When the retrenchments were announced following the non-renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise, the employees of the network’s food business operations were overcome with worry.
This includes the staff at the 9501 Restaurant which is a special dining spot for many employees. It’s where press cons are held, victory parties for hit movies, and the usual executive meetings. It’s where we have lunch when we’re feeling a little special, or when it’s payday. We’ll usually order the wagyu fried rice—or the grilled salmon when we’re on a diet—sit on one of the plush chairs and enjoy our meal while looking at the QC landscape through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows. It’s like eating in a fancy restaurant except in the place where you work.
One floor down is the cafe we frequent, where the food is pre-cooked and friendlier to the budget—but the quality of the meals remains very good, otherwise we won’t be having lunch there almost everyday. Here, the sinigang na salmon head is our default order, as is the ginisang munggo. When it’s on the day’s menu, we’ll get the pork binagoongan, or the bopis, with the sautéed pechay on the side to balance things off. While the selections are presented turo-turo style, uniformed waiters bring the food to our tables, the kubyertos are neatly arranged, the cold water is poured from an old bottle of wine, and we drink from goblets.
As good as the food is the quality of service. You just have to take our word for it when we say the ABS-CBN front of house staff can give the service personnel in five-star hotels a run for their money. They are the friendliest, most maasikaso, and most observant guys. And that’s why it broke our hearts when we heard that they, along with the staff from the building’s Heroes Burger and The Farm Organics restaurant in Rockwell, had to go, too, pack their things, and venture into the bleak unknown.
“The thought on everyone’s head at that time was, ‘How will I feed my family during this pandemic?’,” shares Cris Manalang, who was the network’s director of F&B Operations.
Unknown to the employees, however, Chef Him Uy de Baron, was already cooking up something. 9501 had already started a new food concept called “Cook Kits” in March. “These are ready-to-heat, ready-to-cook dishes that we offer our Kapamilyas who miss the food offerings of 9501,” says Cris. But when ABS-CBN was shut down, the project was put in the backburner, until the restaurant finally closed in August.
A ray of hope suddenly shone when Chef Him, one day, offered an idea to the former employees: “Why don’t we just continue Cook Kits?” By then, ABS-CBN president Carlo Katigbak and Themed Experiences group head Cookie Bartolome had given the go signal for the use of the Cook Kits logo. They also have permission to inform the public that they were part of the ABS-CBN food group.
But where will they cook when their former kitchens have already closed? Enter Marvin Agustin, the seasoned restaurateur with a number of successful dining concepts to his name. After talking with Chef Him, the former Kapamilya actor, out of the goodness of his heart, offered the use of part of his commissary kitchen in Kamias, Quezon City to his ‘ex-workmates’ in ABS-CBN.
So with the Cook Kits concept from executive chef Richard Arañas and Chef Him, Marvin’s kitchen serving as production HQ, and an initial capital offered by Chef Him himself, a startup food venture was born. They call it Kusina Kapamilya.
“When we told the former employees about it, yung worries nila napalitan ng ngiti,” shares Cris. “Everyone was excited!”
Kusina Kapamilya now has 15 members on its team. Cris takes charge of business development, Chef Richard does research and development, 9501’s OIC head of operations Leah Bellin helps out with operations. Like any startup biz, they posted teasers a week before the launch and sent an email blast to announce the new venture. After ironing out a few kinks, Kusina Kapamilya launched on October 22.
Among the offerings include ready-to-cook tapa, beef salpicao, lumpiang shanghai, and empanada. The ready-to-heat menu includes laing, gising-gising, pumpkin soup, truffle pasta sauce, and tinapa puttanesca pasta sauce. The tenderloin beef salpicao and the truffle mushroom pasta sauce were recipes of The Farm Organic.
“Our customers can expect the same timpla, the same recipe of the 9501 dishes because most of them were conceptualized by Chef Richard, who’s the executive chef of 9501,” says Cris. “Chef Richard had worked with ABS-CBN for over a decade.”
The caldereta and adobo became very popular when their patron Marvin posted about them on his vlog. “We had 20 packs prepared for the opening. First few days, kaunti ang nag-oorder, but after Marvin’s post, we had to do two more batches of our production. We got good reviews,” Cris happily shares.
“Right now, more Kapamilyas are liking the Kusina Kapamilya Facebook and Instagram page. Marvin’s followers are also following us. After a week’s time, from 500, our numbers have gone up to 1,000,” she adds.
As for their “lutong bahay” offerings, Cris says they are planning to add more dishes in time for the holidays, which include “CLK’s favorite pork binagoongan dish.” CLK, of course, is ABS-CBN president Carlo Lopez Katigbak.
Right now, Kusina Kapamilya does production work three to four times a week, but food dispatches are done every day—including weekends and holidays. The members of the team take turns in going to the commissary, so that there are only four people there at a time. They take orders online–via Facebook and Instagram. Payments are done online, as a health safety protocol.
The whole experience has been transformative for the Kusina Kapamilya team, shares Cris. “Sometimes I would hear them say, ‘Pre, we need to be there 6am. Madaming nabawas sa stocks natin kahapon.’ I would tease them, ‘hindi ko yan nadidinig dati sa inyo ah,” she shares, laughing. “This has made them better individuals.” They needn’t have lost their jobs but a hard reality has presented itself. One thing they learned in this journey? “Anuman ang pagsubok sa buhay,” says Chris, “huwag mawalan ng pag-asa.”