Isla Sugbu Seafood City revives Visaya’s ‘triple threat’ in dining
There was a time when the traditional dining concept of “sutukil”—a Visayan wordplay on sugba (grill) grilled, tuwa (stew) and kilaw (raw seafood bathed in vinegar)—was reason enough for local tourists and foodies to travel to southern Philippines. The top destination to have sutukil was of course in Cebu, dubbed Queen City of the South, where sutukil rules in restaurants.
Unfortunately, issues of overpricing and sanitation, among others, resulted to the decline of sutukil.
But at its height, one of the famed sutukil restaurants in Lahug, Cebu was Seafood City. Established in 1989, it is unlike its competitors because it is fully air-conditioned and catering to the A market.
“The original interiors were like insides of an ocean liner, and waiters were in sailor outfits. We had you the show kitchen, you can see people cook inside, and it was done through the market type where you go through the display area and pick the food that you want and have it cooked the way you want it to be cooked,” owner Winglip Chang reminisced to members of the media who took to Cebu to experience the return of Seafood City.
Chang shared that the whole concept was successful until its untimely end in 2004. “We had to close down because we had issues with the place, with the parking space, among other things,” he explained.
A decade later, when the businessman’s company developed a one-hectare land into what is now called The Grand Convention Center of Cebu, they decided to reopen Seafood City.
“We believed that it could be a good restaurant to open because it was iconic, because people had very fond memories of Seafood City, and at the same time, Cebu being an island, people would really love to dine on seafood,” Chang said.
Now named “Isla Sugbu Seafood City,” the restaurant completes the food offerings inside Cebu Grand Con where Tsay Cheng, a Chinese restaurant, and Grand Majestic, a buffet restaurant operate just below the grand ballroom that can accommodate 1,000 people at the second floor of the center.
For its rebirth Seafood City dropped its original theme and went for subtler interiors.
“The inspiration [for interior design]came from this restaurant in Dubai which is fantastic—all the windows were open and overlooking the sea, something which we don’t have. We felt that the interiors were very inspiring so we decided to go that route and it turned out to be a good decision,” the businessman who also owns restaurant chain Kuya J in Metro Manila shared.
When asked why go the extra mile to design the restaurant, Chang offered, “Nowadays diners are very discriminating—you cannot put together chairs and tables and expect people to just like it. The details now are more intricate and also in execution. We want people to believe and to see that we are really doing our best to make sure that it’s done in the right way.”
As with development, food sourcing has also improved for the benefit of the food industry.
“Things have changed since the 20th century because the sourcing is much better now. Cebu actually doesn’t have a lot of seafood—the only seafood that we probably have here is the live pompano and shrimp but everything else is sourced,” Chang continued.
He further noted that they source their crabs from Samar, diwals from Roxas City, mantis ray from Leyte, and groupers from Bohol. The lobsters, meanwhile, come from Zamboanga and Palawan. What is set in place is that they make sure their offering is fresh every time so that, Chang revealed they keep their fish—the top seafood that can easily lose freshness—for only a limited time.
“Every two days, we take out the remaining fish on display, and we don’t sell them anymore. It goes either to employee’s meals or we turn them into fish balls so the fish is almost changed daily,” Chang added.
Another improvement they did for the reopened sutukil restaurant is on price range.
“Seafood City as it is very successful but it caters to the A crowd because of our price points. But many diners do not come here because of the price, concerned that it will burn a hole in their pockets. And so a lot of them also when they come to Cebu as visitors or as tourists tend to go these places in Mactan. We want that market to come to Cebu and experience Sutukil without that price concern,” Chang informed the media.
As solution, they decided to come up with sets for a fixed price. “Pag apat kayo [If there are four of you], P1,600, excluding the drinks, is exactly what you are going to pay for. There’s no price gauging. It doesn’t matter if you come in a suit or in short pants. You’ll always know exactly how much you are going to pay.”
In ending Chang said that in any of their company’s restaurants, they see to it that they show their “passion” as their trademark. “Essentially it’s always the passion of doing it right. We would like to stamp it as our standard. It’s a question of training people to embrace it. It’s a work in progress, it’s not something that’s perfect yet but we hope to continue improving and to be able to give the public what we really want them to experience.”
Island Sugbu Seafood City is located on the ground floor of The Grand Convention Center of Cebu, along Archbishop Reyes Avenue, Cebu City.