I was nine months pregnant with my third baby when I first met Vic Vic Villavicencio. In fact, I gave birth to my daughter Monique, in the car, exactly on that date, May 31, 1985.
Vic Vic would later describe how I waddled—with my full-term tummy—into his restaurant for our first meeting. “I was impressed,” he chuckled, “and thought of you as masipag because you were still at work even when you were ready to pop!”
He struck me as a man who could think on his feet and knew exactly what he wanted. When the meeting was over, we simply shook hands and agreed to meet again after I gave birth.
My dear friend Thelma San Juan referred me to Vic Vic when he needed someone to help him promote his very first restaurant, Kamayan. Thus was how Victor Vargas Villavicencio became my first and only restaurant client—and a friend from whom I would learn much over the 33 years we worked together.
Vic Vic passed away April 29.
This man who didn’t finish college was primed to be an entrepreneur. He was a third-year engineering student at La Salle when he got married, but even as a student, Vic Vic had managed the family’s school bus service. In the ensuing years, the budding businessman would become a rock star in the restaurant business.
His young family spurred him to be an achiever. In 1970, he wed Maridel Baltazar, the barkada of his cousin Maritess. Maridel recalls that when they first met, Vic Vic instantly knew he wanted her and pursued her by being so gentlemanly and galante, surprising her at one time with a strawberry pudding he had baked himself.
Maridel now looks back on all those years when Vic Vic gave her and their children the good life. “I never had to worry about anything. He was an incredibly responsible family man who was always there for us. Even in the end, he left us all prepared.”
That was my first lesson from Vic Vic: When you find something you want, pursue it. He pulled out all the stops in his restaurants and marketing campaigns. From Kamayan, which encouraged diners to eat with their hands, to Saisaki, which popularized Japanese cuisine in the country, Vic Vic shared his passion for food by making it accessible, affordable and always infused with his good taste.
California ‘maki’ with mango
Lesson number 2: Innovate and improve on any good idea and make it work until it’s accepted, appreciated and remembered.
Vic Vic’s eldest daughter, Pia Villavicencio-Lago, tells a little-known snippet about her father’s ways with food: “Dad made his own version of California maki for the Philippines. California maki is originally made with avocado, but he replaced it with mango because mango is available here. And he succeeded!”
In his travels abroad, Vic Vic would constantly try new restaurants. Seeing that eat-all-you-can buffets were wildly popular, he ventured to bring the concept to Manila—with a tweak. Knowing how Filipinos were wont to pile food on their plates and leave them half-
eaten, Vic Vic introduced the “no leftover” buffet so that diners would take only what they could finish.
Soon after Saisaki, Vic Vic put up Islands Fisherman, which was inspired by his passion for fishing. It eventually closed, but in its wake came Dads World Buffet, followed by Sambo Kojin, and, finally, No. 1 Barbecues—the last restaurant he would let his children run by themselves.
Third lesson: Take care of your people. Teach them. Motivate them. And pay them well.
I would see Vic Vic’s generosity reflected in the cheerful demeanor of his staff—from the managers to the efficient crew—who were always glad to serve. But then, they also knew that Vic Vic initiated the “no service charge” policy in their restaurant chain because he believed that good service must come with the territory.
Through the decades of working with Vic Vic, I also met some of his best employees—
the finest professionals—who stayed with him all these years. One of them, Jaime Mangali, the general manager of Sambo Kojin, says that Vic Vic taught him how to be maagap (loosely translated, knowing how to nip problems in the bud). Vic Vic taught his staff how to anticipate any problem that may arise.
He set aside a special time to meet with his employees for whatever reason—official or personal. This was how he
managed to keep abreast of everything that was going on in the restaurants.
This particular inclination is shared by his first cousin and confidante, Tootsie Marco, who served as his executive vice president for over two decades. They grew up very close because they lived in the same compound, and Tootsie was the only female in their cousins’ group that included Louie Vargas, Ricky Vergara and Freddie Bong Ortiz, who were in the same age group.
As “one of the boys,” Tootsie literally saw Vic Vic evolve, from the “wild” days of his youth, to becoming a successful and driven businessman. “Vic Vic’s generosity was legendary,” Tootsie recalls. “He was one of the most giving people I’ve ever met. I totally believed in his genius and vision, and my role was to support that vision.”
A man for all seasons
Tootsie was only one of the countless relatives that Vic Vic tapped to help in his restaurants, but she was Vic Vic’s favorite—something that she hastily but good-naturedly denies. At one point in his life, Vic Vic may have become impatient, she says, “but his love for his family and his restaurants never waned.”
Tootsie’s cousins all agree with her. Nena Vargas-Tantoco posted a message on their Viber group “cuzintahan by birth,” and I’m sharing it with her permission: “Vic Vic, a man for all seasons, most generous, the kindest human being I have met in my life. I wish I spent more time with you up close and personal. Thank you for touching our cuzinhood with kindness and love. As far as I can remember, this is who you are: a man with a big heart. You knew what it was to be broken and wounded and to have broken and wounded others, too. Your way to heal was kindness and
generosity to all, and living a life-giving life.”
Former Triple V VP for marketing Suzette Defensor, who, to this day, was Vic Vic’s trusted consultant, says: “After more than three decades, I cannot speak of the man as my boss because he made sure that, to me, he wasn’t. I think he was the ‘bossiest’ boss around, yet even his flaws were perfect.
“As to his humanity, this I will say and write as his obit: ‘No greater father’s love than this man had for his family; no greater generosity for his friends; no greater knowledge shared with his personnel; and no greater passion for his mission to give the dining public the experience of excellence. In our hearts of hearts, Vic Vic will forever be remembered, cherished and loved.”
For me, this was Vic Vic’s most important lesson and legacy: how he touched countless lives with his vision, his passion, his kindness, and most of all, his love for his family. He was not perfect (no one is!), but each and every one of his seven children will forever remember that perfect moment with their dad, an episode or experience that Vic Vic made sure they had together —whether it was a trip to a market abroad, taking them out to sea on a fishing expedition, or simply telling them what he expected each of them to do.
To my dearest friend and most generous client, Vic Vic: The memory of your beautiful soul and brilliant mind will always be seared in my heart. —CONTRIBUTED