At Café Laguna located at Robinsons Cagayan de Oro in Limketkai Center, you are served the finest in Filipino cuisine cooked in the home-style tradition that has made the Laguna name famous. The restaurant’s expertise also extends beyond your favorite Filipino dishes to include a variety of world cuisines. Its appetizing dishes represent years of experience and total commitment to quality.
Coming from a family who loves to cook and eat, sisters Jill Urbina Viado and Grace Urbina Absin, knew their lives will always be connected to food.
It is no wonder that to this date, they are two of the prime movers of Laguna Group of Companies, which operate Cafe Laguna, Laguna Garden and Lemon Grass.
“The restaurant was started by my parents, who both hail from Laguna. My mother loves to cook because her mother was also good cook, so we adopted the culture of cooking and eating at an early age,” Viado said.
Viado said the family moved to Cebu from Laguna, in Luzon in 1975, when her father, a military doctor, was reassigned in Camp Lapu-Lapu, headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Central Command.
In the late 1980s, her mother Julita, who was then working at Montebello Hotel, started a small eatery to augment the family income and share her love for cooking.
Later on, the self-service carinderia named Cafe Laguna, was converted into a fine-dining Filipino restaurant, where moderately-priced Filipino cuisine was served by waiters in a casual atmosphere.
Absin said they worked on the restaurant’s interiors and improved the food but retained the name.
Because of word of mouth advertising and recommendation from those who have tasted the dishes, Cebu’s affluent personalities kept coming back giving the restaurant a unique place in the food industry.
The Urbina family, composed of six children – four girls and two boys, made it a point to spend their Sundays cooking and eating food such as kare-kare, bulalo and dinuguan, among others.
Viado said that every Sunday, each sibling is assigned to prepare a menu, complete with appetizer, soup, main course and dessert and then cook them.
Aside from cooking, Absin said they were also exposed to cashier work as they took turns in tending the carinderia.
In college, Viado took up business administration, while Absin took up optometry.
After graduation, Viado left for Manila and worked for an airline company while Absin stayed and helped her mother with the business, a decision which proved to be helpful as Ayala Center Cebu offered the family a space inside the mall in 1994.
In 1999, when Ayala again offered the family another area for a restaurant, the present Laguna Garden, Julita asked Viado to come home and help out.
Absin said the authentic dishes they serve keep the restaurant stay in the business despite the numerous restaurants in Cebu.
“These (dishes) are my mother’s recipes but were given a little twist. We keep on improving the dishes to suit the tastes of our customers who are also dynamic,” Absin said.
Although it is undeniable that Laguna restaurants are well-known in Cebu, the Urbina family said they do not remain complacent.
Viado said they continue to learn and re-learn lessons from different restaurants.
“Eating out with family members is education for us. We try other food. We expose our children to other food so they too know what is good food and what is not,” she said.
Asked why she chose to help in the business instead of practicing optometry, Absin said: “Helping in the business at an early age made me see its value. That is why we are doing the same to the next generation (children). We are exposing them to the business.”
To bring the company’s standards to the next level, Absin said going global is in the pipeline, hence, the reason why they opened Lemon Grass in 2005 which serves Thai and Vietnamese cuisines.
“We want to make people see that we are also capable of cooking other food and not just Filipino,” she said.
Franchising is also up for Cafe Laguna for other areas in the country.
The restaurant has a franchise in Cagayan de Oro, said Viado.
Viado and Absin said players in the food industry should be patient, innovative and knowledgeable to remain in the business.
“Dealing with different people, different customers is hard. Manpower is also a big problem of the industry especially that we only have a few skilled workers,” they said.
To cope with the shortage, Viado said they accept on-the-job applications from different schools located in Bohol, Samar and Leyte, among others.
Knowing the business by heart and by principle is one value one should not forget, Absin said.
“This is a fast-changing industry. The people’s way of life is also changing. As our mother always said, ‘Be one step ahead in anything that you do.’ Do not settle for less and you keep on studying,” the Urbina sisters said.