LYDIA’S Lechon is a household name here in the Philippines, But not many people know that its entrepreneur Lydia de Roca started her business by selling lechon in a small stall in Baclaran market.
In the late 60s, the family-owned lechon store—known as “Mang Turing and Aling Ingga’s Native Lechon”, was doing good business with a modest store located at the Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Baclaran. Lydia, helped out in the said store.
In 1969, after some courtship, Benigno de Roca (a son of another lechon business owner) and Lydia got married. The happy couple had a joyous occasion after their wedding and with PhP500 started their own lechon busiess–Lydia’s Lechon. In a television interview, Lydia related how she used to go with her father, who was a butcher, and how she started selling lechon in Baclaran at the age of 12. “Ito ang naituro sa akin ng tatay ko noong araw, hanggang sa nagtinda ako ng lechon. Twelve years old ako sa bangketa ng Baclaran,” she said. “Yung P500 na yon binibigay ko na sa tatay ko. Pinambili ko na ng baboy niya… Marami yun, P20 lang nun ang baboy eh,” she said. Aside from pigs, she used the money to buy charcoal and sauce for the lechon.
At that time, Benigno was a jeepney and bus driver, so they had to work hard to support their children. “Mahirap ang buhay namin. Pero nagtiyaga kami talaga. Pinagsumikapan namin… Naranasan ko pa yung bahay na nakatuntong sa ilog… Yun ang unang-unang inupahan ko, diyan sa may Tambo sa Paranaque, P35 ang upa sa isang buwan,” she said. Customer’s would flock to Lydia’s Lechon to sample the good food sold there. A big break for the couple’s business came along when one day when executives from the Hyatt Regency Hotel came along to buy some Lydia’s Lechon specialties. From that simple visit came daily lechon orders from the hotel.
“Maski nga di ko kinakaya kinakaya ko eh. Hindi pwedeng mahina ang loob mo. Sasabihin mo, ay ano kaya ang gagawin ko? Tatanggapin ko kaya? Mahirap kaya ito? Kaya ko kaya ito? Ako palaging yes,” she said.
The fame and praise for Lydia’s Lechon spread by word of mouth to many prospective clients, including other hotels and restaurants, and food caterers.
In the 1970′s, the Lydia’s Lechon boneless with paella recipe got the first prize in a competition for local chefs and it soon became one of the specialties of restaurant. It was a boost for the de Roca couple’s business.
After selling lechon from the market for 22 years, de Roca finally opened a restaurant–with a single table–along Roxas Boulevard in 1986.
“Talagang restaurant ang target ko. Kaya lang wala akong kapital pa eh. Hindi ko rin magagawang restaurant. Pero trying hard ako na maging restaurant, kaya naglagay ako ng isang lamesa at isang silya,” she recounted. Soon customers started coming to her restaurant and one of her frequent customers was mall tycoon Henry Sy, Sr., who always had lunch there on Sundays. “Nagkakwentuhan kami tapos meron daw siyang SM Food Court baka raw gusto kong magtayo ng ano… Sabi ko, oho gusto ko,” she said.
In April of 1989 the first branch of Lydia’s Lechon outside of the southern part of Metro Manila , in Timog Avenue, Quezon City was established. This was followed by other stores on the eastern part of the Metro. From there, fast food outlets of Lydia’s Lechon mushroomed within the popular malls of the metropolis. Although originally intended to be a close family corporation, the first franchise of Lydia’s Lechon was sold in 2005 for a fast food and retail outlet at SM Megamall in Mandaluyong City. Today, they are known as the biggest chain of lechon outlets in the country. Presently, there are 21 branches of Lydia’s Lechon located in the Greater Manila area and Cavite.
Now, Lydia’s Lechon has some 15 branches in SM Food Courts, which account for some Php30,000 in daily sales.
The couple is now the proud owner of a 1,500 square-meter property in Baclaran, with a mansion and several luxury cars. It also houses the restaurant’s commissary and roasting area.
The De Roca couple also have their own piggery in an 8-hectare property in Malvar, Batangas where they raise 800-1,000 pigs.
In 2011, De Roca was awarded by Go Negosyo as one of the most outstanding women entrepreneurs of the Philippines.
Despite her success, De Roca remains humble and thankful that her four children—who have all graduated from college—are not spoiled and have helped the business flourish.
“Seven years old pa lang sila dinadala ko sila sa bangketa, kaya ang pangaral ko sa kanila eh sinusunod naman nila ngayon,” she said.
Up to now, De Roca still wields a knife and deftly chops up a lechon at the restaurant.
“Dito nag-simula ang swerte ko sa buhay. Kung sa tingin mo di ako marunong mag-tadtad ng lechon, umasenso kaya ako,” she said.
The smallest lechon sells for PhP6,500, and the capital for each one is in the neighborhood of PhP3,000. Lydia’s Lechon is also famous for its signature sauce made using a special recipe, de Roca said, noting this is still something none of her employees know about. Lydia has kept her lechon naturally simple but with no short cuts. It’s slowly cooked for two hours over charcoal and flavored only with tanglad, pandan, and murang sibuyas.
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