Fil-Am DC-area food businesses trying to stay afloat
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Part 2) — In the DC-Maryland-Virginia area, state shelter-in-place mandates forced many businesses to shut down in mid-March. Hit hard by the pandemic, Filipino American restaurant and catering business owners have had to downsize, suspend indoor dining, and relieve staff to cope with the dramatic plunge in business. To survive, many have resorted to creative and innovative ways.
Matthew’s Grill in Gaithersburg, Maryland, which is co-owned by Chef Raymond Domingo, was doing carry-out and to-go orders for a while, out of concern for their staff and customers’ safety. The restaurant opened to indoor dining only recently, by following rules outlined by the state of Maryland: Putting at least 6 feet between tables to allow customers to practice social distancing, and requiring all staff to wear face masks.
“It’s been tough the past few months, especially our catering service,” Domingo says. “We’re doing our best to survive.”
Before Covid, the popular eatery hosted full-house birthday parties, anniversary celebrations and wedding receptions. Customers would line up early for the Filipino style brunch buffet on Sundays. Fans of Matthew’s Grill drive distances even from outside the DMV area to savor the restaurant’s authentic culinary offerings.
Cristina and Emil Zerrudo, owners of Manila Oriental Market in Springfield, say their biggest problem is not getting much-need products from suppliers, like pancit bihon and kalamansi. The restaurant, which opened in 2010, has a full capacity of up to100 seats. It’s mostly carry-out for now. They installed clear acrylic barriers and markers on the floor to protect customers and workers. Her main concern: prices of goods had gone up, and supplies are rationed. “Thankfully, we kept all our seven helpers, and didn’t have to lay off anyone,” she says.
In Rockville, Maryland, Filipino Market and Café owner Marie Jane Rumingan is grateful she’s still able to pay the rent and keep her employees. “We are their only source of income as they lost their regular jobs,” she says. “They have families to support and we’re just glad to remain open 7 days a week.” The Carinderia continues to provide carry-out service. Like other owners, she has to deal with inadequate stock of dry goods.
About a mile down on College Park Plaza is Alex and Nancy Sibungco’s KC Filipino Restaurant. Formerly called Kapampangan Restaurant, the owners moved last year after 12 years in its old location. The 50-seat eatery is now open at half its capacity, with takeout and curbside pick-ups. Catering orders have slowed down considerably. “Before, especially during holidays and special occasions, our catering business did very well. But now that parties and large gatherings have stopped, an income source has dried up.”
Meanwhile, Kusina by Egg Karne (located inside the new 99 Ranch Market in Fairfax, Virginia) just opened recently. According to Rodney Salinas, their signature ube burger (two longganisa patties, double cheese, egg, ube syrup between two ube pancakes) is a big hit.
According to owner J.R. Ling, “Growing up both, along with a love for food, inspired our vision for Egg Karne. Our food is inspired by family recipes from the Philippines and perfected in Virginia. Our focus is on simple, fresh food, locally sourced. Our desire is to provide a delicious eating experience coupled with excellent customer service. Egg Karne is a full serve cafe serving a fusion of modern Filipino flavors and American classics.”
Thanks to high demand, Tito Al’s Chicharones, a frozen and dry goods distributor based in Oxon Hill, Maryland is growing. His distribution company has taken over some distribution centers from California and other States. For months now, the distribution companies had failed to deliver high demands from grocery stores, supermarkets and restaurants. Tito Al and his team worked out a system where they can work effectively, safely, and timely.
So for more than six months now, his company is thriving. More so now that a lot of work-at home baking and cooking businesses had sprung. The demand for spices, frozen products, Asian ingredients and dry goods are very much in demand. Tito Al is grateful to his loyal and hardworking staff. He also donates frozen and dry goods to help feed the area’s homeless.
Cope and hope on the menu
Purple Patch Chef Patrice Cleary says she is constantly looking at “how we can better serve the community by finding out what they need from us. Sometimes, it’s hard to think of others before yourself during a pandemic when you have your own fears and family to think of. But what we came to understand was, if you can take care of the community, the community will in turn take care of you.”
Despite the business challenges, Cleary has continued to provide free breakfast and lunch for kids who live around the neighborhood.
“We are also using QR codes for everything,” she points out. “As soon as guests take their seats, we ask them to take their phones out, turn their cameras on and hover over top of the QR codes and our menus will magically pop up. It’s really fun to be able to show this to people especially if they have never done it before. This reduces physical interaction with customers. We also clean and sanitize everything frequently, take daily temperature checks for all staff, do contact tracing for all patio guests so we have a way of reaching them if something does occur, and wear masks and gloves at all times.”
Like Armstrong, Cleary is not sure what the future holds either. “In DC, we are in Phase 2, which means we are allowed to seat customers indoors, but we just aren’t comfortable with that. First and foremost is the safety of my staff and our guests, and if that means not doing more business because of that, then that is a sacrifice I am going to make.
“I want to believe that we will have a mild winter and it will not start getting really cold until January/February. If that is the case, then we will be okay for a while. If not, then the winter can be tough for us, as we will not be able to continue our outdoor dining.
“It’s a very sad time for the restaurant community. I have friends that have spent their whole life dedicated to the service industry and within a few months, everything they had is gone. Daily I hear of restaurants closing or on the verge of closing.
