop Hayes St.
The baby of couple Henrik Kelly and Joanna Cris Lim-Yu, and their BFF Catherine Genabe-Gudito, Bigby’s Café and Restaurant (better known as plain Bigby’s) now has 20 branches in the Mindanao-Visayas area including Cebu, Bacolod, Davao, Iloilo, Zamboanga, General Santos, Butuan, Ormoc, Bohol, and will soon be opening their 21st branch in Tacloban.
With their then slogan More Flavors to Your World, Bigby’s expanded the local restaurant market to families, young urban professionals and businessmen with its “fun dining” ambience with wittingly named dishes and trademark “global” mementos.
“The concept is still travel, one of our passions is traveling outside the country to experience foreign dishes and bring them back to our stores,” said Henrik, better known to his friends as Doy .
His life partner Joanna (Ann to friends) said while the concept remains the same, the looks of Bigby’s branches have evolved over the years in partnership with renowned Kagay-anon Architect and Interior Designer Edwin Uy who has retained its warm, welcoming look.
“Our menu has likewise retained a lot of its original and now classic favorites such as Rack-a-Bye Baby, Chix Ahoy, Grilled Rodeo Chops, Tapa Bai, Chicken in a Basket, Tiki Wacky Salad,” said Ann. “They may have changed in presentation but are essentially still the same.”
How the first Bigby’s Cafe interior looked like.
Back in 1998, Cagayan de Oro had no upscale restaurant with an intercontinental culinary tradition to speak of, and the three partners were determined to change that.
They were drawn to the idea of serving a variety of internationally famous cuisine with big servings at value for money prices.
The menu, design and service style were created to bridge the gap between fine dining and fast-casual dining which has become the hallmark of the Bigby’s Cafe Restaurant system.
“To keep our customers happy, we periodically revamp our menu with new seasonal menu offerings 3 times a year and do a complete overhaul every 2 years,” Ann noted.
Over the years, the partners have expanded their brand offerings beyond Bigby’s to address specific niches as the market in Cagayan de Oro and other areas became more urban, discriminating, and sophisticated.
“We have professionalized the management of our multi-brands with professional managers and specific chefs for specific brands,” Ann said. “While we collaborate with our experienced chefs on menu development, we set the directions to make our innovations fresh and continuing throughout the year, as an integral part of our operations.”
This has elicited an encouraging response from Bigby’s habitués even in areas where they have newly opened.
(Left to right) Sonjie Ang, Catherine Genabe-Gudito, Joanna & Henrik Yu.
“The response has been very positive,” Doy notes. “That’s because people are already familiar with Bigby’s from Cebu and other areas, it’s a welcome thing for them, and they have been very happy to welcome us to their hometowns.
The response from expats and foreign visitors in Cebu, Ormoc, Bohol where there’s a lot of tourists coming in, have likewise been very positive.
Bigby’s would focus on opening new branches in the Mindanao-Visayas area over the next five years to avail of what the partners observe as “a lot of opportunities,” which would be easier to monitor consider their proximity to Cagayan de Oro.
“There’s a new SM Mall opening soon in Zamboanga, and we see a lot of opportunities in different areas of Cebu outside the malls,” Doy remarks. He also mentioned Iligan, and did a recent site visit to Robinson’s Pagadian.
Although Bigby’s previously had branches in the Mall of Asia and SM Megamall, the partners eventually decided to let their leases in the two areas lapse since there was no one available to oversee their Manila operations.
However, the rest of Luzon outside Metro Manila also offers a lot of potential, and they would consider interested franchisees from these areas.
“We would also consider opening new branches in a Mall, though these may not necessarily be in SM,” Ann said. “However, we value our collaboration with the SM Brand because they really work hard to bring up the sales of everybody in the mall.”
But before we go, a tad bit of history on the salad days of Bigby’s when they were just starting off.
In the early 1990s when night life and upscale culinary establishments in Cagayan de Oro were still in their nascent stage, a group of young entrepreneurs opened restos, cafes and bars which were located near historic Plaza Divisoria (the old commercial quarter of the city) approximately within a quadrangle framed by the Hayes, Velez, Abejuela and Capistrano streets, hence coining the moniker Havelano Square.
Among these were the X-Site music lounge (later Pulse Live Music Venue), Picasso Piano Bar of Dynasty Hotel, and Butcher’s Best.
Besides offering a wide variety of menus previously not seen in the city, the facilities themselves were modern, upscale, and spoke of the growing reputation of Cagayan de Oro as the capital city of Northern Mindanao on the cusp of an economic boom.
Through the years, some of the core establishments of Havelano Square changed ownership, changed locations, but the number of restos, bars and fast food establishments has multiplied four-fold, and have spilled over the neighboring streets as well of the original quadrangle.
Some of its later establishments were Sentro 1850, Park Café, Inilog Grill, Bo’s Coffee, Club Mojo, D’Sainte Piano Bar, Brewberry Café, Vienna Kaffehaus, La Tegola Italian Restaurant, and Gazebo Café.
A quarter of a century since its inception, Havelano Square remains a happy venue for Kagay-anons and visitors alike, though few of the younger generation know of its origins, or the people who once came together to give the City of Golden Friendship its first taste of intercontinental cuisine and a vibrant nightlife.