BIGGS And The Three Women Who Built It

BIGGS And The Three Women Who Built It



NAGA CITY - The traffic heading to Barlin Street in was relatively mild on a noontime. I assumed either the students traversing Francia street all had lunch baons so them crossing the road for a bite wasn’t an option. That or we had lesser vehicles on the road. We were rushing to catch three ladies on a rare occasion of meet-and-greet with their employees, and by ‘rushing’ that meant driving through the city’s narrow streets at 60 kilometers per hour.


When I arrived, having set my eyes on the three ladies across the glass-walled room laughing with such animation, I realized I was thirty eight years early. I was back in 1983.


There’s something about them that proves when you arm three women with the equipment to come up with delicious burgers in 1983, they could rule the world.


About thirty-eight years later, the brand hits home to a successful three-decade run, and envisions to go even bolder in the future. They were right—these ladies—the whole time: passion will take one to great heights.


This isn’t even a historical account, but historic, it is.


The Year Before 1983


“The gym!” Nena Bichara, one-third of the trio, quipped with such youthful energy, “it was called Fit N’ Trim. So we’d go in the afternoon. On certain days it’s in the morning.”

Proving that fitness was the rave in the early 80s when Aerobics was today’s Zumba, Nie-nie Buenaflor, mother of Bigg’s CEO Carlo Buenaflor, added, “On some days we would just play tennis! We met each other playing tennis, either at Central(school) or at the Civic Center during its heydays.”

Imagine the three women clad in either an all-white Wimbledon ensemble or striking technicolors at the gym trading them in for a restaurant-ready outfit. Yes, that occurred perhaps a year later.


“You know,” Nie-nie says about their beginnings, “when we started the business, we didn’t think we were going to go this far,” she looks around the restaurant, “we did not think that. Unlike other businesses which had a five-year or a ten-year business plan, we didn’t have any!”

Then what was it then, I asked, “It’s really just libangan,” Nena beams with the same vivid smile she had when their iconic photo together was taken. Nie-nie continues, “Yes, even our husbands would even say we could only see as far as our noses! Or what’s in front of our noses.

But we could not see the future.” So is this the part where realize a vision sometimes isn’t necessary: just living the moment? “In fact, we were happy already with our little earnings,” Maricar Manjon, also one-third of the trio, who helped in production back then, said, “we didn’t think of the future because we were so happy with what we have.”


Fun To Fortune


And this is the 80s. Several enduring Filipino brands such as Bench and Penshoppe began thriving in the decade and in entrepreneur-speak, blossomed fully almost at the same time Bigg’s was gaining momentum in the region. We’ve always wondered if there was something special about the so-called decade of excess that is the eighties.

“None at all, we didn’t think of it as a business thing,” Nie-nie speaks of their little corner, “it was something lang to do. You know, it was something lang that made us happy because everybody was enjoying our food!” The burgers were apparently a hit among locals, “then our husbands said, you think you’re doing great, so why don’t you expand?”


Ultimately, expansion was written on stars above Bicolano soils.


“With the arrival of competitions,” Maricar pauses, “that’s when we started to think about expanding.” “But I think they all came around eight years later, but we started expanding in our little corner,” Nie-nie butts in.

Whether or not competition was in the picture, the brand eventually breaks through, “We offered Naga something different. Western Food that’s as western as you would think of it now: burger, pasta, fries. The look of our store was totally different, and looked fresh at the time,” Nena continues, “the décor was mostly red, orange and yellow, we even had red mushrooms painted on our walls!”

 

“With the arrival of competitions,” Maricar pauses, “that’s when we started to think about expanding.” “But I think they all came around eight years later, but we started expanding in our little corner,” Nie-nie butts in.

 

Before the idea of expansion, the first day of operations had to come first. Of course, there’d be scenes as quintessential as the opening of its doors, but ostensibly there was more.

“You know, that first day, we knew that our physical presence is very vital in the business. Di ba? The people like that e, the visibility. The owners being there, knowing that you’re on top of everything. So we were really hands-on.

With that, our Mothers, when they come to visit, we would make them sit there,” Nie-nie fondly remembers their Moms coming over to help out. “We would make them cashiers!” Nena laughs, but Nie-nie adds, “we actually do that so we could go to the beach,” if I were watching this scene from a television sitcom, I would have laughed hysterically.

On this note Nena adds, “there was this one time they didn’t like calculators! They were so old-school! It was our early taste of something ‘digital’ but they refused. They wanted to do manual computations.”


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Biggs Ready To Cook is the retail arm of the 38 year-old restaurant chain BIGGS. It is a line of easy, ready-to-cook frozen versions of the BIGGS’ bestsellers. It is owned and managed by BIGGS Inc and is present in over 50 supermarkets. In Manila, it’s digital distribution partner is Phenomenon Group Inc.


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