Star Café owners Donna and Joey Rufino: “All the presidents and their families never miss us when they go to Baguio,” Donna says. Star Café is along Session Road, Baguio City.

Star Café: Forever a star in Baguio
Artemio Dumlao (The Philippine Star) - December 20, 2012 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Star Café, a byword for locals and tourists alike, is not only an institution but also a living tradition.

A favorite, Star Café has endured the test of the taste buds through time.  “People keep on coming back,” beam Joey and Donna Rufino, whose family owns the multi-awarded Chinese restaurant that closely weaves in the Filipino values of family, good nature and respect.

Star Café founder and Chinese scion Goo Chin always told us, “It is not the best recipe that will keep people here, it depends on if they like it.”

A star at any feast: Camaraon de hamon

Goo Chin started Star Café in 1940.  Seven decades later, the “quaint sanctuary” of “whoever customer” remains as it is.  Always filled to the brim with its slightly over a dozen tables, clients come for family-filling Chinese dishes that are well-loved by Filipinos: lumpiang shanghai, camaron rebosado, camaron de hamon, pansit canton and bihon for the ala carte and set meals of Star Café Rice and Three Sisters Rice. 

Their secret?  “Continuity,” said William Wong, Goo Chin’s son, who migrated to Canada in the ’60s but was in town this month.  “I saw a daughter of Justice Francisco Changco (who married former President Ferdinand Marcos and current Rep. Imelda Romualdez) and hurriedly asked for updates on Star Café,” he said. 

Justice Changco was a contemporary of Judge Feliciano Belmonte Sr., father of Speaker “Sonny,” who served at a court in Itogon, Benguet. From Judge Belmonte,  the next generation of Belmontes were Star Café lovers, too.

The Marcoses ate at Star Café whenever they were in Baguio, Donna Rufino said.  “All presidents and their families never missed us when they went to Baguio,” she added. 

But even the unknown customer is loved, the owners said.  “That was how our father regarded everyone.  He was down to earth.  He treated every customer equal.”

Hence, from the famous to the less famous, Star Café has been with them, generation after generation.  “We maintained a natural connection with our customers, hence the same tradition lives on,” Donna continued.   They declined to open a new store in Glorietta, Makati, then.  “Joey (my husband) said how can we look after the details and our customers as husband and wife if we have two?”

That was the deciding factor.  Not the classy furniture, glassware, location or gastronomic goodness but the “connection with people in the restaurant.”  Maybe because the “owners were always here,” Donna explained.

Day in and day out, the dynamic duo opened and closed Star Café along Session Road for decades and decades more. 

In 2007, Star Café was chosen among the hundreds of restaurants in the country as one of the entrepreneurial success stories of Go Negosyo.  In 2009, it was the only restaurant chosen during Baguio’s Centennial as “Baguio Builders.” 

This is but fitting for Baguio’s oldest restaurant.

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