Manny Osmeña is the only person at Skillet when we walk in, sitting at a table by the kitchen despite the fact that the sign on the door already announced that the restaurant was closed. He’d asked to meet for the late night interview at the newly opened bistro—where, in his own words, they “serve western food cooked in a Japanese way”—because he had missed dinner for another appointment.
As we discuss his businesses, advocacies and life philosophy, he digs into the different dishes, occasionally pausing his narrations to tell us why each dish went with the others. He talks in between hearty bites, and something almost passionate is seen in the way he ate each dish, as if he genuinely enjoyed each spoonful. Certainly, Manny O ate with gusto.
Food isn’t the only thing Osmeña regards with such zest. It’s clear that his, and the rest of the Manny O Group’s endeavors, whether in business or philanthropy, are done with a lot of heart. “I’m very meticulous. I’m very obsessive,”Osmeña admits.
It must be said, though, that his love for amazing gastronomic experiences was what spurred him to create the Ibiza Beach Club brand. “I’ve been on a quest for the longest time to take dining to the next level,” he shares, continuing to describe the times he’d visited and dined in Michelin-starred restaurants around the world. Despite the exciting dishes that were often served, Osmeña always found that there was something missing. “That’s when I started Ibiza Beach Club. I said dining has to be a full experience. It has to be all the senses, without the pretense.”
“We’re selling a philosophy,” he adds. “It’s about experiencing impeccable quality in all factors, from the food, environment, ambiance, service—but still very easygoing. It’s not stiff. That’s why we call it lifestyle dining.”
Ibiza had brought a new, upbeat spirit to Mövenpick Hotel Mactan Island Cebu, and will be expanding beyond its shores. The flagship outlet will soon open above the streets of Bonifacio Global City, promising to bring the laid-back but world-class experience to the capital city. There are also talks of the possibility of opening other franchises around the world, which would eventually put in the spotlight Ibiza’s most exciting offering—the unrivaled entertainment.
Featuring an in-house cast of singers and dancers who perform themed shows every night, entertainment is very much part of Ibiza’s DNA. The upcoming outlet in BGC also brings with it the opportunity to create a much larger Ibiza Performing Arts Academy, which has partnered with people from Repertory Philippines. “In the future, if someone wants to open an Ibiza Beach Club anywhere in the world, they have to hire the performers from our Academy,” he says.
Bringing Cebuano workmanship abroad isn’t something new to Osmeña. The businessman had been running SkyLogistics for the past 20 years, handling on-ground operations at the airport and being the only airline-catering provider in Cebu. The business had expanded to Manila seven years ago, with his company, SkyKitchen providing in-air meals for Philippine Airlines. “In Cebu, we cater to literally every airline because we’re the only one,” he shares. “Between Cebu and Manila, we make over 20,000 meals a day.”
It’s certainly impressive, by any standards, but Osmeña isn’t one to rest on his laurels. Wine is a passion that he had developed during his travels, finding it so different from other spirits that seem to be drunk for the pure purpose of inebriation. “I was never the person who would go out with friends and get wasted, and so I never really drank alcohol,” he narrates. “But when I was traveling around Europe, I would be served wine, even for lunch. Wine for them is not to intoxicate them—it’s a flavor agent. I became emotionally attached to it, both good and bad, so I fell in love with it.”
Since then, Osmeña started a small collection of wine, furthering his appreciation by educating himself on what was good wine. His friends had eventually asked him to teach them about wine, when one broached the idea of producing his own. Although the idea had seemed appealing, Osmeña originally thought he had to set up his own vineyard and winery, something that sounded unfeasible—until he later realized that he could just commission a vineyard to make wine for him.
The venture has definitely paid off—despite admitting to a few years of less than stellar creations, his 2007 Bibulus has earned considerable international recognition. The re-created red Bordeaux has 21 accolades in ten countries, including being the trophy winner at the Vinalies Internationales 2013 in Paris, where it won against 1,736 other dry red wines.
It’s clear that no matter what Osmeña sets his mind on doing, he does it with pure passion and drive. His latest venture, though, is something more humanitarian and very close to his heart.
“In the past, the Manny O Group would always give to charity after a disaster, one million here, five million there,” he recalls. “But there was no sustainability. We just gave and moved on. It was Yolanda that woke me up.”
The typhoon birthed what Osmeña calls a burden in his heart, prompting him to create Hope Now Philippines. The Manny O Group partnered with Gawad Kalinga to rebuild communities that were affected by Yolanda, beginning with Bantayan Island, north of Cebu.
