TWO Cebuano families whose food businesses are already household names have signed a partnership for the expansion of one of Cebu’s famous lechon brand — Rico’s Lechon.
Enrico Dionson and Bunny Pages formed DP Lechon Ventures Inc., the company that owns the Rico’s Lechon restaurant located on Acacia St. that is being managed by their children Susan Claire Gabuya and Cheryl Pages-Alba.
According to Dionson it was Pages’s persistence and rich background in food business that made him and his family agree to the partnership.
The Pages family owns the Pages Holdings Inc., the company behind Thirsty?, Mooon Cafe, Bright Academy, Taters, PlayHouse, Guitar World and Lantaw.
“We met up several times to discuss the business but I always declined,” said Dionson.
He said he was a bit hesitant to enter into any agreements or even open the business for franchise for fears of conflicts or disagreements in the long run.
Dionson started Rico’s Lechon in 1995. It became big, getting loyal customers here and abroad. They opened their first lechon restaurant in December 2012 in Mabolo. But the lechon business remained family-run.
“We first met over coffee until such time that Bunny brought me to this property just to show me the business potential,” he said.
“We had a family meeting after that and given the expertise of the Pages family in food business, we eventually agreed with the partnership,” said Dionson.
Alba, Pages’s daughter, said the property on Acacia St. was initially conceptualized as a barbecue restaurant, however, when her dad saw it, he said it was a prime location that is meant for something else.
“We are fans of Rico’s Lechon and we thought putting up a lechon restaurant here would be more viable, given the location and the accessibility,” said Alba.
The Rico’s Lechon on Acacia St. sits on a 220 square meter property.
Since its commercial operations last Jan. 8, the restaurant earned strong following from locals and foreign tourists. For instance, the hashtag #ricoslechonacacia and #ricoslechon already has over 1,000 posts on Instagram.
Dionson said the restaurant alone can consume an average of 10 lechons a day, excluding peak seasons like Sinulog and weekends.
Aside from serving the regular and hot and spicy lechon as well as other Filipino dishes, the new Rico’s Lechon branch boasts of its uniquely Cebuano ambiance.
Alba said they sought the expertise of one of the country’s top designers, Cebuano Vito Selma, to design the restaurant as a “modern Cebu dining experience.”
“We made sure this restaurant will showcase the character of Cebu,” she said.
The business partnership, according to Dionson, is not only limited to this branch as future expansion plans of Rico’s Lechon will now be under DP Lechon Ventures Inc.
The two families plan to open five more locations within the province. They, however, declined to disclose the timeline of the expansion plans.
“We continue to scout for new locations and if we find the right locations then we’d like to get started right away,” said Alba.
Dionson worked as a “kristo” or bet taker in a cockpit for years before going into the lechon business. When operations at the cockpit slowed down, he thought of finding other ways to earn money to support his family. He decided to go into the lechon business.
Dionson mastered the skill of roasting a pig from the money he initially borrowed from a friend to buy a pig. Through word of mouth, his clientele grew. Dionson’s big break came when a popular businessman, along with three other Cebuano lechon owners, invited Rico’s Lechon for a taste test and bidding for Malacañang for the upcoming birthday of then president Joseph Estrada. Dionson won the bidding and was chosen to cook 50 pieces of lechon for the president.
“That was then the start of the brand’s media exposure. Our brand was featured on print, television shows and radio. I got overflowing support from public figures, my client base expanded and orders increased. People, especially from Manila, visited our lechon site and kept talking about our product,” he said.