From Bicol to Manila: How Biggs made it big
MANILA, Philippines – The clamor for Bicol's famous Bigg's diner to open in Metro Manila was undeniable, but one not so familiar with the region's biggest food chain might wonder: What's the big deal?
For those from Bicol, Bigg's is a classic, famous for their fried chicken, ribs, burgers, regional dishes, and big servings.
Fast forward 36 years later, and the fast casual restaurant has grown exponentially in Bicol since then, but is now taking over Metro Manila with a new name: Biggs. (READ: Menu, prices: Bicol's Biggs is now in Metro Manila)
Rappler talked to Biggs CEO Carlo Buenaflor, the son of one of the 3 first owners of Bigg's in Bicol, about the food chain's journey – from a humble stall in Bicol to a busy spot in SM City Fairview, Metro Manila.
It all began in Naga in 1983.
"This was started by my mom and and her two friends. At the time, they were poking fun at McDonald’s, so they named their first store 'Mang Donald’s,' the origin of Bigg’s," Carlo said.
Back then, it was still typical fast food fare being served – hamburgers, fries, and hotdogs. There were no commercial fast food restaurants at the time, so Bigg's easily filled that void in the province.
However, in 1990, McDonald's made its first appearance in Bicol, and the company urged Mang Donald's to change their name, due to copyright reasons. It then became "Carl’s Diner."
"The three owners all have sons of the same name – Carlos, Carlo, Carl. That was the common denominator, so they used it," he said. But then Carls Jr. came in a year after that, so a change was required, again.
It was in the mid 90s that Bigg's Diner was officially coined. So, why Bigg's?
Bigger is better
"One thing that made us really stand out was the portion sizing of our meals," Carlo said.
"We do big servings. We were still at the fast food price point, but with an elevated, themed diner experience – complete with the neon lights and diner paraphernalia."
According to Carlo, this became a "no-brainer" to their customers.
"Sure they had to pay a little more than Jollibee, but they got so much more in return. They got value," he added.
Comfort as a concept
Bigg's success can be attributed to the owners' business accumen. "Our branches in Bicol would shift to stand-alones, to malls, we'd open, close, depending on the market," Carlo explained.
What would stay the same, however, was the concept: not necessarily Bicolano food, but comfort food.
"What could be more comfort food than fried chicken and spaghetti for Filipinos?" Carlo said.
Adding to their edge is the diversity of their Bicol menu – aside from their core Western dishes, like their best-selling ribs, chicken, and burgers, regional Bicolano dishes like laing are also served.
The Manila move
"There has always been clamor for us to go to Manila for years, but we’ve been holding on," Carlo said.
Bigg's was clear on having two conditions met before making the Manila move: the right location and the right time. "We really wanted this mall, because it’s one of the top 5 SM malls in Metro Manila. It's a strong mall with foot traffic. So, we waited until a space turned up," he said. They waited around a year and half.
Once SM Fairview expanded and rezoned, opening more spaces, Bigg's immediately grabbed the opportunity to expand, too. To Carlo, right now was also the right time to introduce Bigg's chicken to the hungry Manila crowd.
"Apart from the clamor, our chicken is our number one product. We think it’s different enough from what's being offered right now. It's got that distinct Pinoy taste. Our flavor is very Filipino, so we think it has a good chance to stand against others," Carlo said.
Another advantage Bigg's believes it has is that it's not fine dining, but not fast food either – it's "fast casual," which means that they're more expensive than fast food, making them a decent, not-too-expensive upgrade from your regular meals.
"We hoped to somehow replicate that here in Manila," Carlo added.
However, some Bigg's regulars may notice the streamlined Manila menu, with around 50% of the original variety gone – sorry folks, but no laing, silog meals, and arroz caldo just yet.
"We wanted to just offer our best-sellers for many reasons – we wanted to be efficient, since people in Manila don't like to wait," Carlo explained.
"We want the kitchen to be good at churning out food fast, and we want consistency. It's hard to be consistent when there's so many things on your menu," he added.
Carlo didn't dismiss the possiblity of adding items to the Manila menu, though. "We'll see later on, if more people want some of our Bicol favorites to be introduced here, then we’ll do it slowly," he said.
The future of Bigg's
Any plans of expanding to different areas of Metro Manila? "Since we already started, we have to," Carlo said.
"The next step is to look for other lcoations, maybe somewhere closer to the Makati, Quezon City areas. But we'd like to get traction here first," he added – which doesn't seem like to be a problem so far.
"It's tempting to do Bicol-Western fusion here, but we want to stick to the basics," Carlo said. After all, keeping it simple yet premium is what has kept Bigg's power alive for decades.
"We're good food, not fast food," Carlo said. – Rappler.com
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