“I think about them and their families and what do they have to fall back on? This was their dream. I am extremely grateful that my restaurant is still here because unfortunately, so many of us won’t be. My restaurant will continue to provide free breakfast and lunch for kids in the area for as long as we can.” To date, Purple Patch has given out close to 3,500 meals.
“We’ll take it one day at a time,” Zerrudo says. “We can’t lose hope that things will get better.”
Cristeta Pasia Comerford, White House Executive Chef, says she understands the hardships Filipino businesses are going through. “We can help out by geting an extra meal to share with a neighbor or a friend and tip generously as these front liners are having a tough season. A note to say thank you goes a long way, as well! Filipinos are resilient people because they get their strength from each other.”
Making sure they stay in business is something Rodney Salinas is concerned about. As National Sales Director at HUNGRY, a national market place for top local chefs and delivery service, he knows how the COVID-19 has affected immigrant communities the hardest. “I try to purchase meals from as many local Filipino owned restaurants as I can to help them with their cash flow through the crisis,” he says.
Adds Mark Arevalo, Federal Cyber Lead at U.S. Department of Energy, and Chair, Board of Advisors at Filipino Young Professionals (FYP): “These businesses have done so much for our community by sharing our food and culture not only with Filipinos but everyone who loves great food. We need to be very intentional with our support by patronizing these establishments regularly. They have become more like family and there is nothing you wouldn’t do for your family.”
These family-owned businesses are run by mothers and fathers who serve others so that they can support their own families, explains Randy Lizardo, Asst. Clinical Professor at GWU who goes on medical missions to the Philippines. “Let’s show our bayanihan spirit during these difficult times, buy gift certificates and recommend them to our friends and colleagues,” he implores.
“Let’s help them weather the storm,” says Ken Mendoza, President, Filipino American Basketball Association (FABA). “We don’t want to see them close permanently. That will be a big loss.”
Cristina Sison, Realtor and President of the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce of DC, notes that over the years, Filipino-American restaurant owners have generously donated trays of food for charity events, placed ads in souvenir journals and promote community programs. She is proposing an initiative that will list all Filipino American restaurant in one directory, raise the Filipino voice through food and have regular virtual townhall meetings featuring each one of them.
The Philippine Embassy, through Consul General J.V. Chan-Gonzaga, released a statement indicating that the embassy plans to get together with these businesses soon “in order to work more deliberately in supporting their continued profitability.”
“We are gratified by the spirit of bayanihan that the Filipino community in the DMV area has embraced in going out of their way to support Filipino restaurants. We call on kababayans to rally behind these restaurants that cook our comfort foods and ensure that no pandemic can put down these great purveyors of the versatility, vibrancy and richness of Filipino cuisine. At the same time, we are proud to see these same struggling restaurants demonstrate a strong sense of solidarity with the local communities.”
Fil-Am Restaurant Directory
A Taste of the World, 283 Sunset Park Drive, Herndon, VA. Tel. 571.235 8397
Ate Luming’s, Owner: Luming Pascual, 9201 Livingston Road, Ft. Washington, MD., 301.265 9500
Bad Saint, 3226 11th St NW, Washington, DC 20010
BISTRO 1521, 900 N Glebe Rd #100, Arlington, VA 22203. Tel. 703.741.0917
Corner Q Filipino Restaurant, 8170 Silverbrook Rd, Lorton, VA 22079. Tel. 703.690.0777
Fairfax Inn Restaurant, 2946 Sleepy Hollow Rd, Falls Church, VA 22044; (703) 532-0616
Filipino Market and Café, 759 Hungerford Dr, Rockville MD 20850, Owner: Marie Jane Rumingan, 301.217.5920
JULIANA’S, 7230 Nathan Ct., Manassas, VA. 20109. Tel. (703) 335-9377
KALIWA, Owner and Executive Chef: Cathal Armstrong. 751 Wharf Street SW, Washington, DC., 516 4739
KAMAYAN Fiesta 2020, Jhett Duran, Owner and Executive Chef, 7700-B. Backlick Road, Springfield, VA 22050
KC Filipino Restaurant, Owner: Alex and Nancy Siaobungco, 15108 Frederick Rd, Rockville, MD 20850. (301) 424-1100
KUSINA by Egg Karne, 10780 Fairfax, Blvd, Fairfax, VA.. 571.308 6733
Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly, Owner & Chef: Javier Fernandez, 5268-H Nicholson Ln, North Bethesda, MD., 240.669 4383
Manila Mart, 5023 Garrett Ave, Beltsville, MD. 20705. Tel. 301.931.0086
Manila Oriental Market, Owners: Emil and Cristina Zerruda, 7026 Commerce St, Springfield, VA 22150. Tel. 703.379.0595
Matthew’s Grill, Co-owner & Chef: Raymond Domingo, 213 Muddy Branch Road, Gaithersburg, MD. Tel. 301.990 8858
Northstar, Catering and Carryout, Owners: Merlyn & John Eda, 7400 Livingston Road, Oxon Hill, Maryland. Tel. 567 4101
Pinoy Market & Café, 9675 Liberia Ave, Manassas, VA 20110. Tel. 703.331.1337
Purple Patch DC, Owner and Chef: Patrice Cleary, 3155 Mt. Pleasant St NW, Washington, DC 20010. Tel. 202.299-0022
Tiki on 18th and The Game Sports Pub, Owner and Chef: Jo-Jo Valenzuela. 2411 18th Street, NW, Washington, DC. Tel. 846 1952