How N.W.T.'s Filipino chefs kept the pancit, lumpia coming in a pandemic

·3 min read
Leilani Alcock opened Chews & Bites YK, a home-based food business, earlier this year. (Submitted by Leilani Alcock - image credit)
Leilani Alcock opened Chews & Bites YK, a home-based food business, earlier this year. (Submitted by Leilani Alcock - image credit)

When The Mantle restaurant was forced to close its doors at the Days Inn Hotel & Suites last November, owner Rodil Libiano had one goal in mind.

He was going to find a way to continue serving Filipino and Canadian cuisine to people in Yellowknife.

That goal came to life earlier this month, when he and his family reopened The Mantle — this time as a food truck.

"When we closed last November 2020, some people that are regular customers [were] upset because they love our food," said Rodil.

Eden Maury/CBC
Eden Maury/CBC

The brick and mortar restaurant was open for four years as one of the only Filipino restaurants in the city. They closed because their contract with the space ended, and because of the financial impacts of COVID-19.

While the pandemic was difficult for many local businesses across the country, owners of N.W.T. Filipino food businesses discovered creative ways to continue providing well-loved dishes to their customers.

Pandemic was an opportunity

When COVID-19 restrictions hit the food industry, Leilani Alcock looked at limited seating in restaurants and saw it as the perfect opportunity to launch her home-based food business.

"Cooking is my hobby. If I'm home, all I do is cook," said Alcock. "[My friends] mentioned, 'How come you just don't do it as a business? We will be your first customers."

Chews & Bites YK opened shortly after — in February of this year.

The business operates on weekends. On Fridays, Alcock posts the week's menu on Facebook and cooks all the food, like pancit (noodle dish) and lumpia (spring rolls,) from scratch for pick-up at her home on Saturdays.

Submitted by Leilani Alcock
Submitted by Leilani Alcock

She has seen much success over the months, receiving between 15 to 25 orders per week.

"There was one time that I made like 88 meals in just a span of that time."

Serving Inuvik community

Raquel Mendoza runs a similar business to Alcock in Inuvik, N.W.T. called Combo in Town.

She started her business in 2018, when she started selling a limited amount of home-cooked Filipino and Chinese meals through Facebook groups.

Submitted by Raquel Mendoza
Submitted by Raquel Mendoza

"I had a lot of positive comments, like, 'Let us know when you cook again and we can order something.' So that makes us inspired to do it more," said Mendoza.

Mendoza and her husband, who cooks the food, now run Combo in Town twice a week. They post the menu on Facebook every other Thursday, to be picked up the day after. They also sell at Inuvik's Arctic Market in the winter and summer.

Despite pandemic restrictions, Combo in Town's sales have remained at over 50 orders per every two weeks.

"I'm pretty grateful and thankful for the people in Inuvik who always support our small business," she said.

Submitted by Raquel Mendoza
Submitted by Raquel Mendoza

Sharing love of Filipino food

According to Statistics Canada, the Filipino community makes up the largest visible minority population in the N.W.T., with around 1,300 people. About 1,065 Filipinos live in Yellowknife.

Libiano of The Mantle food truck says that while he recognizes how much Canadians love Filipino food, he appreciates that he gets to serve his home country's cuisine to other homesick Filipinos as well.

"I know it's [been] a long time that they didn't go home to the Philippines. So I bring their food here so they can try and not miss our food in the Philippines," said Libiano.

Alcock's Filipino heritage is also important to her business. She's from the province of Pampanga in the Philippines, and "people there are known as good cooks."

"Most of my cooking, like my recipes, are from back home. And then I just make a little bit of adjustments," said Alcock.

Submitted by Leilani Alcock
Submitted by Leilani Alcock

Back in Inuvik, Mendoza loves being able to help others, while sharing Asian cuisine with her community.

"People sometimes, they don't have the time [and] they need a break from cooking," said Mendoza. "I would like to let them taste what Filipino and Chinese cuisine is like."

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