Wednesday, August 24, 2016


by Roger Pe
Business Mirror
August 24, 2016 issue

When her family returned to the Philippines from years of staying in Los Angeles, Susan Garcia-Dalmacion thought of bringing a little bit of Cuba to Manila. By being a food entrepreneur, she thought it would just be perfect. Afterall, her family loves food and with years of experience of being a chef herself, it’s something she would be happy doing.

The idea that popped up from her head became a reality, and soon, people were lining up infront of a quaint, little deli on Gallardo Street, Legaspi Village in Makati she and her happy family put up. Pepi Cubano, was born.

Pepi Cubano, who? Pepi Cubano is an inspiration from Dalmacion’s favorite Cuban sandwich. Immensely popular in LA, she always brought it home when she was in California. The business is named after her son Toti’s eldest son. “Because it carries her oldest grandson’s name, it goes without saying that the brand will always be protected. We also want the name to be always equated with positive vibes down to employees whom we want to feel they are part of our family who have as much stake in the business,” she says.

Temptingly special, scrumptious and crunchy as always, Pepi Cubano is an explosion of Caribbean ingredients prepared the Cuban way -, down to the last authentic detail. “The fillings are always lovingly laid out inside the bun. Perhaps, that’s what makes it so deliciously irresistible,” Dalmacion proudly intimates of the way she personally supervises preparation of her now famous sandwich.

A few months into the business, reviews by foodies are flattering. Write-ups have been favorable, unsolicited endorsements are aplenty, franchising requests as well as clamor for more branches around metro Manila are becoming persistent. If you google the word, you will see a flood of positive remarks heaped on Manila’s newest food sensation.

Pepi Cubano has upped Manila’s international ranking on the food barometer. People who always look for new and interesting joints in the nooks and crannies of the city could not be wrong.

The simple way to describe a Pepi Cubano sandwich is it is deliciously substantial. The way to enjoy it is when the bun is crunchy and hot while the fillings burst with meaty goodness and all the Caribbean flavors delight your senses. If the brand would be served and sold in Havana, Cubans would probably hardly notice any difference.

“Years of enjoying these sandwiches in L.A., combined with my experience in culinary art enabled me to come up with the recipe for the Cuban sandwiches we now serve,” Dalmacion proudly says.

The look, the shape, the taste, Pepi Cubano is a must-try for people who want fast but truly satisfying meal with a Cuban beat titillating you on the side. Pepi is an elongated bun filled with a generous amount of pork and ham, succulent enough to seduce the gods in heaven, as one customer said. With special cheese, pickles, jalapenos and mustard lavishly smothered on top, and with premium butter pressed hard to make it look flat, the gustatory experience will make you crave for more.

You can choose a lot of fillings – from the buttery, melt-in-your mouth Paddy Bistek to Choripan, a chorizo and relish filled delight to Cubano Lechon, a Pinoy-Cubano fusion that continous to be a hit, and then, there’s a lot more in the menu.

Starting the business at home

When Dalmacion started her own small business from her kitchen, friends immediately fell in love with her baby. They knew what to expect because she is a connoisseur of good food and her standards are high. Many buns and Cuban sandwiches later, the stage was set. She was ready to fly and the ball started rolling, eventually spreading like wildfire among her circle of friends. Friends of friends endorsed it until she had to put Little Cuba in Manila at the very heart of Makati’s business district.

Lovers of Pepi Cubano admit Dalmacion’s sandwiches sold by themselves because they basically taste good. Dalmacion can reveal that she has perfected the recipe and use only the right ingredients. The warm welcome the product received was due to its consistent taste and quality - a priority in her kitchen that Dalmacion does not compromise.

Does she have a secret recipe? Dalmacion says her roast pork, for example, is marinated in a secret sauce. ”Even the way we arrange the fillings inside the bun is done with a whole lot of love. We treat it not as a fastfood but put our selves into our customers tastebuds, so what you get is a mouthwatering, deliciously prepared sandwich,” she says.

If anyone googles “How to make a Cuban sandwich”, it will be hard to capture the taste that Pepi Cubano offers, Dalmacion says. Why? It’s as unique as the name and the result of years of trying to perfect the recipe.

Dalmacion primarily targets office employees, entrepreneurs and condominium-dwellers - people who are always looking for a cozy place serving a quick but tasty meal. She wants to be able to put up with the demand and put more shops to cover key areas around Metro Manila in the next few years. She wants to continue what she has trailblazed and make Pepi Cubano accessible to even those who are too far away from her first branch in Makati.