Since that first community, the foundation has built communities in Leyte, Bohol and Samar. Osmeña is, in fact, heading to Manila the day after the shoot for a ceremonial turning over of checks pledged for another community in Sulu. “Last year, after President Duterte won, a movement was created with Joey Concepcion and Ramon Lopez. The movement was called Kapatid Angat Lahat, for inclusive growth,” he explains, showing a photo of the group during a Christmas party in Malacañang—the lineup featured some of the country’s top business leaders such as Teresita Sy-Coson, Manny Pangilinan and Robina Gokongwei-Pe. “I’m part of that movement. One of the things we believe is that the problem in Mindanao has to be solved, otherwise it’ll only get bigger. We decided that we needed to open our arms to our brothers and sisters in Sulu.”
The endeavor started the Save Sulu project, and Osmeña pledged to build a community there, and still there’s more work to be done. Yolanda had also brought to awareness the issues that medical volunteers experience after a disaster. Featuring refurbished Mercedes Benz trucks, the Hospital on Wheels or Gulong ng Buhay (Wheels of Life) will be a mobile medical center that volunteer doctors can use to attend to patients.
“It took us a very long time to put together a model that is sustainable,” Osmeña admits, sharing that the unprecedented project had caused some issues and delays with the Department of Health. “Hopefully, by God’s grace, the delivery of the first will be before the end of the year.”
The Hope Now presentation says on its very first slide: It’s not all about us. This is a philosophy Osmeña has now embraced, and he believes it’s about time that other people who have been just as blessed as he is do the same. “There are people now who compete against each other—who has the better-looking car? Who is growing his business faster?” he shrugs. “It feels different, it feels good when what you talk about is how much money you give. People can feel it. They can see it.”
The change has created a more positive environment in his family, and has completely transformed the way he does business. “The Manny O philosophy is that we’re all working for a higher purpose. Many divisions of the Manny O Group now dedicate a certain percentage of the profit to give to charity. Manny O Wines, Ibiza Beach Club—25 percent is owned by the poor,” he explains. “We count ourselves very blessed. We already have what we need.”
After all, he continues, he believes that the success he has experienced throughout the years can only be credited to a divine power. “It’s no accident,” he says of the businesses he runs now, and how he had managed to pull through despite a financial crisis some years back. “The Lord could have left me, but he picked me up from my fall. He not only gave me back what I had in the beginning—he gave me a lot more.”
“Everything I have from then to now is a gift. If you ask me how I did all of this, I wouldn’t know. Often I just happened to be the right person at the right time. And what does that mean? It must be divine,” he declares. That mindset has put things in a clear perspective. “God made us all a blank canvas, and it’s up to us if we make a mess or a masterpiece.” In case you’re wondering, this is also the reason Osmeña wears all white.
He pauses in the midst of dessert. “I didn’t give you a chance to ask more questions, I just kept talking.” I agree with a laugh, but as an audience, we certainly didn’t mind. There was something genuinely touching and absolutely inspiring about his outlook on life. “Tony Meloto always said that God’s calling for me was to be the conscience of the rich,” he shares, referring to the founder of Gawad Kalinga. “The mark I want to leave is not as much of being a philanthropist, but being an instrument of philanthropy. I want them to read my words and feel guilty and be convicted, and then be enveloped by compassion.”
These days, he reiterates, this is what he wants to do. When I ask him about what’s next for the Manny O Group, his answer is refreshing and completely unique. “I’ve decided that I want to stop starting anything new,” he confides, sharing that he’s already turned down a few opportunities. “As I said, God has blessed us so much—let’s take good care of what he has given us. And I would like to devote a lot of time in helping in whatever little way I can to help in reducing the trouble in the world. That’s all.”
A businessman who had no plans of building other businesses—it’s something that’s almost unheard of, but it’s clear that Manny Osmeña is set on carving a different path. Whatever path it is, though, we know he will do it the way he eats—with genuine gusto.
Photography by Nath Ybañez
THROWBACK THURSDAY: Thanksgiving with the Woolbrights
THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING
The holiday season kicks off officially with Thanksgiving. A time to be grateful for family, friends and blessings. Although this is not usually practiced in our tropical country, there are, however, families like the Woolbrights for whom this is a time-honored tradition.
by Janine Taylor sittings editor Katsy Borromeo fashion stylist Mikey Sanchez food stylist Nicolette Gaw-Yu production manager David Jones Cua intern Danica Ronquillo hair and make-up Jessie Glova assistant Jojo Embalzado photography Joseph Ong locale Woolbright Residence
Eddie Woolbright was among the thousands of G.I.’s that landed on the shores of the Philippines during the Japanese occupation. After the war, a few enterprising American soldiers came back, including the 24-year old Eddie who made Tacloban his home, before settling down in Cebu in the 1950s and opened a restaurant and a hardware store downtown—Eddie’s Log Cabin and Eddie’s Hardware and Auto Supply, respectively.
