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