Manila Asian Foods: A community within a store

Long and Tina Lorete at the store counter.

Long and Tina Lorete at the store counter.

By Maricar CP Hampton

Many are surprised that Tina and Long Lorete, owners of Manila Asian Foods, call customers by their first names. Either, these customers are regulars or the owners really make it a point to provide chummy, personalized service.

The friendliness is not just to get people inside the store, the couple said. The customers truly become friends.

“We treat them not only as customers but we treat them as friends and that’s important in a small business,” said Long whose store carries anything from ‘bagoong’ to spiced ‘bangus.’

The Leyte-born Tina was once a cook in the Georgetown area. She came to the U.S. in the 1980s pursuing a job offer. Long and their three children followed soon after.

Long worked in the Philippine Embassy as a chauffeur for then Ambassador Emmanuel Pelaez. On their retirement, they opened the Filipino store, located in a busy shopping center in the Fort Meade Road area of Laurel, Maryland, calling it their “dream come true.”

“We were really looking for a place like this para magamit namin yun experience namin sa pagluluto, sa catering. Tapos this place came along,” Long said.

Originally their plan was to open a catering business, but they quickly loved the idea of a small grocery, which brings them in contact with Filipino Americans in the Metro D.C. area. The two ideas blended.

“We were trying to go into the food business, I thought this might be good stepping-stone. Eventually, when we get established we can get customers to order cooked food and do catering for special functions,” Tina said. “We like doing it; it’s like a little community in here.”

Filipinos and Americans buy their Asian groceries here. Photos:  The FilAm Metro D.C.

Filipinos and Americans buy their Asian groceries here. Photos: The FilAm Metro D.C.

The friendship is two-way, noted the couple. Sometimes, it’s the customers who bring them gifts.

“Somebody gave us a jacket, someone gave us a blouse, then a crate of fruits, even blankets, pots and pans and would you believe a futon. The people here are really nice,” said Tina bemused by the community’s generosity.

Like many businesses, the beginning was difficult. There was not a lot of traffic and the store got by on very modest sales.

“We almost gave up,” she said.

With patience and a little ingenuity, the store began to attract a following. The couple put up an “Under new management” sign, and people began to visit to see what’s new in the store. They’ve been coming ever since.

Married for 41years, Long and Tina said the store gives them a “feeling of fulfillment.”

“This kind of job is tiring but it’s rewarding because of the people we meet,” said Long.

“We enjoy it. The people that come here are nice and it’s very rewarding,” Tina added. “We meet different kind of people which makes us really feel good and we value the friendship.”

Just like in any retail business, the key is to keep customers coming back.

“When people look for something and if we don’t have it, we list it down and try to get it for them next time. And that we found out was what brings in more customers,” Tina said.

Manila Asian Foods has customers coming from nearby Pennsylvania and Delaware.

“I think they come here because they can get what they want and they can request what they want,” Tina said. “We customize our service. If they like a special food we can cook it for them.” She said Kare Kare, Paksiw na Lechon and Lumpiang Sariwa are her main dish specialties. While for desserts Sapin-Sapin and Turon are traditional favorites.

Despite the competition – another store about 30 minutes away – Tina and Long are confident that their food business is here for the long haul.

“The customers are happy when they come here,” Tina said.

Clean and well lighted aisle.

Clean and well lighted aisle.

red line

One Comment

  1. Mary L. wrote:

    The friendliest and most courteous “tindera” and “tindero” of Maryland, USA. Their smiles will make any trip worth it. If you are in the area, take the time to visit Manila Asian Food in Laurel, MD. Salamat po.

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