What’s one thing that makes her smile? She is proud of the fact that from the time she opened her first shop, requests to put up a shop in the north, south, and other parts of Metro-Manila have not stopped.

Through the years, Dalmacion looks forward to seeing Pepi Cubano maintain its quality, to be known as a place with a warm welcoming atmosphere. She hopes to see her pet project become a favorite shop for people who love good food, with a presence not just in the metro but also in key cities all over the country, perhaps even the region.

100% positive response

“Pepi Cubano has been blessed to have gotten an almost perfect feedback from our customers. People who are familiar with Cuban sandwiches and had them in the US (particularly California and Florida) say they taste exactly the way they are served in the US,” Dalmacion says.

In Makati, she has made a steady following from Cuban and Latin American communities. Guests would come up to her and warmly tell her that her Cubano sandwiches reminded them of the taste they are so familiar with back home.

Then she mentions “Chef”, a movie that made many people try her Pepi Cubano. “We made good reviews because of that - on lifestyle websites, food blogs and magazines. They gave us exposure and kind words. Of course, I am also very thankful to people who endorsed us on social media,” she says.

Would she be open to franchising? Dalmacion says she hopes to expand quickly to make Pepi Cubano more accessible to more people around Metro-Manila. “But while we’ve had so many inquiries about franchising (even as far as Cebu), we do not want to rush into this. Maybe grow the business a little bit more and apply all the learnings from early stages of the business. So when we get into franchising, it will be a truly win-win situation for all. Five years from now, definitely more Pepi Cubano branches, I hope.”

Pepi Cubano is very active on social media. It has also made a conscious effort to be visible outside Makati by participating in food bazaars. Marketing tie-ups with Makati Diamond Residences, Uber, Bayani Brew, the fitness app K-Fit, among others are also helping spread awareness for Pepi.

Loyal customers

Dalmacion loves the fact that she has built a following over the last six months, people who enjoy Pepi Cubano practically everyday. It warms her heart knowing that they already have a favorite from her menu every time they visit.

A customer who broke his leg had the same sandwich delivered to his house while recovering. “We’ve had a number of chefs who visited us and it was always gratifying to hear them give positive comments. The common reaction was “like in that movie Chef,” Dalmacion says.

Dalmacion gets a different crowd on weekends. They are mostly families brought to her shop by working moms and dads. “We value them because they have helped much in spreading the word by posting enjoyment moments on social media. “Other than our food, our guests also love taking photos of Pepi Cubano vintage delivery bikes, (which we actually use) and the “kombi” (which we intend to use as a “food truck”) – all of them part of the total Pepi Cubano experience we offer,” she says. Great food, Cuban ambience, music and decor make Pepi’s distinct personality the real deal.

Business philosophy

How is her business doing so far? Dalmacion says: “The one shop we have is doing well and we are expecting an even better performance at the end of the year. We have a number of marketing initiatives all lined-up. But given the number of players in the food business, especially in our area, we constantly think of creative ways to give our customers reason to choose us.”

If she were to make an ad for Pepi Cubano, what would her campaign look like?

“Based on our experience on social media, one gorgeous food shot can really bring in customers, our focus would still be on food, we will put in the sizzle, when the sandwiches are pressed, the crunch when you cut the sandwich, the mouth-watering layers that are revealed. But going beyond the food, we would want to capture the personality of the shop, the vibrant colors associated with Cuba, the Latin music that is always there, the total Pepi Cubano dining experience,” she excitedly tells us.

She would have Jon Favreau, the star and director of “Chef”* to endorse Pepi Cubano. “That would be perfect but an unrealistic choice,” she says.

*Chef is deliciously entertaining, comic as well as touching movie. Favreau contacted Roy Choi, a restaurateur who created the Kogi Korean Barbecue food truck to serve as a consultant on the film. He oversaw all of the menus prepared for the film and created the Cuban sandwiches that formed the central part of the movie.

Saturday, August 13, 2016


by Roger Pe
Philippine Daily Inquirer
August 13, 2016 issue

When Philippine National Bank launched “Para kang nakasandal sa pader” (like leaning on a sturdy wall) advertising campaign in the early 80s, the line immediately created buzz. It had a word-of-mouth appeal that was cool to say, eventually spreading like wildfire. People mouthed it casually or deliberately, and the catchphrase would become almost a part of the Filipino colloquial language.

Talk about it, the slogan would immediately be associated with PNB. Calling it as a success was an understatement. The brand effected positive recall for the bank. No wonder, PNB then was named one of the best Filipino ads when the Philippine ad industry celebrated its silver anniversary.

