On Marvin Agustin: Why His Restaurants Aren’t Really That Bad at AllSeptember 16, 2019
I was having a conversation with another food-obsessed friend when we realized that Wolfgang’s Steakhouse was coming to Manila. The steakhouse chain has quite the reputation; set up by a Peter Luger alum, it is one of the few places that have nailed their recipes for an amazing steak. I remember having a meal at one of their many branches, a last minute, desperate-for-hunger choice, where the steaks were almost exceptional, still slightly crackling out of the oven. We were excited for this place to open in Manila. But then, we were skeptical when we heard Marvin Agustin and his partners were the ones bringing it in.
Agustin and his partners don’t exactly have a stellar reputation when it comes to the culinary world. The group, which includes business partners Raymund Magdaluyo and Ricky Laudico among others, is known mostly for SumoSam, Marciano’s, John and Yoko, and Johnny Chow, among others. While it is one of the fastest-growing restaurant empires in the city, a lot of diners have a few things to say about his establishments. Sometimes the quality isn’t stellar, the food not so great, the service subpar; it has even enjoyed a string of controversies related to rumors of worms in spicy tuna, and the like. The restaurants aren’t exactly celebrated for their culinary status, and because of Agustin’s other career, he hasn’t exactly been cut a lot of slack for becoming a restaurant entrepreneur.
However, does he deserve all the flack he gets? Maybe not. Before even becoming a teen hearthrob, Agustin set his paces as a waiter, and eventually took up business courses in restaurant management. This is a man with a dream, and kudos to him for turning his acting money into a mini empire in the Philippines. SumoSam has over 25 stores now, and the group has recently opened Banzai, a 1200 square meter buffet space that is now competing with the likes of Sambokojin, Yakimix, and Vikings. They only seem to be expanding at an alarming rate, and are now bringing in concepts from abroad. Their first franchise, Teddy’s Bigger Burgers from Hawaii, has had an inconsistent first run, but is starting to receive better reviews. Then there are the confirmed rumors of Wolfgang’s Steakhouse, soon to open in Newport Mall, already dominated by the group’s restaurants.
While many seem to have a problem with Agustin, he’s a smart businessman who seems to have a handle on what the Filipino consumer wants. Maybe his stuff is mediocre, but that’s the point—they aren’t advertising to be anything else. They are what they are—slightly commercialized chains, that aim to serve the middle market. I would rather eat at one of his many establishments, knowing what to expect, than at a new concept with a chef or entrepreneur behind it who is waxing lyrical about their high culinary standard, but fails to deliver. Sometimes, there isn’t a problem with being mediocre—and that’s why Agustin might just have his formula right.