Community in shock over closing of Payag Restaurant; owner calls it a ‘wise decision’

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‘Always in our hearts'

‘Always in our hearts’

By Cristina DC Pastor

Payag Restaurant in Queens, known for its regional dishes from Cebu province and the Visayas, is closing after seven years.

“Thank you for the wholehearted support for the past years. It is with a heavy heart that we announce officially the closing of Payag restaurant until July 31, 2017,” writes proprietor Rena Avendula on her Facebook page. “It is my greatest and wise decision.”

Loyal customers as well as musical artists who have performed at Payag, have expressed shock over what seemed to be an abrupt shutdown. Up until July 24, the restaurant was promoting Acoustic Night on July 28 with Carol Porter and Saturday Night Live on July 29 with Bryan Magsayo. There was little indication the restaurant will close permanently in two days.

Payag has launched musical careers…

Payag has launched musical careers…

“I’m shocked,” came one in a long list of reactions on Facebook. “Hoping for the best.”

Many of the customers remember celebrating their milestones at Payag located at 51-34 Roosevelt Avenue in Queens. Roosevelt Avenue has several other Filipino restaurants serving the community, such as Ihawan, Engeline, Krystal’s Cafe, Renee’s Kitchenette, House of Inasal, and Jollibee. Closer to Payag but across from Queens Boulevard there is Tito Rad’s Grill and Kabayan.

“Payag Queens is already part of the history of my life,” writes Vicente Gahon Gesmundo . “I celebrated my 50th birthday here.”

Before other NYC Filipino restaurants came on the scene, Payag has opened its stage to up-and-coming musicians as well as popular artists visiting from Manila, such as Martin Nievera and Basil Valdez. Singers remembered how Payag launched their careers and the hospitality of Avendula as they were starting out.

“So many great memories,” says Jay Arato. “This is the first-ever venue in New York where my kids, the Arato Brothers, performed. This place will be always in our hearts.”

Pop singer Kirby Asunto writes an emotional farewell to Avendula. “I have spent most of my birthdays, my first concert, and most especially met a very good friend of my mom and I, Tita Rena Avendula, through her restaurant. I’ve learned that goodbyes always hurt, but as to what Tita Rena says to us, life goes on.”

…celebrated family milestones

…celebrated family milestones

Soulful singer Angel Ram says Payag is where “everything started for me.” Angel is currently a regular at B.B. King Blues Club in Times Square where she is known for her distinctive version of Etta James and Angela Bofill classics. “Thank you for opening your place to us. I’m sure God has better plans for you.”

Along the way, however, Payag swerved into partisan politics.

Avendula created and produced the Internet-based program “I Am Pinoy Proud Ako” (IAPPA) and allocated one of the rooms in the restaurant as the show’s studio where guests came for interviews. IAPPA started as a variety show featuring popular destinations in NYC and the FilAms who made it big in the city. With its media platform, however, it campaigned actively for Rodrigo Duterte and became his U.S.-based mouthpiece after he won the presidency. Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza and Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar held press interviews at Payag when they visited NYC in January after coming from the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington D.C. What used to be a cozy dining experience has turned into a beehive of pro-Duterte political activity, says one customer.

Avendula has expressed to The FilAm how she admires Duterte and believes he is the president the Philippines needs at this time.

…hosted interviews with visiting Philippine officials through its Internet-based program ‘I Am Pinoy Proud Ako’

…hosted interviews with visiting Philippine officials through its Internet-based program ‘I Am Pinoy Proud Ako’

Customers will miss the Bulad Festival, a yearly event where Payag serves six different varieties of dried salted fish from Cebu — Payag’s way of introducing the ‘bulad’ to NYC.

When it opened in July 2010, Avendula has said she wanted Payag to be a restaurant FilAms “can be proud of.” She created a fine dining place with a wait staff, and adorned its walls with woven mat banig for a traditional look and elegant capiz shells for lighting. More importantly, it had clean bathrooms which some Filipino restaurants cannot deliver on. Its slogan: “Redefined Filipino cuisine.”

Friends of Avendula laud her for being “a fighter and a visionary,” optimistic she will be back with a different venture that is more in line with what her goals are, which is “to serve the FilAm community.” The ever entrepreneurial Cebuana owns the staffing agency Professional Placement And Recruitment, Inc., and a freight forwarder company, Abtiq Logistics, which delivers balikbayan boxes. IAPPA has announced moving its studio to a new location in Manhattan.

The FilAm has reached out to Avendula for comments on this report. We will update when they become available.

© 2017 The FilAm

…and is a favorite venue for meetings of community organizations.

…and is a favorite venue for meetings of community organizations.


  1. Ched Ledesma wrote:

    It’s a loss to the Filipino community.

  2. […] FilAm’s Cristina DC Pastor writes how in addition to offering Filipino cuisine – in particular, regional foods from Cebu province […]

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