Editor’s note: We have added a new category entitled Insight. It is not just about Filipino artists, the different tongues we speak or our customs and traditions. ArtinSite’s Insight will feature people, places and things of interest to our readers. We hope you enjoy this addition to our magazine!
Miles away from Manila in a narrow street of Silang, Cavite, M Spa & Café is a bit hard to find, but once you step into the doorway of welcoming banners from different parts of the globe and take in the simple and yet tasteful atmosphere, your visit turns into an experience.
AIS recently sat down for a candid conversation with its owner Marius Violago. After feasting on Marius’ excellent combination of Continental and Filipino cuisine, our gracious host and Insight’s first feature regaled us with stories of times gone by and his view of things to come.
By Ivy Castillo and Ramil Montero
Photos by Ivy Castillo
I grew up in Manila, and went on to finish high school and attend college in the United States. I worked there for a few years and even started a business, but I decided to return home to the Philippines.
Living in Manila, I ventured into various businesses: construction, internet shops, a grocery store, etc. After many years of conducting business in the metro area, I decided to move to Tagaytay and thought about retiring, but I was too young so I opened a bar and a zoo.
Tagaytay became an established place-to-go-to for the residents of Manila. To get away from the concrete jungle to enjoy the cool air, and take in the beauty of Taal Lake and the countryside was a treat. Unfortunately, building developers wreaked havoc in this once charming village, and took up every space overlooking Taal Lake.
Marius made the move to the less traffic-infested and more provincial setting of nearby Silang, Cavite. He has been living there for the past six years.
I was driving around Silang one day and noticed a small empty space by Dunkin’ Donuts between the intersection of JP Rizal St. and Aguinaldo Highway. I asked the owner if I could rent the place, he said sure. I moved my things in the next day and that was the beginning of a new adventure.
When I started living in Silang, a friend of mine invited me to an auction. It started from there. I began going to auctions and buying things and stockpiling them until I had so much! Luckily, my friends liked the items I sold in my first rinky-dink shop!
Later, another friend who lived on the corner moved out. I took over, moved the shop and opened a spa. Clients suggested I should serve food and drinks. Now I have a restaurant. So that’s how everything started. Nothing was planned at all — it all just came together.
Tell us about creating your menu. How do you get the word out about your restaurant?
I love to eat. The choices on the menu are all my personal favorites. I learned to cook when I was in the U.S. I collected recipes and created a menu. My mom and my aunt also help out when I get stuck with a particular recipe.
I don’t advertise my restaurant. Word of mouth passed on from friend to friend and so on has gotten around especially in Manila about M Spa & Café. We have a mixed clientele: the Manila crowd, locals from Cavite, Tagaytay, Dasmariñas, Santa Rosa ad Silang, of course. We have the gay crowd, senior crowd — the older generation — they love me and I love them. Millenials come here with their dates.
Do you come up with a concept for the spa/restaurant/café regularly? Do you get tired of the business?
No concept. I wake up every morning and relocate a plant to another area of the café. I hang a piece of artwork on a wall — so, no concept and no planning. One thing I’m sure of is I don’t want to copy anyone. I want it to be my own world. At first, when I saw this place, which is about a thousand square meters, I thought about developing it into a center for the arts. But it didn’t work out due to not enough interest or network in this area.
I’m such a lucky person. Business has always been just a hobby for me. I’m not into playing golf, traveling or playing mahjong. I come alive when I deal in business. That’s my luck, I think. It has always been my game. It comes effortlessly — I can start a business with a flick of a finger. My adrenaline flows when I get going. I guess I’m industrious and stay focused when I start something. When the business is stabilized, my interest begins to fade and I start looking for something else to do.
You have a collection of artworks and antiques.
I’m not into collecting. I buy things because they are aesthetically pleasing and appealing to me. I buy and hang the art pieces or find a place for this or that piece of furniture. I leave the pieces where they are until I get tired of where they are. It’s a constant movement — I’ll wake up one morning and decide this piece shouldn’t be here anymore — so I move things around.
Talk about your flags — your LGBT flag, for example.
In June of 2002, I bought a Filipino flag, and hung it at the entrance. And soon, all the foreigners that visited the café promised to bring me a flag of their country on their return. Now I have Korean, French, Swiss flags, and I’m still waiting for my German flag.
I’m gay to begin with. A friend from San Francisco brought me a small gay pride banner and then a bigger one. I’ve had it for 10 years now, it’s proudly displayed, but it will need replacing.
Time was running out. We had to bring the interview to a close. There was one more question that needed to be asked.
What are your plans for the future? None.
Love that answer, and yes, we love Marius.
With promises to return and replacing the tattered gay pride banner hanging in the doorway alongside the other country banners, we left Marius with a little bit more knowledge of what’s out there.