Easter Monday came and just like that, the shop reached its one year milestone. There are standards, quantitative and qualitative targets. When I ask myself how to assess that year… indeed, how? … In profit, turnover of tables, expenditure per guest, speed towards return on investment? In online thumbs ups, Instagram endorsements, TV features? Happiness quotient from guests, friendships formed, relationships restored within our walls? Smiles inside our kitchens, growth for my staff, prayers and praises uttered?
Many targets have been met and exceeded even as there remains room for improvement but in all these things I declare thanks for the graces God has already given. He has been faithful, sometimes leaving me in awe and out of words… what more can I say Lord, but “thank You!”
Contrary to what some people thought, I didn’t dream to open up my own restaurant. Not after I helped The Beloved in the first year he set up his restaurant sixteen years ago. I realised then that the work behind the scenes is no joke from morning until night with just a little break in between; there are no shortcuts. My years doing Christmas food gift baskets, sometimes working 24 hours straight, added to the thought,”This can consume a person. And … I don’t want to be owned.”
But in 2014, the first year that both my sons would start living in university far from me, I asked God the long-running question, “What is the best way to spend these empty nest years?” Before the project of remodeling my Petron Makati store and sign the lease to the old run -down house in Kapitolyo (which looks like our company logo) when I came across this verse:
Yes to Petron and Kapitolyo building projects… Not just cakes anymore? More produce…vegetables… fruits… herbs…?
“Inventive” makes me think “be innovative, creative, unique”…whereas I used to just cook for my home, family, friends, my kids’ friends, these two verses gave me courage to do this work officially in the hospitality industry. I felt that despite the resources, time, energy, interest, and passion requirements this kind of endeavour needs, God would be behind me to sustain me.
After the go signal, in front of a big task, how does one even begin?
I needed a team to run this.
God already gave me Alix Angliongto who ignited the spark with her “vintage kitchen” suggestion. She had told her sister, Joi Cutter, she couldn’t put her finger on why but she felt like she wanted to help me (I kind of could…). Joi ended up as my beloved designer whose joy, passion, creativity, and childlike out-of-the-box approach were the perfect match for the “inventive” design task.
My dearest prayer partners prayed with me every step of the way. Thank You Lord for each of them!
But I can’t cook for fifty guests by myself! In synch with Catherine Zeta Jones’s dance in Chicago, I knew I can’t do it alone. Pray, pray, pray…
I met my head cook at last year’s church fast for the first time after I asked a pastor if he knew of anyone looking for a job. “She just left!” he declared. But a last resort callout revealed she was just in front of us! We were each other’s answered prayer!
Now I have four cooks and two assistant cooks, none of whom used to cook professionally. My dining team came from different backgrounds and have recently been hailed by blogger, Frannywanny, to give “amazing, similar to fine-dining service.” My beautiful cake team remnant plus bonus has remained with me for many years. One of them was with me when I was just growing my hobby business in Manila seventeen years ago . Praise God for these teams plus… last but not least, my cornerstone admin office team! All precious blessings! Each one an answer to prayer.
What to serve? Last year, we started with just eight items on the trial beyond-cakes menu. Shortly after we opened, my aunt Irma excitedly booked a table; with her, I felt free to experiment with a multi-course meal. Much to my surprise, one of her guests, Janine wrote a lovely review on Facebook, I couldn’t believe it! The excitement was like falling in love! With work!:)
Guests sometimes walked in and asked if we had chicken with rice or pasta. We tried to accommodate those requests. Our guest, Annabelle once asked for Crispizza with smoked fish and cream cheese, a new baked chicken. From there, the Bangus Crispizza and Dalandan Chicken were created while I kept praying for what we will feed our guests specially those who came in regularly who would soon have tongue fatigue. Another guest, Rose, requested if we could make a pasta whose base would be olive oil; the Lughanigue Pasta was born. Eventually, creative, inventive dishes that maximised use of vegetables, herbs (produce from the garden) came together as a healthy menu that appealed even to non-vegetarians.
People who appreciated the food asked me what culinary school I went to and that made me reflect… when I was helping my sister, Joy, bake, that’s how I learned how to bake. While I helped my American Rotary Mom, Shirley, when she cooked daily, that’s how I learned how to cook instinctively. It was uncanny that during the times I thought I was helping others, God was equipping me! (So don’t hesitate to help!)
In the first few weeks, we were getting complaints that the pasta was too soft. Oops! Actually at our house, our pasta is set to be enjoyed even by those who are chew-challenged. But this was a concern … er… complaint for more guests.
One day, Coritte and Dr. Sun and their son, Francis, came. She mentioned that Francis, who was about to graduate from CIA New York, was willing to help me while he was on vacation in Manila! Within a few days, Francis promptly came with his rolling packet of precision cooking tools and he taught the whole kitchen team (of three then) how to cook the pasta al dente. For several more days, Francis came; we tried the food and he diagnosed what could be improved and gave suggestions. We experimented with some recipes. What an angel he is! I mean… what angels they are! Who chooses to use their vacation to volunteer at my kitchen?
