Annie and Bagdie Guerrero recall the homegrown food brand’s 25 delicious years
In the 1990s, there were only a handful of restaurants along Katipunan Ave. in Quezon City that catered to the appetites of Ateneo de Manila, Miriam College and the University of the Philippines Diliman faculty and students, as well as the gated communities of Loyola Heights.
Besides fast food chains McDonald’s and Shakey’s Pizza, and the snack counters of Shoppersville grocery store, there was a casual dining bakeshop-cum-restaurant that served hot meals as well as takeout food for parties. It stood on the parking space of a construction site with handwritten menus and a makeshift signage with a witty signage that said “Cravings.”
Today—25 years later—that parking space eatery has turned into The Cravings Group (TCG), a proudly homegrown enterprise, which owns and runs 26 branches of the original brand as well as C2 Classic Cuisine, TCB (The Coffee Beanery), Lombardi’s, and most recently, Wicked by Cravings. Moreover, TCG also opened the country’s very first culinary school, the Center for Culinary Arts (CCA) Manila, and further ventured into the Asian School for Hospitality Arts (ASHA); including events venues C3 Events Place and Oceana; and hotel chains The Orange Place and Seven Suites Hotel Observatory.
Mother and daughter team Susana “Annie” Pascual-Guerrero and Marinela “Badjie” Guerrero-Trinidad are now celebrating two and a half decades of sweet success, still in disbelief that their passion for cooking has turned into a highly established company.
On October 2, over lunch at the Guerrero family home in La Vista, Katipunan, Quezon City, Annie and Badjie, nostalgically talked about the “blood, sweat and tears” they had shed in the lead up to this milestone.
One cannot tell the story of Cravings without looking into the history of its founder and president, Annie Guerrero. At an early age, she learned to cook from her mother who was a Home Economics teacher in University of the East and Arellano University. The Pascual matriarch would hold cooking lessons in their home during weekends, which automatically made a student out of her daughter.
“I’d always tag along during the cooking lessons so I was really exposed to them. We even had all the ingredients in our yard—we had a fishpond, poultry, and vegetables,” she recalled.
When she started a family of her own, Annie’s daughter Badjie also witnessed her mother’s passion for food, so much so that she took up baking as a hobby at a very early age.
“I started baking since I was in high school. I would always bring a Tupperware of lemon squares, but eventually I learned more from Mom,” shared the third generation foodie.
“But in the beginning, I would hide [my baking]from her because she was such a good cook!”
Badjie learned endless kitchen tricks from her talented mother, such as the “Master Mix” that flavors dishes in five minutes, as well as how to handle the freezer like a “bank account.”
“Mom says the freezer must be very organized and managed efficiently,” the proud daughter elaborated. “What I learned from her were things you don’t find in books but rather things that you need to experience.”
Much as Badjie wanted to go into the corporate world (she thought of her mother’s business as “hard labor”), she found the calling to pursue the delicious world of food, and joined her mom in building the Cravings brand.
In the beginning, this meant they would hie off to La Vista with half gallon orders of menudo, roast pork adobo and Annie’s best-selling chow mein for clients who would bring their own containers for their parties. Badjie, in turn, baked and sold her specialties like strawberry short cake, mocha praline, mango bars, chocolate revel, banana cupcake, cheese cupcake and ensaymada, among many others.
It was the historical Post-Edsa Election Day of 1987 that gave the Guerreros the idea of opening up an actual restaurant. They had an order of 8,000 pieces of packed lunches and it simply made sense to have their own establishment.
“Although we didn’t have the facilities and people to do it, we really planned [the huge order]out. We cured pork chops and peeled vegetables, and pulling it off what convinced us we could restaurant,” Annie said.
The following year, the first Cravings restaurant was born—an old house made of adobe on a parking lot in Katipunan, with their biggest investment inside, in the form of a French oven worth P250,000. Staffing comprised of two dishwashers, two bakers, two cooks and a handful of servers, who made students, teachers and residents around the area happily filled with delicious P30 meals and P18 cheesecakes to their growing patrons.
Mother and daughter attribute part of their success to their long-time “Chef Tito” whom they hired as a cook for the very first Cravings restaurant, and who worked for them until his death in 2003.
“He was the one who would hire employees. He said he didn’t have to interview applicants. Just by holding the knife or a ladle, he would know if they knew how to cook,” Annie touchingly shared.
Aside from Chef Tito, they also credit the Katipunan community for helping make Cravings what it is today because their comments truly helped build the brand. Besides being good cooks, the Guerreros are also very good listeners and doers.
“We didn’t even have a business plan!” Badgie remarked. “It was only three to four years after we opened that offers to go into huge malls came up and we realized we were getting big.”
Professionalizing the industry
Two years shy of their 20th anniversary, The Cravings Group was already in a position to give back, and opened the Center for Culinary Arts to help professionalize the industry.
“We had Canadian guests who were asking where Filipinos studied to become a chef, and all we could tell that was that we didn’t go to formal schools, and just learned through experience,” Badjie shared.
It occurred to them that a culinary school was what the industry needed so the Guerreros started from scratch. They applied for Tesda-accreditation only to realize there were no regulations for a culinary school since the Philippines never had one until CCA came into being.
They worked with UP professors and despite warnings that no one would pay tuition to study in a culinary school, CCA opened its doors to an impressive 50 students, and now have as many as 300 students studying to be food industry professional in a variety of courses.
Besides her prominence in the restaurant and hospitality industries, Annie is now also recognized as a book author and advocate of natural concepts. She is into “green chefmanship,” zero waste management, and self-sustaining food through home farming.
Only last May, Cravings became ISO-certified (International Organization for Standardization) and now recognized as the “greenest food service and hospitality enterprise” in the country.
“What we do is provide livelihood for communities, and oversee waste management. We also do a lot of training for green jobs,” Annie elaborated, rightly proud of her company’s green practices and sustainable operations.
“There is a law of consolidated waste management mandated for 13 years now and yet we hardly see it being followed. LGUs [local government units]nationwide should evaluate and assess waste management programs in their areas because by converting waste to resource, we are able to create simple, low-cost and local technologies.”
Devoting her entire life to food service and the hospitality industry, Badgie, on the other hand, has a clear view of the future.
“[The industry] is going to be more competitive, and there will be more emphasis on quality which is more important. This will be achieved through education and the availability of different tracks for students, because not everyone wants to work in the kitchen,” she elaborated. “At CCA we’re combining tracks now like food technology and culinary and nutrition. Even media is coming popular; entrepreneurship is expanding and growing to meet the demands of the market.”
Annie, for her part, is simply happy to have eight granddaughters and grandsons who all have “discriminating palates.” She is also proud of her successful children, Badgie’s siblings, who are comprised of a green chef-cum-farmer, an architect who designs some of the Cravings restaurants, and another restaurateur behind The Old Spaghetti House chain.
In the next 25 years, the younger Guerrero hopes to have “more brands with the same Cravings core concept of qualities. Annie, the mother of this success story, is doubtful she would live to see her fifth “child’s” golden anniversary, but when she feels ready to leave the hustle and bustle of the food industry, she sees herself farming good quality food she has known all her life.
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In celebration of Cravings 25th anniversary, the restaurant chain offers its patrons the ‘Silver Craving’ promotion of P250-plates and P25-coffee and cake combinations, as well as nostalgic recipes from 1988 onwards.