Cagayan de Oro’s signature restaurant of Mindanao Heritage Dishes is five years old, and looking forward to more decades of furthering its cause to bring the Culinary Patrimony of the island to the rest of the Philippines and the world.
During a simple program and lighting ceremony of the restaurant’s Christmas tree commemorating the event, Jan Michael Uy, president and CEO of the TFC Group which owns and manages Cucina Higala spoke of their gratitude in reaching the milestone.
“My message is really about gratitude, and perseverance in this industry, that I would translate into lighting this Christmas tree. The stars are our guiding principle, a symbol of hope, a symbol of integrity in what we do, and also a symbol of perseverance. And lights would be a bonus, when we open the lights for Christmas, it’s really about abundance, its more of a mindset in this pandemic how we will really adjust to this.”
Although this was Cucina Higala’s fifth anniversary, it actually started even earlier than that as Thai Me Up, complete with Thai Menu and motif.
“We are grateful for the experience learned from 7 years of learning failures. While the market for a Thai restaurant in Cagayan de Oro then was there, it wasn’t big enough for a place this big. We followed that with Fil-Me-Up, which featured Filipino and Thai fusion dishes, but that just served to confuse the market, so that was another learning. It was only when we focused on Mindanao Heritage specialties with Cucina Higala that we gained clarity and traction with our customers,” Jan noted.
“Without the benefit of the learning curve of those seven years of learning failures, we would have not gotten to where we are now with Cucina Higala,” he added. “For leadership it’s easy to give up, but as an entrepreneur adding all those mistakes, putting it together, Cucina Higala is our last hurrah, the sum of our past failures.”
Decius Esmedalla, OIC Chief Tourism Operations Officer of DOT-10, acknowledged Cucina Higala’s contribution to not only expanding the choices of fine restaurants in Cagayan de Oro, but to promoting the culinary heritage of Mindanao as well beyond the confines of its immediate boundaries.
Visitors who have visited Cucina Higala have ranked it as No. 1 of 191 restaurants listed in Trip Advisor, and the following random selection of their remarks are indicative of the high esteem and satisfaction they experienced during their brief sojourn.
“The food is great, no doubt, it’s really the best restaurant here in Cagayan de Oro. The service is excellent, staff and crew were very accommodating.”
“We were pleasantly surprised at the quality of food being served here, especially the Pinakbet with its crunchy lechon kawali, and freshly cooked vegetables as well as the heritage dishes, like Beef Rendang for the tender and aromatic beef, and the Surol Chicken with the special coconut milk sauce mix in lemongrass and fresh native oregano, plus the Sizzling Binaki with caramel sauce.”
“I’ve been here many times. I love the ambiance of the place, the vintage décor as conversation starters and a much relaxing feel. I recommend their delicious tuna salad flakes, fresh lumpia, pinakbet, tinolang blue marlin, crispy pata, sinuglaw, beef rendang, and the jaw-dropping binignit ice cream. Food arrived quickly which is number one for me, waiters are attentive, water is refilled right away without having to ask and the place is clean. They have a private area where you can talk and bond without interference from other customers. I will definitely recommend this restaurant to all balikbayans, vacationers or tourists. This place is mostly packed on weekends so plan ahead. It’s truly great food, great place, and great service. You will surely keep coming back and that’s why they call it “Cucina Higala.”
Indeed, Jan himself acknowledged how the perseverance and resiliency of their staff and crew was another of the things he was grateful for.
“I’m also grateful for the people in our team who have been with us since the start, who bring with us the culture of resilience at our darkest moments, we reached a point where our sales cannot even cover our overhead. It’s a team effort to put Mindanao food on the global map.”
Despite the debilitating effects of the global pandemic on their operations and development, Jan is optimistic the improving health situation and the constantly lowering cases all over the country would allow them to proceed with their plans for the next 5 years and beyond.
“We are planning to open a destination restaurant, we have found our niche, and we are not really considering malls. Inspired by our experience, we would rather open in the next two years in nearby scenic places where we can offer our diners a memorable dining experience similar to what they have found in Cucina Higala.”
A destination restaurant is one that has a strong enough appeal to draw customers from beyond its community. The idea of a destination restaurant originated in France with the Michelin Guide, which rated restaurants as to whether they were worth a special trip, or a detour while one travelled by car in France.
Such “destination restaurants” may be similar to Cucina but would be a different concept based on specific locations offering a menu based on available ingredients in their immediate surroundings such as beef and corn soup for Bukidnon, although they would still carry the Cucina Higala brand.
The night’s festivities were highlighted by the lighting of the Cucina Higala Christmas Tree and Lights by 4th Infantry “Diamond” Division commander Maj. General Romeo S. Brawner, Jr. and Jan Uy immediately followed by a feast for the invited guests including Donna Ocampo and Nicole Datayan of Hello CdeO, Carlston B. Maglangit of DOT-10, Raphy Arcaina of Rapidofoto, and Dana Dale Medina and Luisa Bingtan of Laag Kagay-an.
From metrocdo.com and in behalf our CDO Bloggers Network, our warmest felicitations to Cucina Higala Management, Crew and Staff on your 5th Anniversary! Here’s to the next five years and beyond, Salud!
(photos courtesy of Raphy Arcaina and Cucina Higala)