This article was originally written by Jap Tobias of Philstar Global
Published last March 2, 2023 | 9:39am on Philstar.com
MANILA, Philippines — Some like their Pinoy Tapa sweet, while others prefer it salty and spicy. The question “What makes a good ‘Pinoy Tapa” offers no definite answer because it is quite a matter of personal preference.
But for the Filipino restaurant icon Tapa King, the answer is quite simple. What makes a good Pinoy tapa, they say, is the comfort that you feel taking in tender beef pieces that taste just like home.
More specifically, “It is the aroma that fills the room as the food arrives. The tender beef pieces in just the right proportions, sunny side up egg that’s slightly crispy on the edges but with a yolk ready to be burst on top of a warm cup of garlic rice,” as written on the first page of its menu.
This is the experience Tapa King has always tried to offer its loyal customers since it opened its first hole-in-the-wall concept at Gallardo St., Makati, in July 1987, and has continually upheld it through the years, despite the ups-and-down brought by the ever-changing times.
Adapting to the times
At the launch of its newest branch with the first-ever casual-dining concept in the Philippines last February 17, Tapa King Chief Operating Officer Melodina Isaguirre shared some of the challenges their 35-year-old homegrown brand faced.
“When I joined the company in 2018, I felt like it is a good brand that feels a bit old,” Isaguirre told Philstar.com in an exclusive interview. “I don’t see any millennials taking photos and posting them online because the stores look outdated.”
While their premium imported tapa consistently tastes excellent and classic, she thought the brand stuck to what it was like in 1987 and has not kept up with the times. This challenge, she said, inspired them to rebrand and make it more appealing to the current generation.
To address the concern, Tapa King tapped into the expertise of Bluethumb, a branding design agency in 2019, to reimagine the old, classic Tapa King into a younger and more relatable dining spot.
The rebranding took a year and a half and was all smooth and ready to launch—until the pandemic happened and hurdled the supposed opening of Tapa King’s very first flagship store in Makati Ave.
This did not stop Tapa King.
A few months later, while so many restaurants and dining spots have been closing down, Tapa King, in June 2020, took a leap of faith and opened its flagship store amid the pandemic. In a surprising turnaround, the launch resulted in seven new franchisees that same year.
“Entrepreneurs believed there was an opportunity in Tapa King because it grows amid the pandemic, while other food brands were closing down. That success led to the opening of our first rebranded store in Avire Tower in Scout Lakandula, Quezon City and then everything else happened after that,” Isaguirre enthused.
Pinoy Bisita Hospitality: The new era for Tapa King
So, what is the new, revamped Tapa King? According to Isaguirre, Tapa King today gives you respite from the hustle of the metro.
The reimagined design uses wood and burlap textures for a rural vibe mixed with contemporary fixtures that keep it fresh. Different tones of yellows and browns give warmth to the store, reminiscent of bright, early mornings associated with a hearty breakfast. Additionally, the company also incorporated lines inspired by the sun rays which complements their all-day breakfast offering.
“Today, people, even kids, are now tagging us on their online photos of them eating our chocolate cakes and more,” she said. “When they go to our stores, they now feel na kahit matagal na ang brand, it looks current and fresh.”
Marking another milestone, Tapa King has recently opened its first-ever casual dining store in the Philippines at E. Rodriguez, Quezon City. It is located a few steps away from its former small branch that has already been operating for 25 years and its oldest existing store.
More than an overall facelift in its stores, like its updated interiors, a modernized logo and restyled decors, a large part of Tapa King’s rebranding process was finding its brand culture. They have now identified this brand culture as “Pinoy Bisita Hospitality,” manifested in its new casual-dining concept.
“It is hard for us to be more present and be more felt by our guests if they just order at the counter. In our new casual dining concept, with Pinoy Bisita Hospitality at its heart, we get to entertain, engage, do table visits and have more touch points,” Isaguirre expressed.
This Pinoy Bisita Hospitality is what Tapa King lives and breathes as a food brand. It hopes to ensure they embrace the Filipino value of being “maasikaso” and offer their guests the best they can.
“We want to bring them back to their home. After a long, busy day, we want them to go to Tapa King and feel relaxed and satisfied,” she said.
In the next months, Tapa King will introduce new exclusive items on its menu for casual dining concept that speak “Pinoy Bisita Hospitality.”
The King of Pinoy Tapa
If other food brands have secret recipes and spices people have wanted to know for years, Tapa King also has not-so-secret ingredients that solidify its reputation as the King of Pinoy Tapa.
Isaguirre disclosed that these ingredients are, first, the protection of its product quality and, second, its commitment to its culture because Tapa King—from food to experience—will always go back to being Filipino.
In terms of food, Tapa King protects the quality of its beef and the authentic Pinoy ways of cooking it. No matter the changes in times and the number of occasions it has done product research and development, Tapa King has kept its well-loved recipe since 1987 as this, until today, stands to be the best.
On the other hand, Tapa King’s “Pinoy Bisita Hospitality” culture transcends from its owners down to its staff. It doesn’t only apply to dine-in customers but also to riders and messengers going to its offices who are welcomed and treated like bisita.
In its 35 years, Tapa King’s signature tapa has become an everyday staple in the select areas they are present.
Bringing the Tapa King experience to the world
When Tapa King opened its first store, the goal was simple—to carve out a spot where busy meat lovers can enjoy a classic homestyle favorite, even while on the go.
What was a humble beginning in a small store in Makati has now grown into an iconic Filipino food brand—one that is now bringing the homestyle goodness of Tapa King into more parts of the world.
Today, Tapa King has 42 stores scattered across the Philippines and the world. Of these, 14 are company-owned stores and the rest are franchises. Additionally, it already has six international stores—four in Dubai, one in Abu Dhabi, and another in Singapore. They have recently opened Tapa King Landmark Hotel Riqqa at Dubai just last February 9.
According to Isaguirre, when she asks visiting customers in their international stores why they visit Tapa King, the kababayans would have one thing to say: eating fried rice, danggit, egg and tapa reminds them of home—precisely what Tapa King wants to make their customers feel.
Asked how Tapa King wants to grow the brand further, Isaguirre shared that they envision being more present in locations they’re not yet visible, such as Baguio, Clark and Bulacan. Meanwhile, in the south, they hope to penetrate Tagaytay, Lipa, and Sta. Rosa. In Mindanao, they have recently opened a store in Zamboanga last December.
This 2023, Tapa King is planning to open six new stores, three of which are now under construction.
For a local Pinoy Brand to stay this long in the food scene amid a pandemic is an achievement that is no joke. But while this is already a feat, Tapa King remains committed to innovating and finding ways for its fellow bisita to enjoy a fusion of home-cooked Filipino flavors in its restaurants—here and abroad—reminiscent of home.
Read the official article here: Long live the king: Homegrown Tapa King revamps its brand, takes on the world