By DOM GALEON
Images by NOEL PABALATE
What keeps customers and clients loyal? It’s love, says Millie Reyes, without even a second thought. This is probably because she is speaking from experience. Millie belongs to the third generation of restaurateurs that have been at the helm of The Plaza, home of the now iconic Plaza Premium Baked Ham. It’s the same family that also put up Aristocrat Restaurant in 1935.
“Those were my grandparents,” Millie tells us over lunch at The Plaza pop-up restaurant on the fifth floor of Rustan’s Makati. Thirty years after that, her parents Jose Cruz Reyes and Imelda Albano, put up The Plaza. It was during their time that the classic Plaza Premium Baked Ham was conceived, developed, and perfected, together with the help of Swedish master chef Gotta Pettersson.
The Plaza has seen generations of changes too, from being a complex—a plaza, really—that housed a convention hall, a Chinese restaurant, a Parisianstyle café, a steakhouse, and a restaurant that featured a Smorgasbord (or what we now know as a buffet), and eventually moving into catering for huge events in the ‘60s, with Millie opening The Plaza at the Philippine International Convention Center. Now, together with daughter Karla, she continues to be rather active in the business.
Open during mall hours, The Plaza at Rustan’s has a nostalgic touch to it, making it a fitting partner to the Talleres de Maximo Vicente sculptures currently on display on the same floor. Here, heritage meets heritage: The Plaza making its classic dishes available at the country’s premier retail store.
Speaking of dishes, some of the pop-up restaurant’s best dishes on its menu are: The Premium Baked Ham (of course!), served with four sauces—premium glaze, sweet mustard, gutsy garlic, and wasabi mayo; the juicy Chicken ala Kiev, cooked just right to make the flavors explode in your mouth; and two variants of its corned beef (not to be confused with the kind you find in cans), the Roast Corned Beef and the Boiled Corned Beef, made from imported Angus beef. As a new addition to these classic dishes, The Plaza at Rustan’s also offers truffle pasta, served with parmesan cheese tossed on-the-spot.
At the heart of all, there is a family who has learned to love food. And their dedication to delivering delectable dishes is as serious as it can get. Knowing that she would continue the family’s heritage, Millie studied at the prestigious École Hôteliere de la Socéité Suisse des Hôteliers of Lausanne in Switzerland and then later on at Cornell University in New York. This, she says, at a time when there were yet to be reputable culinary schools in the Philippines. It was also the case for her daughter Karla, who studied culinary arts at the International Culinary Center in New York. In other words, these third and fourth generations of restaurateurs have both the technical expertise necessary to run a food business, as well as The Plaza’s rich heritage of culinary excellence.
What has remained the same throughout all these years is the family’s dedication to deliver only the best dining experience. “Consistency is key,” explains Millie. This is evident in how The Plaza has kept its classic dishes up-to-date in the 55 years that it has been in business.
“When Nedy [Tantoco] asked me if we could open The Plaza at Rustan’s, I couldn’t say no,” Millie says. “The Tantocos have been one of our first customers, ever since our family opened Aristocrat in Manila.”
The Plaza is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sundays to Thursdays, and from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, at the fifth floor of Rustan’s Makati.