Belgian-Filipino bilateral fries

Pommes Frites manager Ivan Roque

By Cristina DC Pastor

The Yelpers have spoken. Pommes Frites in the East Village is one of the best places to feed your munchies for the following reasons: the delicious Belgian fries, the generous servings, the variety of dipping sauces not limited to ketchup and mustard, and the late hours.

Manager Ivan Roque would add one more: the friendly all-Filipino staff. He has been managing the store’s counter and kitchen staff and making sure the store delivers on its promise of “soft yet crisp” fries day in and day out. Customers swear by them, including TV actress Tori Spelling who filmed an episode of her reality show there, wondering if maybe she should open a branch in California. The secret? Fry twice: first to cook, the second to crisp.

Ivan was out when Tori came calling, but the Pinoy staff eagerly helped her choose from among the 24 dipping sauces: Sweet Mango Chutney Mayo, Wasabi, Peanut Satay and Pomegranate Teriyaki mayo are popular. The fries are served in brown paper cones. The tables with the look of rustic wood have holes in them to hold the cones. A totally neat idea.

Writes a Yelper: “It was kinda ghetto because we were bringing a shady brown bag in our purse to a nice dress-code-kind-of-place, but it ended up being such an amazing idea because we were able to dip our calamari appetizer in the sauce. So good.”

Ivan found himself at Pommes Frites when he accompanied a friend apply for a managerial position. The friend found another job elsewhere and did not pursue his application. Ivan, then working as a nursing assistant, landed the job. It’s been six years since and the Pharmacy grad from the Philippines has been making sure the store runs smoothly and that his workers get along well with customers and with one another.

“Managing Filipinos is kinda easy for me because I can communicate with them easily in Tagalog,” he said. Hard sometimes when some put on their “attitudes.” As manager, he said he has to find a “system” that will work for everyone.

But managing the staff is only one part of his bundle of duties. There’s writing the schedule for the employees, counting the cash, inputting data into the computer, issuing checks for deliveries, organizing the stocks, checking the supplies, looking around the store to see what needs fixing, fixing it if he can or calling a guy if he can’t. Sometimes, he helps behind the counter.

Management and staff go bowling. Photos by Elton Lugay

No lines? Not a typical night.

Belgian fries

Owners Suzanne Levinson and Omer Shorshi, who introduced the specialty shop to New York 16 years ago, like Filipinos “because they said we are hardworking and easy to get along with, and they look at us a family,” Ivan said. “They’ve worked with a lot people of different nationalities and they said the Filipinos stand out.”

It can be a happy family, especially when the 12 Filipinos on staff typically share food and are always goofing around with one another. “As I see it, most of us really do care about the business, not only the salary we’re getting,” said Ivan.

Customers of up to a thousand a day cram the tiny store – “Lilliputian,” as described by New York magazine — well into midnight. Yelpers gripe about the long queues.

“Wait in line if there is one and stop being a biatch if there is a huge line, no shit there’s gonna be a big line sometimes if you come during the store’s rush hour. That’s a sign that the fries are yummm!” writes one.

Sometimes, the staff’s hospitality does get noticed. Writes one Yelper: “Food is great but the servers/fryers are really friendly. Despite doing the same thing all day, they are helpful, good-natured and give out free samples without giving you the stink eye.”

Cristina DC Pastor is the founding editor of The FilAm.

One Comment

  1. Yolanda Lelis Punsalan wrote:

    Belgian Fries are available here in Greenhills.

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