By Marivir R. Montebon
New York – Filipino restauranteurs here said that the continued support of Filipino clients – and the growing non-Filipino market – have made them survive the one-year-old pandemic.
Restaurant owners Joey Chanco of Tradisyon, Augelyn Francisco of Kabisera Kape, and Queenie Banez of Asin said that their business survival meant the art of quick innovation, mindfulness of health protocols, and a lot of positive attitude.
The restauranteurs were in conversation during the 5th episode of Issues & Inspiration digital show on February 13, 2021 hosted by Marivir Montebon of OSM! Online magazine and Grace Labaguis of Synergy Production and Marketing.
Coffee Run: A community’s love effort
Francisco of Kabisera Kape said it took her some time to “process” herself in the face of the lockdown, as she was fearful and sad, looking at New York becoming a ghost city.
“In February, I was in high spirit because it’s been a year since we moved to this new space. But then the lockdown was enforced. I was scared. A few months later, we had the coffee run. The coffee run actually kept my sanity,” she said.
Kabisera’s ‘coffee run’ was actively participated by individuals and groups in the Filipino community who ordered coffee and pastries in bulk to be delivered to Filipino nurses in various hospitals in the city. Kabisera had never been busier. “Our coffee run was a community effort of love. It made Kabisera survive,” quipped Francisco.
Kabisera is located on Allen Street in lower Manhattan and serves Latin and Philippine-made coffee and Filipino desserts. Francisco said that Kabisera has focused in providing deliciously unique Philippine desserts in their neighborhood in order to carve its now niche market.
Kabisera currently runs Kabisera Collective, a boutique featuring Philippine-made accessories and novelty items to increase its sales.
One-day old Tradisyon holds on the digital power
Chanco remembered how worried he was when the lockdown was enforced because Tradisyon was just opened for a day. “We opened on a Tuesday and the lockdown was Wednesday. I felt devastated!”
Immediately, he and his team had to device the online delivery system, produce lots of pictures, and create a website. They finished the online set-up in a week, when normally it would take a month.
Chanco, who used to work at the Tourism attache of the Philippine Consulate in New York, said that the city government’s ongoing campaign to support local businesses have made Tradisyon survive. It really feels like this is a community of love, he said.
Tradisyon, a fast and casual restaurant, is located on 9th Avenue and 57th street. It specializes on Filipino dishes in a bowl. Its rice over adobo squid, pork adobo, and Kare-kare (oxtail) have proven to be a favorite items in the neighborhood.
Being a newly opened business, Tradisyon was not qualified for government financial support, an additional burden for him. Still, his team had been bullish and just went through the dark days.
The market indeed kept Tradisyon afloat. Chanco takes pride each time a non-Filipino would go to Tradisyon to eat Filipino food. “That really makes me feel good as a Filipino restaurant owner.” He said that about 60% of his clients are non-Filipinos.
Uniquely delicious Filipino dishes
Queenie and Vincent Banez of Asin Restaurant in Bloomfield, NJ, affirmed the experience of Kabisera and Tradisyon – it was the community’s patronage that made them survive.
Being in a predominantly Italian and American community, she attributed their survival to Asin’s delicious Filipino dishes. “We introduce our food to non-Filipinos and they try it and like it. Hence, we are in a way educating them about us. The simple ones first – like the lumpia shanghai and pancit. Then they come back and like it.”
Banez said that Asin’s brand dishes include ukoy (crab meat and shrimp cooked in coconut milk), Kare-kare, and the signature dessert Turon fiesta (halu-halu without the ice with ube sauce).
Gov. Cuomo had ordered the reopening of indoor dining starting February 14 to 25 percent, a welcome development for the Filipino restaurants.
Both Banez and Chanco said that the 25 percent indoor dining is a good start, and added that the strict health protocols were never to be compromised.
Francisco, meanwhile, said Kabisera has not opened its indoor dining and instead concentrated on the indoor boutique merchandise. “I am more concerned with health, especially that my little son is always with me at the restaurant,” she quipped.
The three business owners agreed that positive attitude and innovation were important in coping with the challenges of the pandemic. Chanco and Francisco commended the city government for its support to local businesses, through the office of Media and Entertainment commissioner Anne del Castillo.
Banez, meanwhile said that as the pandemic is still so much around, “We are still suffering, but positive attitude is the most important.” # (Featured photo is Tradisyon’s rice bowls – Kare-kare over rice and Chicken adobo over rice)