Binamira, who has seen his fair share of crises being a management consultant, conserved as much cash as he could, thus the painful but necessary decision to not renew for now the leases for 35 percent of Zubuchon’s branches. After all, movement restrictions as part of measures to contain the virus meant not enough foot traffic to the malls where many of Zubuchon’s outlets were located.
Fortunately for Binamira, there remained a clamor for Zubuchon, which started in 2009 in weekend market in Banilad, Cebu now known for its lechon once proclaimed by the late chef and food writer Anthony Bourdain as the “best pig… ever!”
To answer the call, Zubuchon, which marks its 12th year this month, innovated and offered to the public through selected Robinsons Supermarkets rand The Market Place ready-to-heat Zubuchon lechon and boneless lechon in 250 and 500-gram packages, just right for at-home consumption. Soon to have them are selected All Day, Shell Select and 7 Eleven branches.
Binamira told the Inquirer that Zubuchon actually pioneered frozen packaged lechon in 2009 in Cebu, a response to the demand by tourists and locals – particularly passengers at the Cebu airport – to bring home the famous Cebu lechon as pasalubong.
“So we have been doing it for over a decade, but this latest offering is smaller, at more convenient portions of 250 and 500 grams for smaller gatherings and meals enjoyed at home,” he said.
But while the market has warmly received the frozen lechon items, prompting Zubuchon to beef up production, Binamira admits that Zubuchon still feels the adverse effects of the pandemic and the African Swine Fever that tightened supply and increased raw material prices.
“The pandemic has had a massive impact on our business. The swine fever and pork shortages were a doubly whammy as well,” Binamira said, “We closed branches whose leases had come up for renewal and we had to halve our staff so far.”
Sales have started to recover as quarantine restrictions have started to loosen up and buyers troop to its 11 branches in Metro Manila and Cebu, but he expects that it will still take at least half a year before operations start to normalize. Nevertheless, Binamira expects the business to start to normalize by Christmas this year, when demand for lechon nromally peaks, on the way to a much better 2022.
“We also look forward to the return of tourists traveling domestically and internationally. But for now we are pleased to continue offering our traditionally produced dishes to our customers through as many convenient outlets as possible,” he said.
Binamira shares that the journey since the pandemic struck in March of last year has been far from easy but it has managed to persevere and keep going, inspired by the thought of better days ahead and the responsibility to the people who depend on it.
“Our people keep us going. The small backyard farmers we support in Cebu keep us going. Our clients keep us going. And this effort to reach a broader audience through the groceries will also help us keep going,” he said.
He added: Zubuchon was originally set up with two major goals: serve filipino food made the old-fashioned way using no MSG, shortcuts or tricks and provide good and principled employment for our team.
“We have achieved that in spades. And while the pandemic has presented a major challenge, we ontinue to persevere and hope for better years ahead,” he said.