Lunch is served when the clock strikes 12, whether it's noon on a regular workday or, in the case of the Ortigas Center business district, midnight on Emerald Avenue. That's when the street transforms into Banchetto, a weekly food market that sets up long after the malls have closed on Friday night and lasts well into the next morning—just in time for dinner or breakfast, depending on who you ask.
The market takes its name from the Italian word for "feast" and has been an Ortigas Center fixture since 2007. Once a small tent cluster of 14 vendors, Banchetto now hosts the wares of some 100 stalls hawking everything from Filipino street food to T-bone steaks and cheesecake.
Hungry, high-earning workers in the business process outsourcing industry and other night shifters in the district were what drew Liz Jose and her family, the organizers of Banchetto, to the area.
The entrepreneur first saw the purchasing power of Ortigas' nocturnal occupants while selling ladies' clothing at a one-time bazaar. She was determined to return and, with the support of the local Rotary Club chapter and the Ortigas Center Association, Inc. (OCAI), put Banchetto together in time for the Chinese New Year.
"They asked me, 'Why the wee hours of the morning?' At the time, nobody believed in us. No matter how I tried to convince other vendors to join, they would refuse," Ms. Jose recalled in an interview. Yet the market took off in a matter of weeks, to the point that nearby fast food outlets complained to the OCAI of losing their clientele to the cheaper makeshift stalls. The association subsequently moved Banchetto's operations one day earlier to appease competitors. It also relocated the market to the other, then-undeveloped end of the street.
These moves didn't stop customers from coming. Today, they pack the food fair end-to-end like sardines, squeezing past one another in search of their midnight cravings, and the sidewalks, gutters, and nearby park overflow with diners gorging on their finds. The BPO crowd has since been joined by local tourists, some coming from as far as Davao to partake of the feast. Ms. Jose, once ignored by fellow vendors and entrepreneurs, now has a growing waitlist of those hoping to get in.
Joining Banchetto is as simple as filling out an online application form on the market's multiply.com webpage. Once the organizers have approved a vendor's list of products and necessary equipment, the latter must pay a joining fee, one Saturday's deposit fee, one Saturday's advance fee, and a barangay permit fee.
Rental charges for stalls differ according to their location in the market, with those closest to the center of the avenue in the premium category. The sidewalks fronting the office buildings are the next best spot because they allow more room for customers to comfortably pass through.
But strategic presence isn’t everything. "It doesn't follow that because your stall is in front, you will do good. It doesn't also follow that because you're in the back, you will do good. It still depends on what your products are and how you present it," she said.
Aside from the terms and conditions listed on the market's Website, Ms. Jose doesn't require much from Banchetto's vendors, who are free to price their goods themselves. But she does have a few tips for those who would like to set up shop.
Despite the high number of kiosks, Banchetto's fare varies little, with crowd-pleasers such as grilled meats, rice meals, and pastas on nearly every table. Ms. Jose said that many hopeful vendors base their product line on what isn't there, only to learn what others learned before. "I tell them, 'Why do you think there's nothing like it here? Many have already started with that type of food and it didn't click; that's why.'"
On the other hand, Ms. Jose said that it was important for sellers to persevere, even if they fail to profit during the first few Saturdays. As new customers become Banchetto regulars, they tend to stick to the vendors they see week after week. Some of the most successful stalls have been part of the market since its shaky days in 2007.
Banchetto has set its sights on other parts of the metro with high BPO concentration. Banchetto Forum, a midnight market on Wednesdays and Thursdays, was launched earlier this year near Robinson's Pioneer, Mandaluyong City, and a Monday and Tuesday Banchetto is set to open next year in Libis, Quezon City.
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