Resto with a ‘history’

FUNFARE - Ricky Lo - The Philippine Star
Resto with a âhistoryâ
Far left: The Alcover sisters Karen and Gretchen in front of the Paolito’s branch at SM City, and (left) with the American boy band The Real People at the Paolito’s SM Seaside branch where they had a show.
Photos by Raoul Tidalgo

CEBU CITY ­— When Danny Dolor, this paper’s Remember When? columnist, learned that my friend Raoul Tidalgo and I were going to Cebu, he reminded us to drop by Paolito’s and sample the restaurant’s wide selection of Filipino food.

“Masarap,” Danny assured us. “Very different from Filipino food served in other restaurants.”

Danny was endorsing Paolito’s not only because Joy Lirio Alcover, the matriarch of the family that owns and manages the restaurants (one at the basement of SM City and the other at the third floor of SM Seaside), is his first cousin but also, more so, because the food is really so good that even smaller eaters like Raoul and me consumed quite a load of the tummy-fillers that Karen Alcover-Cabahug and her sister Gretchen (who quit as flight attendant at Qatar Airways to help run the business, managing the SM City branch) laid out for us, four of which are pictured with this story.

Among the Paolito’s best-sellers, clockwise from upper right: Baked Scallops, Lapu-Lapu, Pochero and Tuna Panga

It was a Friday, between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, and Paolito’s SM City outlet was packed full with customers. Just like the SM Seaside branch, the restaurant occupies three adjacent spaces and has more than 25 tables.

“Every day is a holiday,” said Karen who oversees the two restaurants, the eldest of the four children of Joy and Jerry Noel Alcover (the two others are Ria, who manages the SM Seaside branch, and the now Canada-based Paolito for whom the restaurants were named). “We are always full, even during ordinary days.”

Food, glorious food!!!

And yet, during two Christmases more than 16 years ago, the Alcovers hardly had anything to eat for noche buena, no lights not only on the lackluster Christmas tree but throughout their house on Orchid Street in Capitol Site. Yes, power was disconnected due to unpaid bills. They just sat quietly together at the garage, never minding the neighbors who were wondering whatever happened to the family that used to have everything and ended up with nothing.

Tearing up, Karen and Gretchen freely shared with us the “history” of Paolito’s.

“Our family used to supply the toiletries of hotels, until one day, we woke up with the family business gone. From everything to nothing,” repeated Karen. “But we stuck together; we didn’t blame one another unlike other families in the same situation. Little miracles happened every day in the form of food given to us by kind neighbors…bread, rice and whatever.

“Our faith didn’t waver. Every day, we would walk from our house to the Cathedral. Our dad was starting his mission as a lay minister, my mom was a kolektora and we sisters were lectors. Our dad, who is a good cook like most people from Carcar, had a specific prayer: ‘Please, God, just give me a carinderia so I can feed the poor and give work to the jobless.’ That was how we were at that time –– no food, no job.”

The Alcover family, from left: Eldrin Cabahug and wife Karen Alcover-Cabahug, Gaby Cabahug, Jerry Noel Alcover, Joy Alcover, Gretchen Alcover, Regi Alcover, Ria Alcover and Kyara Cabahug.

According to Karen, the silver lining came when an aunt asked their dad to find a buyer for a lot in a high-end village and got a P200,000 commission which he used in putting up five tables at the garage, offering an STK (Sugba, Tuwa, Kilaw) menu. (STK describes the three ways of cooking seafood, very popular in Cebu.)

“Our target market was taxi drivers,” related Karen. “But not a single taxi driver came. Instead, since our house was near the Kapitolyo, lawyers and other employees came. In no time, our garage carinderia grew bigger and bigger. God has been good to us.”

That was in 2002. The Alcovers have maintained the expanded outlet at home while putting up the branch at SM Seaside in 2015 and at SM City in 2017.

“Both Paolito’s carry the words ‘STK Ta Bai!’ under the name,” noted Karen (who leads the family's regular feeding program). “We owe what we have now to STK.”

Now that you know, next time you eat at any of the Paolito’s, remember the “history” behind it.

(E-mail reactions at [email protected] For more updates, photos and videos, visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on Instagram @therealrickylo.)




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