Eddie’s Log Cabin quickly became the hub of social, political and even military scene. It was the first air-conditioned café in town, and more importantly, it offered American diner food including a soda fountain and an ice cream parlor. It was patronized by one and all for its reputation for good food and service.
It also didn’t take long for the fearless Eddie Woolbright to realize that the real estate in the sleepy hillside suburbs was ripe for development. “I will show Cebu what a good planned subdivision is,” Eddie had said, when the late Senator Marcelo Fernan, then a young legal counselor for Columbian Rope Co., took Eddie to see the property. Pretty soon, Eddie had purchased over thirty-three hectares of otherwise undeveloped land from the heirs of the late Arlington Pond.
“Buy land,” Eddie Woolbright was known to quote the late humorist Will Rogers, “because they ain’t gonna make more.”
With his added access to army surplus, he bulldozed tracts of land, and a decade later, Beverly Hills, the first major subdivision in Cebu City, was created, and marketed to the city’s growing well-to-do locals, with the subdivision’s connotations of Hollywood and colonial American aesthetic. Eddie’s belief in the business potentials of central Cebu city enabled him to see much growth in his investments in land development, water drilling, construction, and general trading.
Eddie had nine children: Rick, Anita, Marc, Gilbert, Alice, Kathy, Kristy, Karen and Joy. All recall that each holiday was as important to them as Christmas. Turkey Thanksgiving dinners, for example, as it was known in the Woolbright household, began when Eddie’s mom, Nell, came to visit sometimes in the 1960s. Eddie would buy a butterball turkey from the American base in Clark and she whipped up a traditional feast complete with cornbread stuffing, cranberry jelly, candied yams, garlic mashed potatoes and her famous giblet gravy which was poured literally all over the bird, as they do back in her home in Oklahoma. Grandma Nell also taught the cooks at Eddie’s Log Cabin to make the famous Coconut Cream Pie, another Eddie’s Log Cabin standard. Kathy also recollects, “It was also dad’s idea that the restaurant and the hotel should serve breakfast 24 hours, and since I loved my Mexican omelet, sliced ham, buttered toast I enjoyed being able to eat breakfast any time of the day.”
My dad taught me how to be humble. He told us stories about his younger days jumping trains, eating nothing but grapes for days just to go pick cotton. He had a hard life growing up and I guess he wanted us, his children, to know the meaning of hard work. He would say, “Nobody owes you a life in this world”. I didn’t understand it then but I do now. -Alice Woolbright
Shortly after, turkey was introduced in the menu of Eddie’s Log Cabin, both Americans and Cebuanos, with a penchant for this wholesome meal, look for it when November came, and more especially on Thanksgiving Day. “Dad loved quality meat, and passed on this fondness to us, his children,” noted Karen, “So special meals always consisted of a good steak or the tender Prime Rib Roast. Of course, the year was never complete without a Turkey once or twice.”
As the sisters change into various outfits for the photo shoot in their childhood home, each one recalled the happy memories this holiday brings.
Alice, recalls disliking the giblet gravy as a child but since her dad would serve her at the dinner table she had no choice but to eat it. She adds, “He would get upset if we did not try everything.” Funnily enough, she now looks forward to the giblet gravy and can’t imagine turkey without it. Her dad, she said, employed the same tactic with his customers at the restaurant so after a while, they ended up getting used to it, and will not have their turkey any other way.
Between brothers and sisters coming home from out of town and family members in the States, there was always some degree of traveling or entertaining company. Dad valued the family bond and holidays were the best time to reinforce that. –Karen Woolbright
Joy Woolbright-Sotto fondly remembers watching her dad carve the bird. “He made sure that each one of the kids learned how to do it properly, with the white meat sliced thinly enough, and followed last by the dark meat,” she says. A feat she now does with ease. Future doctor Karen says that her dad would always carve the wings and serve it to her, which is still her favorite part of the fowl. Kathy though, considers turkey her comfort food. But she says that she loves the Coconut Cream Pie, which is also served on the restaurant’s menu, and that as a child she could eat half a pie in bed.
