Team Sugbo Mercado shares its scrumptuous story
Text: Deneb R. Batucan
Images: Zach Aldave
IN LESS than two years, Sugbo Mercado has become a household name when it comes to great food choices, along with chill vibes and music.
The brainchild of JP Chiongbian and Niño Bascon, Sugbo Mercado was conceptualized in March 2015. They partnered with one of the top foodies in Cebu, Michael Karlo Lim, in April and started working on making their concept into reality.
They noticed that there were plenty of food outlets coming out — holes-in the-walls with not that great location but good food. “So we wanted to put them all in one location, hence, the food market,” JP said.
About the time the same time JP, Niño and Karlo were to open their food market, Charmaine Ong de Leon and Ruby Anne Pansoy were spearheading Pop District, a lifestyle bazaar. They decided to partner with the ladies, impressed by their work.
So the team of five transformed Sugbo Mercado as one sees it today. They opened the first branch at a corner lot of Garden Bloc at IT Park with less than 35 vendors in September 2015.
At present, they are in a 2,000-square-meter lot with roughly 55 vendors in their flagship location and have expanded to two more locations in Cebu Business Park and City de Mare in SRP, with two more location in the works at Mandaue and Mactan. (The CBP branch is temporarily on hold as ground improvements are underway.)
The growth of Sugbo Mercado can be traced down to one thing—social media marketing.
Finding new and unique things has been a constant theme in social media, and with Sugbo Mercado having a lot of up-and-coming food brands, a lot of millennials post about their newfound favorites, which resulted to free marketing for the said brands.
Through social media and word of mouth, people flocked to Sugbo Mercado, making them a fast-growing enterprise and easily the favorite weekend hangout for Cebuanos and tourists alike.
Because of this, the Department of Tourism actually endorsed Sugbo Mercado as the first weekend food market here in Cebu. “We’re proud that they endorsed us because it’s history. Fifty years, hundred years from now, when there are more food markets and whatever, we’ll be recognized as the first one to open or to hold a food market here in Cebu,” JP said.
While Sugbo Mercado has become a foodie haven for a lot of people, the owners have a larger goal to accomplish.
“The advocacy of Sugbo Mercado is to empower new graduates or the people who have the knowledge in the retail and food business to be job creators not job seekers,” JP said.
Sugbo Mercado provides a level playing field for businessmen, making them go back to roots of business: the product. “It’s the branding, marketing and the way you sell,” JP said.
Many business owners have found success and fulfillment in Sugbo Mercado. Some even made their food business their bread and butter.
“We’ve had vendors here who operated seven times a week elsewhere and then they started in Sugbo Mercado and made even more profit in three days compared to seven. So they decided to close their other branches and concentrate here,” Karlo said.
“In less than a year, there are already brands who started in Sugbo Mercado and now have their own branches outside, which means we’re creating jobs,” JP added.
Today, Sugbo Mercado has more than a hundred tenants. They hope in the coming years, they will be able to help the business cycle in Cebu as an incubator for start-up companies.
More importantly, Sugbo Mercado continues to pique the interest of various foodies, the young and young at heart. Its chill vibes and diverse food collective have made them a must-go.
“People come here to eat. It’s a convenient place for everyone to come to because everyone has different tastes and there are a lot to choose from here,” Karlo said.
Hair & Makeup: Jean Escalambre and Ching Vilar
Stylist: Ching Vilar
Locale: Sugbo Mercado, Garden Bloc, Cebu IT Park