From our early Palm Village days when I surrendered my Marketing Plan to God, He was faithful. Even before Kapitolyo shop opened, He went before us sending angels our way to promote the shop.
This one came out in Yummy Magazine on our opening month:
My friend, Vivian Go, brought awesome Chef Reggie Aspiras who was delighted with the Sticky Toffee Pudding and wrote about it on Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Golden-hearted Anton and lovely Rache Diaz came with their family and featured the shop on Our Awesome Planet.
Anton also included some of our hot dishes and desserts in his 100 Photos of Great Cuisines in the Philippines!
Appetite Magazine under the talented Nina Daza Puyat put up our first full magazine feature:
followed by MyHome Magazine by Andi and her marvelous team:
Professional Pepper.ph Editor, Mikka Wee, mentioned of Karen’s Kitchen as venturing into the “unparalleled dining experience brought by a home-cooked meal…”
Business and Leisure (Thanks Makie!) and GMA 7’s Balitanghali (Thanks Jonas for the recommendation!)
Then came TV5’s Aksyon sa Tanghali (Thank you Roda!).
The sweetest photo finish TV spot was getting featured for Kris Aquino’s birthday episode just less than a month before she filmed her final episode of KrisTV. It was like an action stunt of getting in through the closing door just in time.
We got included in more blogs with such gracious writers including Talesfromtheheart (Sugarospice), ChasingDreams, MrsBo (Rica Peralejo), Gluttonshopper, Greenlunchdiaries, MakeitBlissful, MarilenStyles, Muni-muni, and others.
Two more desserts (Xanadu and Sticky Toffee Pudding) made it to the Philippine Daily Inquirer Best Desserts List (making the total six of our cakes!)
GMA News Online Restaurant Review by Karen Galarpe called it “Homey, Healthy, Heartwarming,”; “On a recent visit with friends, we were there for a long lunch which lasted four hours. We fell in love with the Quinoa Vegetable Medley salad and the Dalandan Chicken with Turmeric Rice.”
ABS CBN Lifestyle included us in the list of Sights to Behold: 5 Instagram-Worthy Restaurants in Kapitolyo.
Choose Philippines included us in the 5 Quiet Spots in Metro Manila: Find Yourself Amid Chaos.
We were included in the list of 3 Dollhouse- like Restaurants in Metro Manila.
Happy guests posted of their satisfied treks to the shop and I highly prize each and every one. Among these many graces from our valued guests, one recent post was special because it validated that we are not only for grandmas (whom we love dearly) but can be appreciated by… well, someone in The Beloved’s demographic 🙂
A “chance” simultaneous arrival at the ground floor escalator of Century Mall with Philippine Culinary Heritage Movement proponent, Chef Jam Melchor, led to our participation in the gala night and the subsequent addition of Fiipino dishes (healthier version) in our menu to do our little share in promoting Philippine culture and heritage through food, supporting local farmers and producers, and helping our own country’s economy. I also never dreamed of the possibility of singing at the Philippine National Museum the opening Filipino song number, Payapang Daigdig.
God also opened up surprise face-to-face opportunities to interview for this blog Don Moen, Kuh Ledesma, Coney Reyes, Jaya, Fernando Carrillo, Stephen Baldwin, and other inspiring men and women of faith.
One year is a lot of time with so many praiseworthy blessings too many to list here. I didn’t get to diligently document but this is a fair sampling, thanks to Instragram.
My favourite blessings are the stories of encouragement and healing, restoration of relationships (Adele and Marnie among others); people coming together specifically to pray and praise God, share their lives and blessings with one another. Having the shop allowed me to share His love and my hope in Him with others. I don’t have all the pictures on hand but it’s a good thing God will remember all those precious moments even after I forget them.
Praise God for He is true. He didn’t lead me here to leave me here. Looking back, He kept me company, provided for and sustained me as He validated the work He assigned for this life season with the help of His many angels around.
When He validates my work, I sometimes feel like I’m Geena Davis in Long Kiss Goodnight in her Eureka I-can-cook moment. This fans my praises for the God who makes it possible for an unschooled, ordinary girl in the culinary world to dish out a little love on a plate in her little corner of the world.
I thought striving to do a good job was my true and proper worship for God. I realize this was for my benefit… an answer to an earlier prayer on how I would make it through the infamously dreaded empty nest season. While my nest was empty, He made my cup full.
Lord thank You once again for the village You’ve placed around me—our customers, suppliers, encouragers, inspirers, teachers, prayer partners, and team members! Everyone is a blessing! Can you please repay each of them a thousandfold?
If I measure these 525,600 minutes of the shop in Your love, I am surely overflowing!