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How a former dishwasher put up a dozen restaurants

Albert Alavera washed dishes at a pizza shop as a university student in Manila in the early 1980s
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Albert Alavera washed dishes at a pizza shop as a university student in Manila in the early 1980s. Determined and hardworking, he climbed his way up over the next decade, from a service crewmember to a management position. After leaving the US pizza chain as the vice president for operations in the Philippines in the mid 1990s, he teamed up with a bakeshop operator in 1999 to form a restaurant company that now has more than a dozen stores and 800 people on its payroll.

Alavera, the managing director of Specialty Restaurants Inc., says the hardship he experienced in the early stage of his career in the food sector pushed him to work harder to achieve his dream. “What I can say to new entrepreneurs is to give your best with what you’re doing and spend time and lots of hard work in pursuing your dreams. There may be hardships and failures but it’s part of the game. You won’t be a successful entrepreneur if you don’t experience failure. As they say it, when you’re down, there’s no way but up,” he says in an e-mail interview.

Specialty Restaurants Inc. managing director Albert Alavera

From his dishwashing experience in 1984, Alavera moved on to acquire new skills and earned a degree in Marketing Management from the University of the East. He then took culinary courses in various parts of the globe. He studied in Singapore, New Orleans, Barcelona and London, honing his skills as a restaurateur and entrepreneur.

He also watched a lot of cooking shows, even before there were 24-hour culinary programs on cable television. “I’m an avid fan of cooking shows and get inspirations from the cooking tradition of American, Spanish, Italian, French and Filipino,” says Alavera, who is still single.

Specialty Restaurants Inc., which was established by Alavera and Quezon City-based entrepreneur Maria Teresa Santos Rodriguez in 1999, is the company behind successful American-themed restaurant chains Burgoo and Gumbo.

In 1995, Alavera went to the United States for a vacation with an aunt. It was in the US where he met Rodriguez, who was operating a small bakeshop in Kamuning, Quezon City. Sharing a common interest in New Orleans cuisine, the two talked about introducing American-themed restaurants in the Philippines—an idea that came true in April 1999 with the establishment of their first restaurant in Quezon City.

“My partnership with her [Rodriguez] as an industrial partner and managing director started way back 1997 when I was in the United States vacationing with my aunt,” Alavera recalls.

The business partners decided to open their first restaurant along Tomas Morato extension in Quezon City, naming it Burgoo, after the American stew that originated in Kentucky in the 17th Century. Burgoo Restaurant helped revive the dining scene in the Tomas Morato area.

The family restaurant focused on offering New Orleans cuisines, with strong attention to service, food quality, cleanliness and value-for-money. The chain also popularized the Care service, which means “customers are always recognized with extra-special attention.”

Rodriguez heads Specialty Restaurants Inc. as president and chief executive while Alavera serves as the managing director. The company will celebrate its 17th year in business in March 2016. “We have close to 800 employees including management staff,” says Alavera.

Alavera describes Burgoo as a “casual dining restaurant that offers American food in a family oriented setting.”

Burgoo has nearly 70 menu items and 40 drink or beverage concoctions. Alavera says its best sellers are seafood Caesar supreme, supreme sampler, shrimps and ribs platter, seafood Jambalaya as well as stone baked pizzas, pasta, chicken, seafood and steaks.

From the first store in Quezon City, Burgoo has spread across Metro Manila and Southern Luzon. “We have 13 branches all situated in Metro Manila and nearby provinces like Cavite and Laguna,” says Alavera.

Burgoo has recently opened a branch at the cinema level of Solenad 3 in Nuvali complex in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.

Burgoo outlets have undergone renovations to keep up with the evolving taste of the dinning public. The eclectic and New York-inspired designs—the trademark of Burgoo were created by interior designer Grace Milan of GMM Design.

Alavera says he is optimistic about Burgoo’s expansion. “We see 2016 as a better year compared to 2015,” he says, noting that sales in January 2016 spiked with a double-digit growth over January 2015.

“Competition is high and so many international brands are coming, but we believe our brand will stand straight because we never take it lightly and we continuously offer new menu items and always improve guest satisfaction,” he says.

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Editorial Team
Editorial Team
Keeping a pulse on Asia's aspiring and leading entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurs Asia editorial team brings readers the latest news, interviews, events and other resources that matter.
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