Cebu in the 60s and 70s was a very small town, if you wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving, you went to Eddie’s. Eddie’s Log Cabin, like its owner was a trailblazer, the balut dice game originated there, many singers’ careers such as Elizabeth Ramsey’s were given their first break there.
The torch has been passed on to his children, and they too celebrate it with turkey dinners and all the trimmings, ensuring that the restaurant still serves the traditional menu, down to the Coconut Cream Pie. Thanksgiving will always be celebrated at their homes, and the Beverly Hotel, the last legacy that Eddie Woolbright gave his children to run.
Another legacy that Eddie left to his children was a love for food and Alice was quick share that she got it too, “I’m usually home during the day and I find myself in the kitchen trying to cook up new dishes to serve.”
Back at the Woolbright ancestral home, which is also now Alice’s home, the dining table has been set, evoking autumn and harvest, the candles are lit, the wine is being poured, the buffet table is groaning under the weight of the Thanksgiving repast. The sisters are seated at the table, each with a glass of wine discussing whose turn it is to carve. The annual Woolbright turkey dinner is about to start and I am glad to be invited to join them at their family home. Happy Thanksgiving, indeed.
(This article has already been published in Zee Lifestyle’s November 2011 Entertaining Issue, “The Gift that Keeps on Giving” on pages 72-77.)
LADY CYCLISTS HIT THE ROADS AND SLOPES OF CEBU.
Cycling has been a growing sport and hobby for many years but it’s popularity has erupted since the Covid pandemic. People biking to work and for recreation is an everyday sight in Cebu. More and more are joining the ride. Many are quite serious about cycling. I know three ladies who are among those who’ve gone long distances across Cebu.
How did you get into serious cycling? What was your motivation?
Blinky de Leon. Event Host, Product Endorser & Influencer
“ I’ve been into cycling since I was a kid. A little backstory, I was around 10 years old when my dad surprised me with my first custom-made mountain bike. I still keep it until now, in fact I had it refurbished. It’s the most sentimental thing I ever received since it was his way/gesture to catch up with me after not seeing each other for almost 6 yrs. My dad is based in Germany and he also loves cycling and makes his own bamboo bike.”
“Just a year ago though, my friend Gazini randomly, out of nowhere, picked me up from home to bike with her to the South of Cebu. I felt really excited and motivated to get back on track because it’s very nostalgic and brings back so many great memories. And since then, the rest was history. We’ve been joining different groups, tried different routes and conquered different heights. I’ve met so many cyclists with very inspiring stories in the bike community who kept me feeling motivated too. I also look forward to the sights and the adventure that comes along with it.”
Yumz Mariot. Branding & Marketing Consultant
“I used to bike along with rock and wall climbing. I am lousy with ballgames which is why. Our usual route were Talamban and Mactan but one time, managed to ship gears all the way to Dumaguete for a quick ride to Valencia, the next town located at a higher elevation. Those were days when I did it for fun and what bike I was using did not matter.”
“Fast forward to 2021, a year after the pandemic lockdown began, I realized I have been lazy to do any fitness routine. Too caught up on juggling between house chores and Work from Home deliverables (I work as a Branding and Marketing Consultant), I started to feel my body needs to move as much as my brain does. A hysical fitness routine is as important as what I eat, or what I read or watch. So I decided to invest on a decent MTB, just very recently and got myself a much necessary restart. What motivates me even more is the area where I currently reside at. It is vast, fresh, green and safe for solo bikers like me.”
Prime Sarino. Digital Media Creative
“I started biking as a young teenager and I got the idea to start it as an adult hobby 3 years ago. I was already into running and I thought it would be great to venture into another outdoor activity to keep me occupied after work hours and weekends. I was set to travel for a year so I had to put aside the idea first but came pandemic. We were all forced to stay put and everything was put on hold. Cycling became my diversion. My cyclists friends invited me to quick and short rides. I enjoyed my first 50km ride and the sceneries and routes most of all. It also helped channel a positive mindset during the hard hit season of the pandemic. Not to mention it’s also another way to stay fit when we were forced into inactivity during the quarantine.”
Next in Part 2, we ask the ladies about their cycling experiences and memorable moments…
#CebuPride: Cebuanos in Multi-awarded Pride-Themed Films
Multi-awarded International Gay Movies with Cebuano Lead Casts
By: Allain Dumon Fonte
Pride-themed movies are starting to invade the film industry as people become more accepting and are more intrigued on the stories about LGBTIQ. Many have shared the intensity of emotions and laughed with the craziest jokes on gay-themed movies. In the Philippines, these kinds of movies were questioned as to their morality and their message to the society. The strong influence of the country’s religious standards had branded gay-themed movies as sex-oriented and nothing more. Yet, with Thailand’s more tolerant culture, Thai BL (Boy’s Love) movies and television series have created a new perception to the viewers; and that is gay-themed movies are remarkably alike to all other movies – there is romance, comedy, drama, and the continuing struggle of living like normal people. Hence, Thai BL TV series have a massive following all over Asia. At the end of 2019, they became available in Netflix and are being watched by millions of viewers all over the world.
