The Legacy Marks the Spot

By Khamille Lim

In 1979, the staff of the very first Hard Rock Cafe in Hyde Park, London, received an unusual request from Eric Clapton, one of their famous regulars, to hang his Red Fender Lead II over a bar stool to mark his usual spot.

The staff obliged and not long after, a package arrived by mail from The Who’s Pete Townshend. In it was one of his guitars, accompanied by a note, “Mine’s as good as his! Love, Pete.” Over the following years, Hard Rock’s signature look took shape as more and more rock and roll mementos found their way onto its walls. As the collection increased, so did the Cafes’ legacy as a timeless tribute to a bygone but beloved era of music.

Like its forefathers, Bahrain’s Hard Rock Cafe branch exhibits relics that pay tribute to the musical legends of yesteryear, greeting customers with authentic collectible merchandise that embody the spirit of rock and roll. In an island that’s celebrated for its cultural diversity—the ideal hub for Gulf-based artists searching for creative outlets and inspiration—Hard Rock Cafe serves an enticing combination of classic musical iconography along with live bands that showcase the bristling potential of today’s local music scene. And while it is not alone this mission, what it offers over its younger indie counterparts—as evidenced by its customer base majority of expatriates and brand loyalists—is nostalgia; A comforting sense of familiarity that is enhanced by its decades-long residence in Manama’s Old Exhibition Road, and by the friendly faces of its regular staff.

She is the rock that has kept the restaurant operations steady for the past twenty years.

Of these faces, there is one that is particularly recognisable to long-time patrons—a pleasant, cheerful face lit up by youthful energy that belies her veteran status among the employees of Hard Rock Cafe. The regulars call her Verna, but her co-workers simply refer to her as “Tita.” And to them, she is the rock that has kept the restaurant operations steady for the past twenty years.

Verna greets us with her characteristic smile as we enter the restaurant and ushers us to a table below a guitar-shaped design on the ceiling. At her recommendation, we order a round of some of their best-selling cocktails before settling down to listen to her story.

Brigida “Verna” Babaran Magbitang was born into a poor family in a remote Philippine province. Her educational aspirations eventually led her to Manila, where she graduated with a BSBA degree from the Philippine School of Business Administration.

While working in the capital city as a dining supervisor for a Japanese restaurant, she was discovered and pirated by Hard Rock Bahrain owner, Khalid Abdul Aziz Al Ahmed. At the time, her husband, Rolando Magbitang was already an OFW in Kuwait, and she jumped at the chance to further support her family by trying her luck abroad. Thus, on August 21, 1988, Verna Magbitang arrived in Bahrain, and began her journey in Hard Rock Cafe.

The career risk paid off, but not right away. Verna spent her first two years as a waitress before being promoted to Dining Supervisor, a position that she then held for the next six years. Armed with passion and professionalism, she spent the succeeding years climbing her way up to the Operations Manager position—a title that she holds to this day.

The job of managing an international business chain isn’t an easy task but Verna takes it all in her stride, allowing the bad days to sharpen her professional experience, while continuously traveling and exploring potential avenues for further learning. Though her success speaks volumes about her remarkable skills, she remains perpetually grounded, never losing sight of her primary commitment to “Love All, Serve All.” This Hard Rock company mantra is one that she carries with her even outside the memorabilia-adorned walls of the Cafe, manifesting itself in various community service contributions as she strives to pay her fortunes forward.

Success stories are written, not only by opportunity, but by perseverance.

Indeed, her fortunes are plenty. Years of hard work have yielded her a comfortable life with her family, who serve as her constant motivational fuel. Today, her husband of 32 years, Rolando Magbitang works alongside her as the Head Chef of Hard Rock Cafe. Together, they were able to put their four children through college, an achievement that Verna is particularly proud of. Thanks to their earnings, they have also acquired several property investments in Manila, which have been rented out to provide the family with extra sources of income.

The future, too, looks bright. Verna’s journey in Hard Rock, rewarding as it has been, is nearing its end. She plans to retire after two years and has set her sights on starting a business in the Philippines. When she does, it will not be without leaving behind an indelible mark on the company that she has proudly served for so many years. What she will bestow on her co-workers—several of who share origin stories similar to her own—is an inspiring legacy that proves that success stories are written, not only by opportunity, but by perseverance.

A band begins to set up onstage. Verna graciously excuses herself as the surrounding tables fill up with customers. Our cocktail glasses now empty, we turn our attention back to the menu. A smiling waitress takes down our orders of Legendary Burgers and Rockin’ Wings with Heavy Metal Sauce just as the band launches its set with a familiar guitar riff, eliciting cheers from the table next to us. As we sit back and relax, surrounded by great music and the artefacts of its rich history, it becomes evident that the best part of the evening is yet to come.

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