Forest House closes doors after 19 years
For almost 20 years, Baguio’s homegrown Forest House has been providing a setting that allowed its guests to create lasting memories more than just giving them a dining experience. This feat, its owners said, was the goal they set when they put up the business in April 2001.
Spouses Ari and Raquel Verzosa want to continue fulfilling that purpose – had the circumstances been more favorable.
Like most businesses, Forest House ceased operations when quarantine restrictions were imposed mid-March to mitigate the spread of the Covid-19. As the city government started easing up restrictions to allow tourist-oriented establishments to reopen, Forest House has announced that it is no longer reopening.
“Whether you dropped by for a cup of coffee or a feast with your family, we thank you for your support. But unfortunately, an era comes to an end. Forest House is closing its doors,” Forest House posted on its Facebook page on June 30.
The post managed to evoke nostalgia from its legions of patrons in Baguio and elsewhere in the country. A lot posted their photographs taken at the restaurant and shared their moments with Forest House in what the owners aptly described in their post: “We were there holding the bouquet when you proposed to your fiancé. We set up the veranda for your wedding by the sunset. We were there to sing you happy birthday as you came back year after year. We took care of your kids as they experienced their first Christmas by the fireplace.”
“We were overwhelmed by the comments. We are glad that we were able to achieve our goal of providing a place for people to create memories, as what we have intended Forest House to be 19 years ago,” said Ari.
The owners want to continue fulfilling that role, but the circumstances created by the Covid-19 pandemic have not been favorable to a business like Forest House that is heavily dependent on tourists. “Seventy-five percent of our guests are tourists. The remaining 25 percent are (Baguio residents), but that (number) will still be reduced kasi konti lang ang lumalabas this time.”
Ari said they were willing to continue running the business despite the losses they expected from the decline in the number of their clients – for the sake of the 25 staff members working at the restaurant and at the bed and breakfast, some of whom had been with Forest House for 17 years.
“We know that at this time, we really cannot gain profit, but we still wanted to reopen for the sake of our staff,” he said.
The restaurant prepared for the reopening. The number of tables was reduced in compliance with the policy that required food establishments to adjust their seating capacities to ensure that physical distancing is observed.
After some negotiations with the building owner, Ari said he and the building owner could not meet halfway on the rent. This is even after he declared his willingness to be on the losing end, just so they could keep the business running for their staff members to remain employed.
“I was willing to absorb the losses for the sake of our staff, for them not to lose job, but I guess I failed to get my message across,” he said of the failed negotiation on the lease.
Asked if they considered moving Forest House to a new location, Ari said he was more inclined to transferring the restaurant and the bed and breakfast to a new operator.
The Verzosas are selling Forest House’ rights for P10 million and whoever acquires the local restaurant brand, Ari wants that they retain the concept that the setting is known for – warm and cozy – and maintain the brand of service that he and his wife Raquel cultivated through the years.
He said at his age, it was time to rest after spending more than 20 years in the service industry. He added he is willing to help whoever would acquire Forest House for a year, but the assistance would only be confined to overseeing the overall operations of the business.
Ari said he prefers a buyer who has his own place to put up Forest House and one that is accessible, like the restaurant’s location along Loakan Road – a property they offered to buy while they were operating the restaurant and the bed and breakfast, but the owner declined.
Forest House is one of Baguio’s remaining homegrown restaurants. It was awarded by luxury-lifestyle magazine, The Philippine Tatler, as one of the Philippines’ Best Restaurants.
But while they may have bid their patrons goodbye, the Verzosas could not let go of the staff who they claim as the “ones who worked hard on their behalf.”
“They made Forest House a multi-awarded restaurant and a lovely bed and breakfast. They are the best. While it is true that we trained them and molded them to be great service providers who are always willing to serve others – this could not put food on their tables and shelter for them,” Raquel said in a Facebook post.
This concern for their staff members was the reason behind the launching of Raquel’s Cuisine by Forest House, which does food deliveries.
“We created this not to make profit for ourselves but to re-employ some of our staff who are like family to us. We now all work from my home, with many of our staff working together again. I believe this is how we can show help and resilience,” said Raquel, one of Baguio’s Outstanding Citizen awardees. – Jane B. Cadalig