For 15 years, she rode the waves, her days spent making sure passengers were happily cruising the seas, docking from city to city, in Asia, Europe and America, their dissatisfactions kept at bay and their exhilaration kept high with the luxuries that a cruise ship offers. For more than half a year, she would be getting paid to travel. The rest of the year, she’d spend making up for missed milestones with her family. Pleasing disgruntled guests and pampering honeymooners, partygoing adventurers, and retirees finally freed from corporate drudgery consumed her time onboard.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought the world, along with Cristine‘s job, to a halt. What was supposed to be a two-month break plus a few weeks of requested extended vacation turned into months of lockdown. Could the trips to Tuscany and Santorini and all the other foreign destinations that had captured her heart be now things of the past? Was financial stability for her and her family over?
Cristine San Pascual, a Senior Assistant Purser doubling as manager of various divisions in a luxury cruise ship, a wife, a mother of two, is among the 343,000 Filipino overseas workers who found themselves suddenly displaced from their jobs. But she has found relief and an ally in her Trees Residences community in Fairview. Despair has turned into hope.
A Business is Born
“When the government announced a community quarantine, we asked ourselves, ‘What can we do now?’ I started assessing our resources,” Cristine explains.
“I observed that we ordered too much fast food. Being a condo unit owner myself, I don’t want to be deprived of my favorite nutritious meals just because of the lockdown,” she says.
During the initial phase of the community quarantine, Cristine and family saw a sharp rise in the demand for home-cooked food since people couldn’t go out, prompting them to roll up their sleeves and start cooking for the residents of Trees. Thus in the middle of a pandemic, Sanpy’s Kitchen was born.
Her husband and in-laws, who are great cooks, immerse themselves in the kitchen, while she does what she knows best: making her customers happy. The pandemic may have cost Cristine her seafaring job but not her customer service skills. The new normal having set in, she communicates with customers online, taking their orders and making sure they get to experience sumptuous cooking.
“Our first menu was Crispy Kare-kare, Lumpiang Shanghai, Silogs and Pansit Bihon. We got few orders at first, then the numbers grew every day. There was even a time I had to prepare 13 different dishes just for one lunch! It was crazy busy but it was fun!,” she happily recounts.
A Community of Good Guys
On weekends, Cristine’s and family’s schedule is full. Mornings at the residence are bright and abuzz with excitement as an assortment of provisions – from plump cabbage and large, scarlet bell peppers straight from the farms to Cristine’s rich and hearty stews of Kare-kare and Kaldereta – are on sale at Trees Residences through The Good Guys Market, a weekend market set up by SM Development Corporation (SMDC).
The Good Guys Market has paved the way for small, home-based businesses such as Cristine’s to find an immediate customer base right in their own backyard. “This situation has given my family the opportunity to showcase its food traditions and share them with my fellow kaPuno (their term for fellow Trees residents),” Cristine says. “After joining The Good Guys Market, business has been better. My customer rating on social media is 5/5 and I constantly get good feedback about the taste and price.”
Cristine, along with farmers and other food merchants who are also Trees residents, have found a way to cope with the drastic effect of the pandemic on their livelihood: The Good Guys Market.
Their fellow residents at Trees are their patrons. They come for farm-to-table vegetables delivered straight from the farms of Pampanga and Benguet and for hot slow-cooked meals.
Sanpy’s Kitchen has become part of a community of Good Guys supporting and looking after each other, people working together and thriving in a crisis, like seeds sprouting during a drought. Every serving of her home-cooked meal and every kilo of greens sold by the farmers at The Good Guys Market speaks of altruism among the merchants and residents. They seem to be saying: “I’ve got your back” .
Moving Forward with Family
Though the odds may be against most businesses in these trying times, Cristine is determined to do her best for her family’s business venture. “The business is quite demanding. I have to be on my toes all the time and monitor if there are any orders,” she says.
Before the community quarantine began, she had never imagined she could cook, let alone start a business. But history has shown how a crisis can bring out the best in every human being, forcing people out of their comfort zones and making them adapt to unfamiliar situations.
“Leaving my ship life was scary as I had been accustomed to that kind of life for a very long time. This lockdown gave me the chance to try to start a business.”
The pandemic has brought drastic changes to her life, but Cristine remains unfazed as she relishes the time she suddenly has on her hands. “With the community quarantine, my husband and I get to spend more time with our kids. We get to know them more and share simple but cherished memories.” These memories she gets to spend with her family at her home in Trees, which has given her a sense of serenity the first time she laid eyes on it. “Once I enter the premises, it’s completely a different world! I feel safe, healthy and at peace.”
Her family and her KaPuno community keep her grounded in this time of uncertainty. “My family is the heart of Sanpy’s Kitchen. With this business, the family bond has become stronger.”
A montage in her family’s unit at Trees bears images that remind her of her travels - Big Ben, Lady Liberty, the Eiffel Tower. There is a mini bar, a cheese board, and some wine glasses all reminiscent of life at sea and the things that she misses most - the travel perks and the colorful stories her guests brought to her table every day. She pensively looks at them as she wonders,
“Do I still want to go back onboard or keep the business and make it grow?”