The second coming of Racks

- Patricia Esteves () - November 14, 2011 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Racks was down to its last dilapidated restaurant in El Pueblo in Ortigas in 2006, when the Prieto family, owner of famous food chains Shakeys and Dunkin Donuts, decided to revive it, thinking that a restaurant that made ribs a household name all over the country should not go into oblivion.

Back in the early ’90s, Racks was the “it” place to be. Its famous “fall off the bone” baby back ribs made it a culinary destination. Well-known celebrities would flock to the place and promote it on television. During its heyday, Racks expanded to over 30 branches.

But as years went by, Racks lost its luster and one by one its branches closed shop.

From being the coolest dining place to be, Racks became some sort of a lunchtime canteen where the prized baby back ribs were sold for P99 (with fluffy rice and iced tea) as a budget meal.

Leopoldo “Chukri” Prieto III, managing director of the family-owned Cavallino Inc., remembers making a trip to Racks in El Pueblo, one day in 2005 and felt disheartened by what he saw: empty tables, few staff, run-down walls and dilapidated furniture were what remained of the once glorious Racks restaurant. It was pathetic.

But as soon as he got his order of baby back ribs, his mood instantly changed into that of a sublime joy for the chunk of tender meat was still the fantastic and lip-smacking food he loved in Racks.

“ I thought wow, the place was falling apart but when I tasted the ribs, it was still the same melt-in your-mouth baby back ribs that we all fell in love with during the ’90s. I’ve always been a fan of Racks before. When I heard that it was going bankcrupt, I wondered whatever happened to Racks. I remember Racks to be so good. It had a strong brand recall and then suddenly, it disappeared” Prieto says.

Prieto surmises that Racks’ downfall had something to do with their introduction of budget meals.

“I believe that the P99 value meals promo was a factor why Racks lost its appeal to diners. You know Racks is such a nice brand and their meat is a special product. It’s something you share with your family. I know they were trying to lure more customers through the budget meals but it only made people less appreciate the product,” Prieto says.

At that time,Racks owner Wellington Soong, dealer of Jaguar cars in the country, was closing the last El Pueblo branch and selling the restaurant.

Prieto’s family did not have second thoughts when they decided to buy Racks, believing it still has a strong brand recall and loyal clients.

“In 2006, we were also looking for a brand to open a business and Racks landed on our lap. It was perfect. I was a fan of Racks and we didn’t want the resto to just fade away. When the food is good, I believe they should last. We really wanted to restore Racks to its former glory,” he says.

In six years, the Prietos were able to steer the restaurant into one of the most popular dining places again, establishing 11 outlets all over the country.

Upon acquiring the business, Prieto shares he was clear on two things: to stick to the original recipe and promote Racks as the biggest rib chain in the Philippines.

“ We will renovate the store but we will not change the food. We will not mess around with the recipe. We wanted Racks to be the premier place to dine in, to savor the fall off the bone ribs that Filipinos have been enjoying for the past two decades,” he says.

“What we did was just to enhance the taste of other food in the menu and incorporate side dishes and include popular fares like the Southern fried chicken,” Prieto says.

 Likewise, they changed the overall look and ambience of the place.

“Racks was all too-white and we put in some bright colors. We wanted to make it cozy and maintain the bright atmosphere. We want people to know and feel right at home in Racks, enjoy the good food and the company of their loved ones,” Prieto says.

Upon opening Racks under the new management, reactions have been heartwarming, Prieto says.

“We were surprised with the response of our patrons. In no time, they returned in droves and would tell us what they feel about Racks, that they’re glad that Racks was back and still around, that the delicious ribs are still there to savor. We were really very encouraged,” Prieto says

 “It really proves that when you offer good food to Filipinos,, it will always last,” he enthuses.

Prieto also shares that even when the economy was down in 2009 and 2010, Racks managed to stay afloat and post double digit growths.

“In fact, we didn’t even advertise that much when we acquired it. We just relied on word of mouth. In 2010, when the economy wasn’t rosy, we were still able to open four outlets in 2010. We know we had a good product and we know that it will be patronized, so we went along with our plans, even with the crisis and it worked,” Prieto says.

In the future, he says they plan to open more stores and make the ambiance more cozy.

“We are opening our 12th outlet this year and in the next two years, we plan to grow into 25 restaurants. Meanwhile, we plan to update and improve the look of our stores. It will be country style with soothing colors of creamy yellow, off white and bleached wood,” he says.

Prieto is confident that they will not experience the way the old Racks management did in the past as they will always try to improve the taste and quality of their premium ribs.

“We see to it that we serve only the best ribs. We do our own cutting and trimming, our ribs are then hickory smoked in a blend of special herbs and spices. We then grill and finish them by flame broiling to sel in all the goodness so they come out tender, juicy and fall off the bone,” says Prieto.

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