Monday, October 19, 2009

Of oyster and gastronomy


(Published in itravel Philippines July-August 2009 issue,

Alan Legislador may have been a simple guy from Villa, Iloilo—unassuming, patient, and realistic. But fate has its own way of finding our place under the sun. Fortunately, that destined place is intertwined with our passion and rooted from what we really want to do in life.

His story started with the same success story that we always read from books or see in movies. Fifteen years ago, in a small kiosk sheltered by ordinary trapal (tent), Alan started to sell talaba (oysters) in Oton, the first municipality south of Iloilo City. Everyday he purchases a sack of talaba delivered from Roxas City and sells it patiently under the scorching heat of the sun. Though Oton is a shoreline town in Iloilo, it’s not suitable for cultivating talaba. But the locals are inclined to eat talaba since it is a well-known and favourite Ilonggo delicacy either grilled or steam. And since he is the only talaba vendor in Oton at that time, his kiosk attracted many customers. Some are locals while others came from Iloilo City and far away provinces.

Five years later, Alan’s Talabahan expanded and catered large number of customers demanding more space and upgrade of services. The business minded Alan convinced himself to embrace the demand of change for his business. With the support of his wife— Jocell, an HRM graduate—together they ventured in mounting their menu, adding more dishes mainly seafood, grilled native chicken, and pork chop in the tradition of Ilonggo cooking. The lack of proper studies in culinary arts did not hinder Alan’s desire to expand his minibistro business slowly gaining a name.

He experimented with flavours, spices, ingredients, and techniques in cooking but making sure the scrumptious quality of every dish he added to his menu remains acceptable to the palate of his growing loyal customers. His artistry is also evident in his effort to creatively redesign the interior of the restaurant reflecting native ambience and using exotic recycled materials like seashells and plastic containers.

But the attractive, if not magnetising aspect of his business is the excellent flavour of his food which loyal patrons are gushing about. With the absence of commercial advertisements, word-of-mouth praises from diners and customers did the walking talk about Alan’s Talabahan. In fact, famous people and personalities from different parts of the country visit his restaurant just to dine in and enjoy the same homegrown service. Steadily, Alan’s Talabahan has carved a gradual niche in Iloilo’s local gastronomy scene if we base it in affordability of food and word-of-mouth referrals. Such fact is indeed true and visible. At Alan’s, one can order per serving of talaba ranging from Php 30 to Php 60 which depends on the way it is cooked—either grilled, steam or the bestseller baked talaba with mouth-watering quick-melt cheese. Native dishes such as boneless bangus (milkfish), pusit (squid), steamed kasag (crab), pork chop, native chicken, and a lot more are reasonably priced for people with tight budget. The name Alan’s even reaches the shores of Manila since he got several offers of catering services from notable corporate events and parties which he gladly accepted. But in the meantime, the proposal for franchise is not his interest. He is grateful that even if he only has one branch, he still believes that honest and homegrown service will keep the loyalty of his regular customers who do the personal promotion of the place.

Fifteen years later, Alan already has what he wants in life—a happy family, hardworking employees who help him expand his thriving business, and a countless number of customers who keep coming back. Typically, they are coming back with friends or buddies who can’t get enough of Alan’s Talabahan.

Alan’s secret of success is no secret at all. His passion is a word-of-mouth story that reminds the Ilonggos of delicious yet affordable gastronomy in a close-to-home setting.

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