The Philippine film industry is not that far from Thailand’s. Some of the LGBTIQ-themed movies and television series are slowly getting a following in Asia and are now accessible to viewers worldwide. A few of these pride-themed movies that casted or directed by a Filipino have already been receiving nominations and awards from Golden Globe, The Berlin Film Festival, the Venezia Film Awards, and even the Emmy’s…and the Filipinos in these films hail their roots from Cebu!
1. Lingua Franca
Lingua Franca is a film directed by a Cebuana, Isabel Sandoval. Sandoval also plays the main character of the movie, and she even wrote the screenplay. Lingua Franca tells the story of Olivia, an undocumented transgender woman in New York who works as a caregiver to a senile old-lady of Russian-decent. When Olivia is challenged to attain legal status in the US, she is left with a “marriage-based green card”. While in search for her groom-to-be, she becomes romantically involved with Alex, Olga’s grandson.
The film is now available on Netflix and has received positive reviews from the media. Stephen Dalton of the Hollywood Reporter wrote Lingua Franca is a “heartfelt personal statement rooted in timely, gripping issues that obviously resonate deeply with its author, notably trans rights and Trump-era immigration anxieties”.
Isabel Sandoval graduated summa cum laude with the degree in psychology from the University of San Carlos in Cebu, Philippines. In New York, she pursued graduate studies in Film at NYU. She is now currently residing in NYC, and already has award-winning films under her belt like Apparition, Lingua Franca, Senorita, Ritwal, The Unstoppable, and Judgement.
2. The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
This television series was aired in Netflix and has gained so much popularity because it showed the murder of world-renowned fashion designer, Gianni Versace, by a serial killer, Andrew Cunanan. Based on Maureen Orth’s book Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History, this television series has 9 episodes of suspenseful scenes, and is star-studded with casts like Ricky Martin and Penelope Cruz. However, the main actor who played Andrew Cunanan is Darren Criss who gained his popularity after being a regular on the top rating TV show, Glee. Darren Criss hails his roots from Cebu, Philippines.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story received positive reviews from critics. At the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards, it received 9 nominations, and won 3 awards, including Outstanding Limited Series and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for Darren Criss.
Criss was born and raised in San Francisco, California, USA. Criss was raised as a Roman Catholic and attended roman catholic schools. He later moved to Michigan where he studied Bachelor of Fine Arts major in Theatre Performance and minor in music at the University of Michigan. Criss’s father, Charles William Criss, is a banker and served as CEO of the East West bank in Honolulu, Hawaii. Criss’s mom, Cerina, is a native of Talisay, Cebu, Philippines. When he was younger, he visited Cebu a couple of times with his mother. Darren Criss is very proud of his Cebuano roots and wants to portray Filipino characters in films and in theatres to promote visibility of the Filipinos in the American films.
3. The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela
The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela premiered at the 2008 Berlin International Film Festival where it grabbed the Teddy Award for Best Feature Film. It was also awarded the Grand Jury Prize in the 10th 2008 Cinemanila International Film Festival at Malacañang Palace’s Kalayaan Hall. It starred Raquela Rios also known as Minerva to her Cebuano friends. Raquela is a local of Mandaue City, Cebu, Philippines. The film is directed by Icelandic film director, scriptwriter, and producer, Olaf de Fleur Johannesson.
Raquella Rios is a native of Mandaue City, Cebu, Philippines, and she went to the University of San Carlos in Cebu, studying sociology and anthropology. Before finishing her studies, Raquella left the Cebu and went to Iceland after being casted by Icelandic film director, scriptwriter, and producer, Olaf de Fleur Johannesson for the movie The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela. She is now based in Bangkok, Thailand as a fashion stylist and wardrobe assistant to some local Thai movies. Raquella is also an activist for sex workers rights and trans rights in Southeast Asia; pushing for the recognition on the choice of their gender and the right to change their birth names.
There are still plenty of pride-themed films in the Philippines that gained recognition all over the world; yet these movies mentioned are special because of the talented Cebuanos that have brought Cebu to world. They truly are #CebuPride.
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