Running a carinderia (restaurant) in the backyard

James Ryan Jonas

Nobody can miss it: The vibrant orange extension of the house in Masambahin corner Mapagkawanggawa Streets in Teachers Village East. The place does not even have a signage, just two banners — one says Pinggan #25 Food House; the other proclaims the place’s best sellers — lumpiang ubod and other home-cooked specialties.
The neighborhood restaurant, a dream of Ana Jose, business administration graduate of Miriam College, has been around since Aug. 21, 2001.
The homey restaurant can seat 20 indoors and 30 in the open area. Here, neighboring residents, NGO office workers and other nearby office workers drop by for a hot lunch Mondays to Saturdays except holidays. But it is in the delivery service that Pinggan is known for.
Pinggan delivers, cash-on-delivery (COD), phoned-in orders within Teachers Village, UP Village and Sikatuna for free. At first delivery was on foot, then by bike and now by motorcycle. Delivery time is from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
There is a minimum of P100 worth of orders for deliveries, but this rule is not followed, Ana admits. Even one or two dishes are delivered as long as it’s on the way to other deliveries.
Being a neighborhood restaurant, Ana uses affordable pricing. Fish like tilapia and galunggong, and everyday vegetables like kalabasa and sitaw go for P25. Beef, pork and chicken regularly go for P40 per serving, more for specialty shellfish or meats like grilled lomot (P70), grilled stuffed bangus (P90), callos (P55), kare-kare (P75) and lengua (P65).
Most of Pinggan’s customers are senior citizens, neighbors and friends of Ana’s parents, Majo and Rey Jose who are active members of the Church and barangay. The majority are couples who now have an empty nest and find cooking for two no longer viable. But there are families too who place their orders including their children’s school lunch boxes.
Every day there are about 10 dishes to choose from. There is always fish, beef, pork, chicken and vegetables, and sisig, which is in great demand everyday. Saturdays, when Pinggan is open only half day, there is less variety unless there are orders for the weekend.
To ensure consistency in the servings, the food is weighed (as in arroz caldo), or a slice/piece counted. A serving of chicken, for example, would consist of three pieces of chicken.
Ana started with a loan of P150,000 from her mom, P50,000 from her dad, and about $200 from paternal aunts abroad. The main building which holds five square monoblock tables for four, is an extension from the Jose house. It is here where the food is served.
The kitchen, a bright yellow, and the roofed, tiled outdoor extension for 30 diners sits on Ana’s Tita Cha Oloroso’s adjoining lot for free. Together, the two properties total about 500 square meters.
To enhance the restaurant’s appeal Ana makes use of tropical colors — vibrant orange for the outside walls, blue and lime indoors, and matching blue and lime plaid tableclothes. Mementos from Ana’s working cruises — a framed embroidery from Guatemala and a terra cotta wall hanging from Venezuela — adorn the walls.
The tropical scheme is carried in the outdoor extension with bright orange walls, lime posts, matching yellow-orange-red plaid tablecloths. Painting was a do-it-yourself job with the staff last Holy Week break.
The place is not air-conditioned but the dining areas are amply ventilated with electric fans. And the outdoor greenery adds to the cooling effect.
Today, Ana also does food catering and again her best advertisement is by word of mouth from satisfied customers. A minimum of 15-20 is all that’s needed. Last Christmas, they had an order of 600 packed lunch boxes for an NGO.
Pinggan’s staff is made up of six stay-in employees who get free room and board. The cook, Nanette, was Ana’s yaya for 20 years. When the Joses resigned from their jobs, they had to let Nanette go. Nanette went to the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines where she learned to cook for a crowd. She heads the Pinggan staff with “Kamaganak Inc.”
From Pinggan’s earnings, Ana pays for the groceries and utilities of the Jose household of five. Plus the family’s lunch and dinner, and the staff’s, too.
Lucky for Ana to find the opportunity to make her dream come true right in her backyard, so to speak.

– Excerpts from “Dream comes true in her backyard” by EC Estrada, published on page B1 of the November 19, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

James Ryan Jonas teaches business management, investments, and entrepreneurship at the University of the Philippines (UP). He is also the Executive Director of UP Provident Fund Inc., managing and investing P3.2 Billion ($56.4 Million) worth of retirement funds on behalf of thousands of UP employees.