The Tropical Hut fever continues. As of this writing, netizens have yet to tire of telling the world what, in their opinion, are the best items on the menu, the best food pairings, and the best deals. Then there are those who post about their memorable experiences dining in one of the burger chain’s outlets.
But a social media post that stood out was one that hints at a love story—one that blossomed between Bong and Romina Landicho. Their eldest daughter, Aviegail, shared photographs of the two back in the '90s when they were part of the fast food chain’s service crew.
Bong and Romina were working students at the time—he was taking up Electronics and Communications Engineering, while she was studying Education. On regular days, they worked different shifts—Romina’s would end right at the time Bong’s would start. But there were days when their work schedules would meet, and that was the beginning of their romance.
One day at work, Romina noticed Bong seemed under the weather. So she asked the usually jolly service crew why he wasn’t in a good mood. Bong told her he might be coming down with a flu. It was a quick, friendly chat. After a few minutes, Romina was back with a small plastic bag containing paracetamol.
That got our boy thinking, “Ba’t niya ako binigyan ng gamot? Hindi naman kami close.”
Although Bong wasn’t exactly on the lookout for a relationship then, he started to take an interest in the kindhearted Romina. He would catch himself checking her out while he mopped the floor and she manned the cashier. She was pretty, he thought.
The workplace romance would get exciting when Bong found out another coworker was crushing on him. Since Bong was not interested in the girl, he simply told her he was already courting Romina.
When coworkers started to hear about the romantic development within the ranks, they naturally started teasing the new Tropical Hut love team. “Tinawag na nila akong Mama Mina, siya si Papa Bong,” recalls Romina. The teasing caught her by surprise. When the girl who was crushing on Bong asked Romina if he was courting her, Romina flatly denied. Bong wasn’t courting her. Well, not yet.
Truth was, after she gave him the paracetamol, he did feel better but he felt, ugh, lovesick. “Nagkaroon siya ng space sa puso ko,” Bong tells ANCX, blushing like everything just happened yesterday.
After the tuksuhan, Bong already started making his intentions known for real. In short, the courtship officially began. They still worked different shifts, so the ligawan came in the form of exchanging love notes written on pieces of Tropical Hut table napkins. Text messaging wasn’t invented yet in 1993.
“Nag-iipit siya ng letter sa locker ko. Pagbukas ko ng locker kinabukasan, mahuhulog yung letter. Ako naman, ganoon din ang gagawin ko, mag-iiwan din ako ng letter sa locker niya,” Romina shares.
Finding time to see Romina wasn’t exactly the big balakid sa kanilang pagmamahalan—their schools were neighbors, after all. He would even join her in church for her novenas. Bong, who’s from Bulacan, was allowed to visit Romina at her family’s residence in Zabarte, Quezon City. He liked her simplicity and kindness. She was a diligent student. “Pang forever ito,” he thought to himself then.
After a week of courtship, on the day Romina turned 18, Bong professed his true feelings for his ladylove. At the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan, he handed her a red rose and asked her to be his girlfriend. Romina said “yes”—but not until later that day when they arrived at the Zabarte home for her birthday celebration.
Clearly, Romina didn’t believe in long courtships. “Ang katwiran ko din naman noon, bakit mo pa papatagaling manligaw, bobolahin ka din naman,” she tells ANCX. “Sabi ko, sagutin ko na lang para makita ko ang tunay na ugali.”
Asked what attracted her to Bong, Romina says: “Nung una siyempre physical ang makikita mo. Guwapo naman talaga siya. Maganda ang mata niya at matipuno ang katawan nya. At saka mahilig siyang mag-joke. Masaya siyang kasama. Kapag kasama mo siya, palagi ka niyang napapatawa.” At this point, you can’t wipe the big smile on Bong’s face.
There were other romantic relationships that blossomed at Tropical Hut Novaliches around that time. This eventually reached the store manager who thought this was going to be bad for business. As remedy, couples were broken up—but only outlets-wise: one got to stay in the Nova branch, the other was assigned to a different Tropical Hut.
Since Bong and Romina worked on different shifts anyway, the two simply remained discreet about their relationship. “Deadmahan kami kung mag-abot kami sa store,” recalls the latter. But they continued to secretly leave love notes written on the fast food table napkins. “Meron akong inihulog na note minsan, ang nakasulat, ‘Hintayin kita sa sakayan. Secret lang to,’” Bong shares to ANCX, laughing.
After four years, Romina completed her education degree and ended her employment at Tropical Hut. Bong stayed on for a couple more years in the burger chain until he graduated. On Bong’s fifth year in college, he and Romina had their first baby and started their married life.
“Very thankful kami kasi dahil sa Tropical Hut, nakapagtapos kami pareho ng pag-aaral. Malaking tulong siya sa mga students na hindi afford na makapag-college katulad namin,” says Romina.
At that time, working students were required to submit a copy of their school registration cards to Tropical Hut if they wish to continue as service crew. This encouraged working students not to drop school. School schedules were also matched with work shifts.
After giving birth, Romina had to take a break from teaching. She’s thankful Bong was allowed to continue working as a service crew in Tropical Hut. “Buti kahit na nag-asawa na kami, hindi siya tinanggal sa TH. Nakapagtapos pa din siya.”
When the fast food chain became a trending topic on social media, it brought back all the beautiful memories working and falling in love in Tropical Hut.
The couple admits to ANCX they have told their love story to their children countless times. “Pinagkukuwentuhan namin lagi. Sawa na siguro silang pakinggan ang istorya namin kasi paulit-ulit,” Bong says, laughing. But with daughter Aviegail’s social media post, it’s clear their story is something the kids don’t mind coming back to up to now—you know, like a good old TH combo meal.
[Photos courtesy of Aviegail Landicho]