By Pauline Songco
Way before international fast-food joints entered the Philippine market, family style restaurants ruled the scene. Some have thrived to this day, their staying power proof of an acute business sense and just plain product goodness.
One such name was established at the heart of Olongapo City. With its menu offerings ranging from snacks to heavy platters, this iconic little restaurant grew and grew. It continues to serve the City of Volunteers 42 years later.
Back to the beginning
Sam’s Pizza began its operations on 15 July 1976. Shortly after, the local government recorded a rise of pizza parlors being built within the city. But for Cara del Rosario, Sam’s Pizza’s corporate marketing manager, it was just the perfect timing.
Sam’s Pizza is considered among the pioneers of the pizza craze in Olongapo. During that time, Subic Bay Freeport Zone served as a US Naval base. Since pizza is a popular food eaten by Americans, Sam’s Pizza became an instant hit, among the locals, too.
“We introduced the first square pizza in the city and possibly even in the Philippines,” Del Rosario said.
The secret recipe for this famed pizza was given as a gift to the owner, Cara’s father Samuel Del Rosario, by his Italian-American friend from the US Navy. It was definitely a big influence in the area, being the first pizza restaurant to serve the Olongapo market.
“We initially had the Americans stationed in the naval base as our target as it was an unserved market. In the process, we got to introduce pizza to the local market,” shared Del Rosario.
Their bestsellers include Sam’s Special Pizza that is topped with ham, bacon, bell pepper, double cheese and onions; the Manager’s Special Pizza; and Taco-Looking Pizza, which has ground beef, cheese and lettuce. They also serve breakfast deals such as boneless bangus, Tender Tocino, beef tapa, chicken arroz caldo and Franks ‘N Eggs.
Sam’s has become a place where locals and tourists alike can bond and just have a good time. “Sam’s Pizza immediately became an instant hit among the locals, tourists and military personnel of the US naval base because of our good food and live music entertainment. A few of the well-known personalities that had performed on our stage are Lea Salonga, Eraserheads, Nexxus and Christian Bautista,” Del Rosario said.
Growing up co-managing the business with her father, Cara has her fair share of memorable moments at Sam’s Pizza.
“My fondest memory of Sam’s Pizza was when we first started the Biggest Pizzaya Sale of the Year as our anniversary giveaway in 2012. We sold our best-selling Sam’s Special Pizza at P36 instead of P360 to celebrate our 36th anniversary. We were selling them like hotcakes, with more than a thousand people in line. Everyone was talking about our brand. I even remember overhearing two women in the ladies’ restroom in one of the local malls talking about lining up for the promo. That’s when I knew our pizza brand is really well-loved.”
Currently, Sam’s Pizza has three branches. Their flagship branch is located along Magsaysay Drive in Olongapo. The second one is in Barretto, Zambales and the brand will be opening its newest branch soon in Castillejos, Zambales.
“We intend to start expanding the brand some more by offering franchises in 2019,” Del Rosario shared.
Sam’s Pizza has been known to serve pizzas that are loaded with toppings. Its consistent taste and chewy crust has not changed since 1976, one of the main reasons it has remained in business for 42 years.
“Many balikbayans of Olongapo City make it a point to dine at the store as it is a reminder of home. Aside from its food, the experience a customer has here in Sam’s Pizza is what sets it apart from other pizza restaurants. Every night, there are live bands that play popular music, be it dance music or love songs. Family and friends plus delicious food and a live band just make it an unforgettable experience every time.”
There will always be competition and new restaurants in Olongapo, but Cara Del Rosario knows three lessons that will help keep Sam’s Pizza alive for a long time — consistency, innovation and a customer-centric approach.
“First, one must have consistency in everything from food to service if we want to stay in the business and retain our loyal customers. Secondly, innovation is something that we also need to have in the business, like offering new food and drinks. People will always want something new to try or talk about especially now with social media being an avenue of discussion of what’s trendy,” she said.
Having said that, if they want to remain competitive despite new restaurants sprouting, coming up with creative gimmicks or promos is a way to go. “Being an Integrated Marketing Communications graduate, I have always placed it in my mantra that for a business to be successful, it must be customer-centric. We have to be able to always think of the customer first — what they want and need. They are always in our minds in everything that we do,” she concluded.