Before Shake Shack, before Salad Stop, before TWG Tea, before Starbucks and before East Cafe, there was the cozy, homegrown Benny’s.
Benny’s was that cozy restaurant right across Rustan’s Supermarket in Makati, where shoppers would enjoy their favorite Filipino comfort food.
Like other restaurants, it was closed during lockdown, but the good news is that Benny’s will reopen on Aug. 15, 2020, under a new name: Benny’s Place.
“We are giving Benny’s Place a different atmosphere without losing its core value, which is serving the clientele good, progressive Filipino dishes,” says Menchu Tantoco-Lopez.
Benny’s Place is a tribute to Ambassador Bienvenido Tantoco, the 99-year-old patriarch of the Tantoco family, who loves Filipino food and is fiercely proud of his beloved Bulacan hometown.
“Now that he is older, Dad has become a more picky eater,” says Menchu. “His all-time favorites are the Crispy Pla-Pla, Mustasa at Balaw-balaw, Fresh Lumpia and the classic Pancit Canton.”
Menchu’s daughter Maricar Lopez-Tiangco says, “We will have an awesomely curated menu when we reopen our doors. These include breakfast and brunch items like Tinapa, Eggs Benedict, and Giniling Omelet, to Bistek Pork Humba to Porketta Diniguan.”
For now, what Benny’s Place is offering is takeaway or delivery items. “As restaurants around in Metro Manila start to reopen, we are following the safety protocols for the sake of our staff and customers,” adds Maricar.
If the packaging of their takeaway looks neat and nice, making Benny’s Place a real extension of Rustan’s, credit Pam Gonzalez-Lopez for that. “We wanted to translate the takeaway packaging to the new vibe of Benny’s Place — cool and collected and still celebrating the star product, which is the food. But of course, our head chef Booj Supe will not only make sure the food is cooked well, but also oversee the proper plating of the food.
“We want the whole look and feel to be more relatable to the younger set, yet appeal to the whole family. The restaurant will serve comfort food all day long,” explains Pam.
“The new space will boast blue and green shades, blending with subtle Filipino elements like rattan and woven lighting fixtures. There will also be an art-piece metal carving of pastillas trimmings in the main area — an homage to Lolo Benny’s beloved Bulacan. The atmosphere will be fun, relaxed and very casual, reflecting the amiable, warm personality of Lolo Benny. The new space is designed by Maja Olivares.”
Menchu says the old restaurant Benny’s was established in 2012 from the original Yum Yum Tree! “We have evolved,” says Menchu. “The new Benny’s Place will open under my ownership.”
That the three generations of the Tantocos are into the food business as well as fashion retail is no surprise.
Much earlier than Benny’s, founder Glecy Tantoco opened La Fontanella restaurant inside Rustan’s Makati.
Nedy Tantoco, Rustan Commercial Corporation chairman, muses, “La Fontanella brings back memories of my mom’s first venture into food and her fondness for Italian cuisine, as well as for Italy.”
Maritess “Tokie” Tantoco-Enriquez says, “I must have been 10 years old at that time, but I remember that Rustan’s used to have in-store fashion shows at La Fontanella.” Pioneer designer Criselda Lontok remembers La Fontanella with pride and affection as well.
Glecy Tantoco surely showed her children that a good restaurant is part of a whole lifestyle store. Or empire, where food and fashion are inevitable components. Eating well is part of living well.
“Our start-up in the food industry has been kind to us,” adds Nedy.
Little wonder, too, that her visionary son, Stores Specialists Inc. (SSI) president Anton Huang, brought Shake Shack, Salad Stop and TWG Tea to the Philippines.
“When companies share their ethos and beliefs, they do things the right way. And here we are,” said Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti during the opening of Shake Shack in 2019. The opening shook the hamburger scene in Manila with its endless queues.
“Shake Shack will open its third branch and introduce Chicken Burger,” Nedy announces. “And Anton is bringing Crystal Jade in Central Square soon.”
Meanwhile, as Benny’s Place opens in August with a new look, old values will still be there.
Lolo Benny’s grandson, Rustan’s president Donnie Tantoco, says: “Bonding over really good food is important to Lolo Benny. He always talks about the food of his childhood. During taste tests, he would say, ‘Donnie, Filipino food is really the best... and I feel that the waiters really love their work and their customers. This is how it should be in the whole company. You must treat them like family.’”
Surely, the Tantocos have learned a lot from Lolo Benny. When Benny’s Place opens on Aug.15, it will really be Benny’s place.