Though millennials may not recall it now, the awareness it generated during its time was better than most noisy ads on air. The copywriter did a great job in crafting it - street-smart. How else would you respond to a creative brief wanting to communicate stability?

The bank celebrated its 100th year this year and is already looking forward to its next with many programs and services geared towards giving the Filipino many firsts.

One of the highlights of its centennial year was giving 100,000 Philippine Airlines (PAL) Mabuhay Miles to 100 lucky cardholders in a promotion called “100 Winners in 100 Days.”

Let’s travel back in time.

PNB was the de facto Central Bank of the Philippines as early as 1916 up to 1949. It established its first branch in Iloilo on July 24, 1916 and opened its doors to international banking when the New York branch was established in1917. It put up five more domestic branches and another overseas branch in Shanghai, China the following year. In 1955, it was authorized to operate as an investment bank with powers to own shares and to issue debentures.

It launched the first online Electronic Data Processing System in the entire Far East when it transferred its head office in Escolta in 1966. Between 1967 and 1979, PNB continued to expand its operations by opening offices in London, Singapore, Djakarta, Honolulu and Amsterdam. Its domestic network also expanded, opening 14 more provincial branches.

PNB became the first universal bank in the country in 1980. It encountered operational difficulties in the mid-80s as a result of the economic downturn triggered by the assassination of Senator Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. It was privatized in 1989 and became the first Philippine bank to reach the P100-billion mark in assets in 1992.

Also the country’s first Universal Bank and one of the first banks in the country to introduce the ATM (Automated Teller Machine), PNB today continues to innovate and plans to introduce more banking “firsts” in the field of digital and mobile banking.

From a bank leader with a spectacular success, the bank suddenly had ‘fallen asleep’, stretching through the last three decades. Whatever positive advertising mileage it gained seemed to have dissipated. Hardly visible in the last 10 years, why the noise now?

“Following the successful merger of PNB and Allied Banking Corporation in 2013, PNB wants to continue to position itself as a major player in the banking industry, being one of the country’s biggest banks,” says Lela Regala-Teodoro, Assistant Vice-President, Marketing Services Division Head of PNB.

“For that reason, a need was seen for PNB to revitalize its image and appeal to younger generations. We launched a new campaign that aims to change public’s perception of the bank - from that of a government institution to that of a strong private bank that shows dynamism as well as provides products and services that address the financial needs of our customers of all generations,” she says.

Selling PNB to Filipinos

Teodoro says PNB wants to be a part of the Filipino’s lives, from teaching the Filipino youth about financial matters up to the time they start working and having a family. “We want to be there and be their financial partner throughout the different stages in their lives,” she stresses.

“To help achieve our customer’s financial objectives, a full range of these services are made available in our branches, which include consumer loans, life and non-life insurance, unit investment trust funds, business loans, credit cards, among others,” she explains. She reveals that while PNB branches continue to be their primary platform for sales and service, there’s more to PNB’s dynamic and engaging service through online (PNB website and social media) and mobile platforms.

She mentions that the bank’s communications thrust over the next few years is to make known that PNB aims to be the financial ally that Filipinos can lean on. “Our innovation and beliefs are all rooted upon a customer-centric philosophy, which has gained a sharper focus across the organizations,” she says.

Teodoro takes pride in PNB’s unique bank services. “We pioneered a series of banking “firsts” in the industry,” she says. “We launched the “Bank on Wheels” in the 70s to serve far-flung towns. We also did the “Bank on Wings”, a program that featured PNB employees journeying to the province on Toyota Land Rovers and helicopters to provide service to the bank’s client-farmers,” she beams with pride.

By the end of 2015, the bank introduced an all-new and revamped “Bank on Wheels” for Filipinos – to provide banking services when and where they need them most.

PNB also engineered the ATMSafe, the first insurance product for PNB ATM cardholders that replaces cash stolen from ATM skimming or robbery. Similarly, it launched the first end-to-end online facility that offers clients the convenience of investing in and redeeming from their UITFs (Unit Investment Trust Funds) online.

PNB also recently introduced UITF ATM Facility, a service that enables clients to invest their money through PNB’s 954 ATMs nationwide. Another retail product that the bank first introduced was the HKP (“Healthy Ka Pinoy”) Medical Card, a low-cost health insurance program that caters to people who usually cannot afford this protection.

