The Right Price for an Empty Stomach
At 3 am, 50-year-old Susan Escarlan arrives at Freedom Park along Magallanes Street as she begins to cook her signature recipes for spicy sisig, hot soup and different kinds of fried viands.
This has been her routine for the past 26 years while patiently waiting for the droves of hungry students and market goers who stop by her carinderia (food stall with a small seating area) near the market.
Susan runs the small eatery with her husband, 53-year-old Ebe and their helper Rosemarie Basalan.
A resident of Guadalupe Cebu City, Susan took up Bachelor of Science in Hotel and Restaurant Management (HRM); but decided to drop out of college to work as a quality assurance clerk at the Mactan Export Processing Zone (MEPZ) for a year.
“Ni undang ko kay gusto ko manarbaho (I stopped because I wanted to work),” Susan said.
She learned to cook all by herself, since the skill relates to what would have been her college degree, had she finished the HRM course.
In 1992 at 25 years old, Susan’s business was born after she took over her mother’s stall — a “painitan” (snack house) selling breakfast meals.
In an alley leading to a fenced canteen in the middle of Freedom Park, Susan cooks several Filipino dishes with, what she calls, authentic “street-style” flavor.
For busy market goers, her carinderia has been a home away from home as it satisfies their craving for home-cooked meals after hours spent at Carbon Market.
For students, her budget-friendly meals offer a respite from the often expensive fast food sold in restaurants around the area.
Depending on her customer’s budget, Susan adjusts the size of her food servings to ensure that no one goes away unable to eat and hungry.
The price of a viand may go for as low as P5 while soup is almost always given for free, she said.
Susan told Cebu Daily News that she feels sorry especially for the students because many of them have a hard time paying for their tuition.
“Maluoy man gud ta, nya maka matikod baya mi, basta manirado mi, ma guba gyud ang ila budget (I can’t help but pity them because I have noticed that everytime we close, they have to make some adjustments to their budget),” said Susan.
Susan’s 28-year-old son, John Vincent Escarlan, is himself a Civil Engineering student at a nearby university and is currently reviewing for his licensure exam.
To help pay for his studies, John works in the school’s security department.
He eats his lunch at his mother’s eatery which earns about ten thousand pesos a day from the time it opens in the morning till it closes at around 2 p.m.
According to Susan, her eatery earns most on weekdays when students go to school and more people shop in nearby stores.
But out of her earnings, Susan only gets to keep P2,500 daily after deducting all the expenses incurred from operating the restaurant.
For many people who frequent the area along downtown Cebu City, Susan’s carinderia is a place of comfort that brings out a feeling of nostalgia in some students.
Susan happily recalls that familiar faces walk into her restaurant, on some days, just to pay her a visit.
They turn out to be students who were once her customers and who are now working as professionals.
Some actually introduce her to their parents, she said.
“Di man mi makaila gyud, pero maka familiar mi ba kon tig ari-an gyud,” (We don’t really know them personally, but we become familiar with their faces because they used to frequent the place),” said Ebe.
“Naay uban taga-Bohol, unya kada lunes ra mangukumpra diri, mu hapit gyud sila diri (There are some who come from Bohol, but shop every Monday. That’s when they usually drop by here),” added Susan.
Carl James Cabarles, a college student from a downtown university, says that he saves a lot of money from eating at Susan’s.
Because food at the eatery is cheaper, he is only able to spend around P30-P40 from his P150 daily meal allowance.
James uses his savings to pay for his dormitory or for leisure.
“Okay ra man, mabusog ra man ko, nya gamay ra’g gasto, student budget, sulit kaayo (It’s okay. I get full, and the prices fit a student’s budget. It’s really worth the price),” he said.
Wenilyn Sabalo, another student, heard about Susan’s eatery from her classmates who frequented the place.
Wenilyn told CDN that her “Nang Susan“ would treat young customers as if they were her own children.
“She calls her customers “nak” (child)” said Wenilyn adding that Susan’s meals were cheaper than those sold at the school canteen.
She spends at most P50 pesos for two cups of rice, a viand of her choice, a banana, soft drinks and free soup.
At her school canteen, the same amount would only be enough to buy a cup of rice and one viand, said Wenilyn.
Though her business is small, Susan complies with all the business permits required by the Cebu City government.
Despite her hectic work schedule at the carinderia, Susan sees to it that they are able to renew their permits yearly.
The licenses are posted in front of her food stall, visible to all their customers.
With her brand of service, very affordable prices, and compliance to government regulations, Susan is said to lead the way as she continues to set the bar higher for carinderias operating in Cebu City.
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