Bread Box was one of those rare restaurants where I was a regular without actually bothering to order food (although the fried sole fillet was spectacular). My relationship with the place wasn’t functional, I didn’t come there hungry. Funny thing was I never left hungry either because Tita Peng and Tito Ariel would still feed me whether or not I ordered anything.
The food was pretty steeply priced and they always had pictures of tempura and apple pie over the counter in spite of not actually serving the stuff. The first time I went there, they had a severe identity crisis. I walked in with my friend Adrian and he knew what he wanted, Pandesal with kesong puti and sardines. I was a newbie and didn’t know what to order, so after asking “What do you have?” Tita Peng just answered with “Well, what do you like?” Beautiful, right? Not exactly, at least not if you’re running a business because one of the cardinal rules of running a business is knowing your product.
But Bread Box wasn’t just any business, in fact it’s one of the first places I’ve ever been to that instilled the principle that I’ll only consistently support an establishment because I like the owners; and I really liked these guys. That first time, all I wanted was a charger for my phone, so being the jerk that I am that’s all I asked for; that and a Thai Iced Tea. They sent their waiter back to their apartment to get the charger just so I could have both. And that’s what kept me coming back. It was a lovely place with lovely food, but above all, it was run by lovely people who cared to ask how you were doing before taking your order. After that, I took to calling Tita Peng “Mommy” which she actually responded to for a good 3 months or so before I bothered asking for her real name.
On some days after work, I’d just drop by and hang with Peng and Ariel. I liked hanging with Ariel, even if the first 3 or so times that I did, I didn’t even know what his name was. Ariel was my bartender before I even started drinking (alcohol that is). You know how in sitcoms, there’s a clear and distinct bartender-patron relationship, where eventually the bartender starts counseling the poor drunken schmuck slumped over at the counter? That would be me and Ariel. Ariel used to work in the garments industry and soon became a repository for everything I had to gripe about, from my nasty teachers, to my internship, to my thesis, to my first job that had very little to do with garments.
This picture was taken sometime last year on the sidewalk outside Bread Box. I’m wearing a shirt with Mother Mary airbrushed on both the front and the back. Sometime before or after this picture was taken, Tita Peng came outside and–you cannot make this up–kissed me on the back. Coming from anyone else, it would have been creepy and somewhat intrusive, but coming from someone I called “Mommy” at the time, it was nothing short of sweet. “I really like this shirt.” was her reason for the odd gesture. “You can have it. I’ll just text you next time I plan to drop by.” Delighted, she went in to get her phone so we could exchange numbers. After punching in all 11 digits, that’s the first time I asked for her name because I already had a “Mommy” in my phonebook, “What’s your name Mommy?”
“Peng. Tita Peng na lang.”
But I still called her Mommy after that because it had already stuck.