Image problems

When the bank conducted focused group discussions and research, the summary findings revealed unsettling answers. Some of them referred to it as “Ang bangko ng Lolo ko”, associated with an octogenarian senator, etc. This gave Teodoro and PNB Chief Marketing Officer Martin Reyes impetus to work on short and long-term goals.

Reyes expressed the need for a strong branding visibility across all media platforms. He emphasized the need to make the bank more appealing to the younger audience. To make a lasting impact, he mentioned a conscious effort to align all the bank’s business units in drumming up a singular effort in cascading the bank’s “You First” campaign.

“We are Filipinos preaching to Filipinos,” he says. As such, we need to rebrand and rebuild awareness, accessibility to bank’s loyal depositors and amplify our greatest strength – service to bank customers,” he says.

Teodoro also wants to correct the notion that the bank is completely or partially-owned by the government. Contrary to the common belief, PNB is a private bank, she says. “PNB is the country’s 4th largest private commercial bank in terms of assets and deposits. It has been privatized since 2007,” she says matter-of-factly. 

In an environment where there are so many banks, why would Juan de la Cruz bank with PNB?

Teodoro says the bank offers stability, products and services that they need, matched with the bank’s own brand of Filipino service,” she takes pride in saying. In trying to make the bank relevant and more accessible to the Filipino, she says, “PNB wants to be there for our customers at every stage of their financial growth, from opening their first savings accounts – to helping them own their first home.”

“Having pioneered many industry innovations in its 100 years of service, PNB plans to introduce more banking first to benefit new account holders, specifically in the field of digital and mobile banking”, Teodoro says.

She also notes that electronic platforms for financial transactions are the future trend in the Philippine banking industry. “We look forward to providing more financial solutions for our customers through our Internet and mobile banking services,” she adds.

PNB banking difference

As the de facto Central Bank of the Philippines during its early days, Teodoro says PNB has always been the bank of the Filipino, surviving the challenges of growth and the ever-changing financial landscape.

“We have the most extensive international presence – 70 overseas branches and offices among Philippine banks. In addition, we have a distribution network of 669 branches and 954 strategically located ATMs nationwide,” she says.

With PNB customers at the forefront and backed by 100 years of stability as its foundation, the bank indeed is the bank that customers can always lean on. Serving them first unwaveringly for the next 100 years.

Teodoro wants to address the need for more PNB ATMs. If people don’t see that much PNB ATMs right now, that will soon be a thing of the past, she says. A major ATM expansion and upgrading program is currently underway. An order placement of 1,000 new machines to replace and augment the bank’s current inventory is in the works. Aside from a higher operating system, the new PNB modernized ATMs will be equipped with anti-skimming device and compliant with Europay, MasterCard/Visa and other money-matter protocols.

How are PNB offices abroad doing? Teodoro says, the bank capitalizes on its strong international presence, having the widest global reach among Philippine banks with 70 branches and offices in the US, Canada, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. “We continue to enhance our financial services for our global Filipinos and their families by introducing more campaigns and programs that address their evolving needs,” she answers.

How would you like to see PNB in 5 years time? Teodoro answers: “When the bank celebrated its 100th anniversary last July 22, 2016, that was a very meaningful milestone for us, knowing that we have served at the very least, two generations of Filipinos and a multitude of companies, of all sizes, that have shaped the economic history of the country.  While we consider that as our PNB badge an honor, it conversely demands from the Bank the sustained responsibility of being a positive force in nation building in the years ahead.” 

Teodoro adds that “past successes provide the springboard for our future vision of a more reinvigorated PNB: a Bank reaching out to serve the Filipinos first. We have been investing over time to improve the Bank and its brand, transforming it into a more agile, sales-driven, and customer-centric organization.”

Most recently, too, PNB launched a thematic tv advertising campaign with a new tagline, “You First”, a collaboration with advertising agency partner IXM, Southeast Asia’s Independent Agency of the Year last year. It was a means to articulate our long-standing message of stability to our customers, embodying the company values of “”Mapaglingkod (Service Orientation), “Mapagkakatiwalaan” (Trustworthiness), and “Mapagmalasakit” (Commitment), she explains.

“At the heart of the bank’s services, is our first and foremost instinct - to align our objectives to the customer’s needs. We adapt as necessary, with the aim of providing services that are not only effective, but are also caring and sincere. With this, the “You” in You First refers to PNB’s customers, making them the reason for service. “First” speaks about prioritizing the customer’s needs and making sure that the Bank continues to be part of their lives’ firsts and milestones,” Teodoro punctuates.