Food & Drink

From Chili's to Salvatore Cuomo: The Story Behind This Food Company's Success

The mix of Am-Phil Food Concepts' establishments has a calculated randomness to it.
IMAGE MIGUEL NACIANCENO
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Luigi Vera and Richie Yang were once Bay Area boys in their college years, before returning to the Philippines to work. They were in different fields before they one day wound up in discussion over a business they could put their heads to. Their answer came to them while looking back at their university days, spelled out, quite literally, in big bright red lights: Chili’s. It was their California haunt in the late 1980s, where they could knock back a few beers after class, and have everything from juicy burgers and country fried steak to ribs and steak fajitas.


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Salvatore Cuomo

In the 1990s, with Manila’s dining culture centered on fine dining establishments and hotel restaurants, introducing a casual eatery became their obvious business decision. Come 1996, the first Chili’s in the Philippines opened to an intrigued and well-accepting audience. “We thought it would be fun because this was a place we liked in college,” Vera shares, “but there are also so many things we had to take care of, that I didn’t think we would have to—like getting the right chairs for the restaurant,” he says of the franchise’s growing pains.

While growing the Chili’s brand, Am-Phil introduced a casual Chinese spot called Super Bowl of China. Nanbantei of Tokyo joined the roster, followed by Tokyo Tonteki. Their recently opened venture, put up more than 20 years since opening their first shop, is an Italian restaurant specializing in Neapolitan dishes called Salvatore Cuomo. The mix of their establishments has a clear randomness to it, backed by the reason that a brand was created, or brought in, because they simply like the kind of food served there.

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Richie Yang and Luigi Vera

“I like hanging around,” Yang professes of Salvatore Cuomo, after running through his spiel on Am-Phil’s beginnings. “I think this place suits our age now,” he says, catching a quick laugh from Vera on the side.

Perhaps the unifying factor between their brands is the layers in their lives that these restaurants were introduced; Chili’s in their younger years, and now Salvatore Cuomo two decades into having full hold of various dining experiences. “There are more things that are coming from us soon,” Vera ensures. They’ve come quite a long way from their Bay Area beginnings, now where their story goes is anyone’s guess—but if the last several years are out to prove anything, it’s that they’ve put themselves on the right course.

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This story was originally published in the November 2017issue of Town&Country.

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Michelle Ayuyao
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