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Nineteen ‘restaurants,’ one delivery fee

The Mercato United Kitchen offers the best of both worlds — a pivot into the growing global restaurant model of cloud kitchens, while at the same time retaining the original Mercato spirit with al fresco dining complete with all safety protocols in place — in one central location.

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Talk about designing your business according to the needs of the times, and the Mercato United Kitchen fits the bill perfectly.

From being the most successful outdoor food market that housed a most impressive roster of food merchants in its Bonifacio Global City (BGC) hub, Mercato Centrale was forced to close down when the pandemic hit and the first and strictest lockdown was declared in March 2020. It was considered as a place of mass gathering and had no chance to stay open given the circumstances at the time. The closure hit the Mercato Centrale organizers hard, but it hit the merchants harder because they lost their primary source of livelihood. So, to help everybody bounce back, the organizers made their initial business pivot — bringing Mercato Centrale online, creating a virtual marketplace website that allowed customers to order food from Mercato food vendors, who then produced their food from their home kitchens for delivery. Soon, the website was up and running, serving the needs of a market that has turned heavily to food delivery service.

Ibarra’s Kitchen’s chimichurri roasted chicken.

“We realized, however, that customers still wanted the same Mercato Centrale experience, which gave them the convenience of ordering food choices from several vendors at the same time for delivery. They didn’t realize that with the online setup, the vendors were in different locations and since the orders came from vendors working from separate locations, the delivery fee would already be based on a per location basis. So, when the customers got the consolidated delivery bill, the transaction would not push through,” explains Rene ‘RJ’ Ledesma Jr., vice president for Business Development of Mercato Centrale.

He adds: “This prohibitive delivery charge, which was a pain point, actually became our “aha!” moment for a Mercato cloud kitchen concept. We thought, what if we brought together our top Mercato vendors under one roof so that customers could continue enjoying ‘the Mercato Experience’ under ‘new normal’ circumstances? The cloud kitchen would make it possible for them to order food choices from several food merchants but all for one delivery charge.”

photographs by Dolly Dy-Zulueta for the Daily Tribune

The Mercato Centrale group, led by its president, Vanessa Pastor-Ledesma, and RJ himself, went to work on the cloud kitchen concept right away. They partnered with FJ Prime Management led by OFW Bayani 2017 awardee and financial business coach Francis Errol Media, who manages a string of franchised restaurants; as well as with the Caper Group founded by 2017 Agora Awardee for Outstanding Achievement in Overseas Marketing Edgar Allan Caper. Together, they worked on this rebooted Mercato project feverishly, re-developing the business model, and scouting for possible locations and lessors who would be their collaborators in the business. They found the perfect location at the Ayala Circuit Mall in Makati, started construction, and finally recruited merchants to be part of what they now called Mercato United Kitchen.

Capa’s Seafood Crisps.

Attuned to the demands of the pandemic times, whose end is nowhere to be seen just yet, the organizers designed the Mercato United Kitchen to offer the best of both worlds
— a pivot into the growing global restaurant model of cloud kitchens, while at the same time retaining the original Mercato spirit with al fresco dining complete with all safety protocols in place — in one central location.

Soft-opening on the eve of the declaration of the third so-called enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila just last August, the new food delivery hub houses 19 exciting food concepts under one roof. Customers can order from any, some, or all of these food merchants, and pay only one delivery fee.

PizzaDidi’s blueberry and strawberry pizzas.

An American classic, The Cheesecake Factory, and a new local legend, Zubuchon Lechon of Cebu, lead the roster of 19 food merchants selling their delicious specialties under the Mercato United Kitchen umbrella.

The other food merchants are homegrown brands, mostly start-ups from passionate foodies who are committed to share their own specialties with everyone — Above Sea Level (seafood), Bounty Sprouts (mushroom chips), Capa’s Seafood Crisps (seafood chicharon), Chef Rocky’s Kitchen (Asian noodles and all-time favorites), Green Meat Hub (vegetarian cuisine), Ibarra’s Kitchen (rotisserie, pancit in bilao, Pinoy specialties), KahateaPH (Pinoy-themed milk tea), Khuttz Diner (chicken, sandwiches, ribs), Kuranosuke (sashimi, Japanese rolls and ramen), PARES Express (silog, bulalo, pares meals), Takoichi (different takoyaki variants), The Gourmet Kitchen (green salads, wraps, healthy soups, sandwiches, and main dishes), Tipsy Cream (ice cream infused with alcohol), Wildsmoke (burgers, ribs and brisket), and Wok Brothers (wok specialties).

Mercato Centrale founders RJ and Vanessa Ledesma. / PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF Mercato United Kitchen

Sea Level’s Firecracker Shrimps.

Green Meat Hub’s Vegan Bagnet Rice Meal.

Completing the “cast” are two provincial hot shots, namely Harvest Café and Bistro of Cabanatuan City (coffee concoctions, burgers, sandwiches, chicken), and PizzaDidi of Cavite (savory and sweet pizzas).

To order online for delivery, visit Mercato’s website Orders may also be coursed through landline number 7719-0808, or Viber/Whatsapp 0917-5809898. For orders received through these channels, Mercato books the third-party courier. Customers may also order via GrabFood, Foodpanda or DingDong PH.

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