How Wildflour Won Over Manila's Dining Public
Wildflour culture is an entity in itself, one which spread like wildfire across the metropolis in 2012. Every other third-wave coffee shop seemed to adopt a particular look—warmly industrial, authentically rustic— which Wildflour might not even have originated itself. Five years later, however, the
Let’s go back to the second half of
On Ana: Mary Katrantzou top and skirt, Univers, One Rockwell, 553.6811; Aum by Paul Syjuco earrings and ring, The Peninsula Manila, 812.3456; On Margie: Mary Katrantzou top and skirt, Univers, One Rockwell, 553.6811; Aum by Paul Syjuco earrings and ring, The Peninsula Manila, 812.3456
Obviously, word-of-social media had gotten around, and the FOMO foodie netizens of Manila just had to check this place out. The hook, for me, was the kimchi fried rice with steak and eggs, which friends whose taste buds I trusted were raving about online. I don’t remember what day it was, or who I was with—maybe I was even alone, and decided to have brunch—but I came in for a serving of that goddamn kimchi fried rice, and I was an instant convert to its spicy, pickled wonderfulness (the dish, which is essentially a staple of Korean comfort food, has changed since the first time I tried it. As with the rest of the menu, Wildflour keeps striving to improve their offerings).
Once Wildflour became the little corner hotspot, it hasn’t had a not-busy day in five years. In the beginning, service couldn’t keep up with the demand and there were a few unkind reviews. “We weren’t prepared,” says Ana Lorenzana de Ocampo, Wildflour’s co-owner. “We were just expecting
On Ana: Her own dress and shoes; Aum by Paul Syjuco earrings and ring, The Peninsula Manila, 812.3456; On Marge: Zero+Maria Cornejo top and skirt, Univers, One Rockwell, 553.6811; Aum by Paul Syjuco earrings and cuff, The Peninsula Manila, 812.3456
Before Wildflour’s seeds were sown, Ana began with a small idea. A little coffee shop, with a few pastries and sandwiches, on a quiet street corner somewhere that was not a mall. She was always a
She makes it sound so easy. But Margie seems like an easy-going, unpresuming person, the opposite of the temperamental chef archetype, much less an L.A.- based patissier who just happens to be a finalist in the recent James Beard Awards for Most Outstanding Pastry Chef.
Margarita Lorenzana Manzke and her husband Walter were still working on a deal for
At Republique in Los Angeles
She makes it sound so easy. But Margie seems like an easygoing, unpresuming person, the opposite of the temperamental chef archetype, much less an L.A.-based patissier who just happens to be a finalist in the recent James Beard Awards for Most Outstanding Pastry Chef. “I didn’t know it was such a big deal until going there to Chicago!” The pastry chef of Daniel in New York bagged the title, but being nominated is already a great
Wildflour was in operation for a whole year before Republique opened its doors, so which actually came first is an interesting, chicken-and-egg question, because the identities of the two are inextricably linked in spirit, menu, and design. “With Walter’s input it became
Wildflour Cafe+Bakery's branch on Rada Street in Legazpi Village
Walter was also very hands-on in the renovation of the La Brea space. He shipped a 40-foot container from the Philippines containing 5,000 tiles, 12,000 feet of
“We get a lot of people from Manila that go to Republique and approach me or Walter and say they’re big fans of Wildflour,” Margie says, amazed. Customers have also come up and told them about a restaurant in Manila that’s so similar—before putting two and two together. Republique, on its own, has attracted loyal clientele and enthusiastic reviews, and perhaps the couple never envisioned their French bistro would come with a built-in Filipino fanbase, but being sister restaurants (also literally), the two establishments are conquering the East and West one baguette at a time.
About the baguettes—maybe you came for the kimchi rice, but you return for the bread. Before your meal at Wildflour, you are served a mini baguette fresh from the oven with a pot of the most delicious French butter you will ever have at a restaurant. You will find yourself finishing that baguette before you even remember you're supposed to be on a
Ana is more expansive about their bread journey. “Margie gave me a bread recipe and I tried to do it here. It was the exact same recipe, but it didn’t turn out right. Maybe it was the
Like the ingredient-driven menu at Republique and New California cuisine in general, Wildflour’s philosophy is
At Pink’s Hotdogs in Manila; Little Flour, a soon-to-open concept
This honesty with ingredients also extends to the materials they use for building their stores. The tables are made from real old wood, graphic tiles from Machuca are handmade. Wildflour’s signature style is a result of a collaboration between Walter and architect Lara Fernandez Barrios, as well as Allen Buhay, who helped design the kitchen layout. The group’s other establishments—Farmacy, Pink’s Hotdogs, and the hidden Hotel Bar behind it, also exude a warm, old-timey vibe without veering into kitsch territory. From the
Wildflour BGC was Ana’s first restaurant. It was also the first time to work with her sister, but you could say it was a long time coming.
“If you don’t work hard, you don’t get anything,” says margie. Ana adds, “We were eight kids, so we were all on our own.”
Ana, Margie, and their six brothers grew up in the restaurant and hospitality business. Their grandparents founded the Lorenzana Food Corporation (famous for its patis), their parents owned the White Rock resort in Subic, while their maternal grandmother, Amelia Gordon, ran the Admiral Hotel in Olongapo, which had a very well-known bakery. “That’s where Margie and Ana were first exposed to pastries,” their youngest brother Paolo, a magazine publisher, tells me. “Not long after that, they bugged my mom for an Easy-Bake oven.” The sisters were always in the kitchen, learning from their mother and grandmother. They tested out their creations on the resort guests and employees, honing their baking and entrepreneurial skills.
Sari Sari Store at Grand Central Market in Los Angeles, Walter and Margie Manzke’s latest venture
Ana recalls the one summer when she tried to sell
When Margie was in high school, she ran a small Food for the Gods business right out of her bedroom, crafting the packaging herself with paint, ribbons, and little decorations. “We tried to be creative. We worked for money to save up for the rest of the year,” she remembers. “At least for me, it taught me good work ethic. If you don’t work hard, you don’t get anything.” Ana adds, “We were eight kids, so we were all on our own.” Their father always encouraged his children’s startups, giving them many opportunities to launch their own businesses, and from childhood until Wildflour’s beginnings, he also helped out financially if he thought it was a good idea.
Farmacy in Manila; Margie and Walter Manzke
Paolo agrees that a lot of honesty goes around in their family. “We’re not very touchy-feely, but we show our love by helping each other out in businesses.”
After Le Cordon Bleu, the sisters went their separate ways, with Margie taking up further studies in the Culinary Institute of America in New York, then moving to Los Angeles where she met Walter at the restaurant Patina. She transferred to the pastry division at L’Auberge Carmel when the restaurant lost its pastry chef and she happened to be the only one who knew how to turn out desserts. Now at Republique, she heads the pastry department, getting up at 4 a.m. every morning (at least until she had her second child) to get the dough rolling.
“Putting up something together was always in the backburner,” their brother says. “Ana and Margie were always buds when it came to going to different countries and trying stuff out, investing all that knowledge in their memory banks. When they felt that Manila needed something new, they sprung brunch culture.” For their part, Margie believes that they didn’t think about it in terms of what they thought Manila needed: “We just wanted simple food done really well, with good ingredients.” As a rising pastry star, would she try to invent the next cronut? She demurs, saying she’s not into putting wild or weird