Boxing legend and former presidential candidate Manny Pacquiao teamed up with a 38-year-old restaurateur to bring the best Filipino dishes to the global scene.
“Senator Pacquiao believes in our vision and mission. We would like to enhance people’s lives and at the same time bring the Filipino cuisine to the international market,” Jefferson Cayetano Catimbang, the founder and chief executive of Maharlika Pilipinas Restaurant, says in an interview.
Catimbang and his team are scouting for the best location of the first MP Restaurant overseas in Los Angeles, which would be followed by stores in Dubai and Singapore.
The restaurant will showcase not only modern Filipino cuisines, but also the country’s culture and talents as exemplified by Pacquiao’s feats in the boxing arena. Pacquiao agreed to become a partner and lend his paraphernalia for the restaurant’s marketing and promotion.
“We also aim to become a sort of tourist destination,” says Catimbang, who operates the Maharlika Pilipinas Hotel, Restaurant, Spa and Events Place in Alfonso, Cavite.
Catimbang says “Maharlika”, a word that describes Filipino nobility, aptly encapsulates their mission of showcasing the best of Filipino dishes, culture, and talents.
The second Maharlika Pilipinas restaurant in the Philippines will rise in Quezon City.
Catimbang says they are in talks with three well-known Filipino chefs to lead the first international branch of MP in Los Angeles and with a culinary school for the preparation of the menu.
“Before we launch internationally, we make sure we have the best team, and we have the best kitchen. We will be bringing the best dishes from the Philippines. We aim to make our foreign customers say ‘wow’, once they taste our food,” he says.
He says the plan is to establish an all-around restaurant, cafe and bar serving breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as wine and whisky. It will also have a conference room for events and gatherings.
Catimbang, who is also the master franchisor of Babaylan Spa and a co-founder of Tribu Babaylan Restaurant in Quezon City, says they will hire Filipino talents, including dancers and musicians as performers and beauty titlists as receptionists in the first LA restaurant.
Catimbang who studied Marketing at the Far Eastern University worked as a medical representative at United Laboratories Inc. before venturing into business. “There, I definitely learned and met a lot of people. Through all these undertakings, I slowly saw facets of my persona taking shape,” he says.
“During my first year in the corporate world, I suddenly fell in love, immediately got married, and put up a family of my own. In all my endeavors, my parents and family were very supportive. My family became my ultimate inspiration, and I decided to focus more on business,” he says.
“I put up a bar, coffee shop, food carts in the university belt area. This was replaced by a laundry shop that boomed. When I was assigned in Palawan, it was there that I realized how truly beautiful the Philippines is. I admire the beautifully-crafted products from its many artisans,” says Catimbang.
“Being in sales, starting up a new family and putting up a business is absolutely stressful. That’s why my wife and I decided to put up a spa business. Hence, Babaylan Spa was born. It is a Filipino-themed spa that promotes the indigenous ‘hilot’ massage,” says Catimbang.
With the success of the first Sampaloc branch, he opened another in Quezon City. The spa concept grew and expanded to Cebu, Palawan, Cavite and Davao. It was rebranded B Spa and later as Tribu Babaylan—a spa, bar, and restaurant concept in one.
Then the pandemic disrupted the services sector, including Catimbang’s spa, hotel and restaurant businesses.
The first Maharlika Pilipinas restaurant is located at a hotel bearing the same name in Alfonso, Cavite. The one-hectare property has a magnificent view of Taal Lake.
Among the dishes served in the restaurant are chicken pyanggang from the Tausug tribe, poqui poqui pie from Ilocos, bacon bagnet from Ilocos, sizzling sisig, bulalo and bangus ala pobre. Catimbang says they will add more dishes from different provinces to provide a complete representation of Filipino cuisine for the international market.
Catimbang says they had to be creative to sustain the hotel and restaurant’s operations despite the pandemic.
“So instead of our commissary inventory going to waste, we cooked meals for frontliners. In turn, this gave us an opportunity for patronage from frontliners who loved our food. So food delivery was made possible. This is one scenario where adversity provided opportunity,” he says.
“Our employees are long-staying. They’ve been with us even during the height of the pandemic. It’s hard to find loyal employees to work for you. During this trying time, I had to talk to our loyal partners to hold on and wait for the sunshine after the rain,” says Catimbang.
“Luckily, I’ve met Sen. Manny Pacquiao. We’re able to convince him to join and be part of our company. But the process of formalizing the agreement took a year doing the rounds of legalities,” he says.
Catimbang says he first met Pacquiao during a billiards game. When invited by the senator to play pool in General Santos City, he did not think twice and flew to Mindanao. That is where he broached his business proposal, which Pacquiao turned over to his team of legal and business consultants.
The business proposal had to wait because of the pandemic and Pacquiao’s presidential campaign. It was only after the election period that the proposal was revived.
Catimbang says Pacquiao’s patriotism and business knowhow helped develop the concept for Maharlika Pilipinas.
“As per suggestion by the senator and the people’s champion, replacing Tribu Babaylan as its new business brand and concept, Maharlika Pilipinas or MP encompasses everything good about the Philippines and its people,” says Catimbang.
“The Maharlika Pilipinas project is a holistic concept that will encapsulate the Filipino acumen by showcasing the very best of its natural and man-made wonders and thereby bring the Pinoy identity to greater heights,” he says.