The Reyes Family Behind the Success of The Plaza

A story about The Reyes Family and The Plaza.

Since 1928, the Reyes Family has loomed large in the Philippine food and beverage industry. Even now, nearly a hundred years since the clan’s matriarch Engracia “Aling Asiang” Reyes first opened the Lapu-Lapu Canteen in Manila, they are still serving a diverse array of meals to an avid crowd of diners which includes both long-term patrons and those recently introduced to the goodness of their food.

The Reyeses has cemented their reputation in the catering sector through beautifully prepared food and impeccable service along with premium products such as ham and corned beef which continue to grace the tables of many families. Indeed, The Plaza has become an institution in the industry and has been the choice caterer for public functions, such as conferences and family gatherings for nearly sixty years.

The Plaza

The Plaza was established by Jose “Joe” Cruz Reyes and his wife Imelda “Meldy” Albano-Reyes in 1965 as a way of meeting an increasing demand for places that could host large-scale gatherings such as international conferences, concerts, and institutional conventions. At its original location in the then-emerging central business district of Makati, the business featured a convention hall, eight function rooms, as well as several restaurant concepts that included a Chinese-style establishment, a Parisian cafe, and a steakhouse.

While The Aristocrat continued to serve Filipino delicacies and traditional dishes, The Plaza offered diners a more cosmopolitan gustatory experience with a menu that featured specialities that the well-travelled Reyeses tasted during their trips overseas. The establishment was also the first of its kind in the country to serve a buffet which, at that time, was referred to by its Nordic name: the smorgasboard.

Chef Karla Reyes, Joe and Meldy’s granddaughter, said that her grandfather picked up his penchant for the food business from his mother. But the success of The Plaza, she said, has a lot to do with her grandparents’ working chemistry.

“A lot of chefs have a business manager to handle the details,” she said. “My grandparents had similar dynamic: my grandfather was the back of the house, while my grandmother dealt with diners in the front of the house. She would take care of the PR and marketing.”

It is a working dynamic that has spilled over the next generation. “My mother [Millie Reyes, current CEO of The Plaza Inc] and I have the same dynamic,” Karla explained.

Foray into Premium Products

Good food has always been a hallmark for The Plaza, but if there’s one specific menu item that its clients are clamouring for even today, it’s their signature baked ham.

“My grandmother wanted to make a piece de résistance or a main course that could double as a centrepiece for Filipino families to enjoy at any occasion,” Karla said when asked as to how the bestseller came to be on the menu. “At that time, our family had employed the Swedish chef Olaf Gosta Petersson. He and my grandmother were the ones who developed the ham which was inspired by a dish eaten for Christmas in Sweden.”

A plate of Christmas roast ready to be enjoyed.
In 1965, The Plaza started developing the recipe for their signature ham. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The Plaza’s ham was markedly – and deliciously – different from the heavily-salted Chinese hams that were sold in most supermarkets. Meldy Reyes hit upon a recipe that truly appeals even now to local palates: a balanced mix of sweet and salty, and its plump and juicy texture.

The ham was just the first of many innovative offerings that would go beyond banquet menus and be sold on their own at any The Plaza kiosks that began to serve shoppers in key commercial areas in the early 2000’s. It would be followed by corned beef, smoked tanigue (Pacific mackerel), ready-to-cook burgers, and even ready to eat roasts paired with gravy and stuffing.

This drive towards innovation has been instrumental in The Plaza’s continued success into the 21st century, but Karla is quick to say that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The Need for Consistency

Christmas table dinner set with plates and glasses and cutleries.
Hard work and dedication to maintain the standards laid down by the Reyes resulted in consistent quality and service. (Photo: Shutterstock)

“I think it’s the quality of the food and the service,” Karla replied when asked as to what has kept The Plaza on the map despite the passage of nearly six decades, particularly during a time when numerous competitors have popped up, offering everything from bountiful menus to lavish decor for functions. “The quality kind of speaks for itself and we’ve maintained that.”

Hard work and dedication to maintain the standards laid down many years ago by Joe and Meldy Reyes have also helped, along with an emphasis on consistency. Indeed, it is interesting to note that The Plaza still hasn’t opted to franchise its products to external distributors.

“It’s difficult to maintain the standards,” Karla admitted with a smile. But these standards are what have made The Plaza a culinary institution of great note over the decades and these will still be instrumental to its success in the years to come.


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