Cebu’s big brother is here to stay

posted December 11, 2016 at 06:30 pm
by  Joyce Babe Pañares
It would not be a stretch of the imagination to say that homegrown restaurant Kuya J is one of the fastest growing casual diners in the country.

It has come a long way from the time it opened its first branch on Escario St. in Cebu in 2013. Kuya J launched Wednesday last week its 60th branch at the newly inaugurated SM City East Ortigas in Pasig City. That’s an increase of more than 200 percent from only 18 branches in 2015.

But Winglip Chang, president and chief executive officer of iKitchen, the company behind Kuya J, is not one to rest on his laurels. Strike while the iron is hot, he said, and he is indeed on a scorching winning streak.

Grilled scallops brought in from Cebu
With less than three weeks to go before the country ushers in an intense Year of the Fire Rooster, Chang is opening 25 more Kuya J restaurants – or a mind-boggling feat of one new branch a day. And by the end of 2017, the Visayan restaurateur with the indomitable spirit plans to increase Kuya J’s branches to 200.

“We thank the public for supporting us. But we are not stopping yet,” Chang said. “The food industry is growing and the economy is growing, and we want to continue growing, too.”

The soft-spoken Chang said there is no secret ingredient to Kuya J’s success.

“The essence of Kuya J is you get good food and good service without costing you an arm and a leg,” he said.

The restaurant makes its own lumpia wrapper. The secret ingredient? Malunggay leaves to give it more flavor.
That passion for good Filipino food has translated into dishes that are not only affordable but are truly satisfying and priced reasonably as well. 

Its latest offering – the Kuya J roast chicken – is giving other chicken houses a run for their money with its flavorful skin and juicy meat, with no need for gravy or dip. The restaurant’s signature dishes: crispy pata, grilled scallops, bulalo, fresh lumpia, sisig, and kare-kare among others, remain fast moving items that have captured the taste and satisfied the cravings of Filipinos over the past three years. And in 2017, Kuya J will start serving Cebu’s iconic lechon belly, which, just like the roast chicken, is savory on its own without need for any sauce.

Passion and a good amount of luck, combined with constant innovation and a genuine desire to please customers, have contributed largely to Kuya J’s success.

Kuya J’s sinfully delicious crispy pata
To ensure consistency in the tenderness of the meat and the crispness of the skin of its crispy pata, Chang decided to buy computerized fryers at around P1 million each to improve quality and eliminate human error. The juiciness of Kuya J roast chicken was achieved using combination steamers imported from The Netherlands at almost half a million pesos per unit. 

The restaurant’s well-loved halo-halo uses shaved ice produced through a special machine from Taiwan, giving the proudly Filipino dessert a new twist. “The investment paid off: in the first month that we offered halo-halo, and only had 30 stores back then, we sold 100,000 orders,” Chang said.

Kuya J is also expanding its commissary in San Pedro, Laguna to ensure that the ingredients, especially those sourced from the provinces, remain fresh given the restaurant’s extensive menu with at least 78 items available every day. The scallops, for example are brought in from Cebu where these are blast frozen in the company’s commissary in the province before being shipped across the country.

Kuya J does not scrimp on its ingredients, including the heavenly bulalo bone marrow.
And because all 60 and counting branches are company-owned, Chang said their staff are given regular trainings to achieved consistent service, not to mention a courteous attitude toward customers.

Kuya J has indeed come a long way from the Ang Kan-anan ni Kuya J (The Eatery of Kuya J) carinderia in Cebu that made an impression on Chang more than a decade ago for serving delicious dishes consistently. He bought the hole-in-the-wall joint when the original owner migrated to Canada, and decided to retain the name when he transformed it into a casual dining restaurant.

Halo-halo with a twist: the shaved ice gives the dessert an ice cream-like texture.
“We may have innovated in terms of technology and modernizing our processes, but we have remained true to our vision of what our food should be,” Chang said, adding in jest: “We offer Filipino dishes that your mother will cook for you, if she loves you.”

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Photos by Sonny Espiritu

Topics: Kuya J , Winglip Chang
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