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Wednesday, December 7, 2022

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Long live the ‘Lechon Queen’ of the Philippines

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By Alithea De Jesus

Not many know the story behind the success of Lydia’s Lechon, which is synonymous with Pambansang Lechon. Hence, the owner and founder earned the moniker “Lechon Queen”.

Mrs. Lydia Pasion De Roca at the sidewalk, her “first store”

Of course, who doesn’t know the famous Lydia’s Lechon now that started in Baclaran along Roxas Boulevard? But behind the success of this restaurant is a 12 years old sidewalk lechon vendor who survived the business for 57 years and was even able to thrive at the height of the pandemic.

Started with a meager capital, Lydia Pasion de Roca, founder and matriarch of Lydia’s Lechon has an inspiring story that many budding and current entrepreneurs can learn from.

Turning back the pages of the history of her 1965 journey, De Roca only got ₱500 pesos capital, but this didn’t stop her from pursuing her simple goal to provide good education to her three children by selling lechon on the sidewalk to the passers-by and the ones who go to the Baclaran Church.

Armed with her persistence, courage, consistency and passion, the “Lechon Queen” was able to entice famous people to try her lechon like the late ex-President Ferdinand Marco, Sr. and his family, Henry Sy of SM and other famous personalities in the media, film and business industry who all happened to be devotees of Baclaran Church.

Faith and Action

As an ardent devotee of Baclaran Church, De Roca never misses any novena and mass since she started her sidewalk business. Sometimes she would even let her children Darly and Ricky sleep under the table where she sells lechon and covered them with newspaper so that customers would not see them resting under the table just to attend the novena and mass.

She admits that it is her hard work and guts that made Lydia’s a household name in lechon. But it was not a walk in the park for her, because there were occasions that she had to move and hide away from the sidewalk and then come back again to ensure she avoided getting into trouble with the enforcers who did not want any obstructions along the sidewalk.

The Lechon Queen (second from left) moved from the sidewalk to a small stall along Roxas Boulevard near Baclaran Church

Speaking to THEPHILBIZNEWS, De Roca said, “Hindi naman pwedeng gawa ka lang ng gawa. Kailangan marunong ka ding humingi ng awa sa Dios. At hindi din naman Pwedeng dasal ka lang ng dasal, kasi nasa Dios ang awa pero nasa tao ang gawa.”

“Hindi ako nakakalimot tumawag sa taas para magpasalamat sa Dios. Biniyayaan Niya ako ng mabait na asawa at mga anak, ng negosyo na pinalago din Niya sa pamamagitan ng kanyang pagtulong at paggawa ng paraan na mapalapit ako sa mga taong tumulong sa aming lahat. Wala na akong hihingin pang iba sa Kanya kundi mapagpatuloy namin at mapangalagaan ang Kanyang pinagkatiwala sa aming pamilya”, De Roca pointed out.

Apart from that, De Roca noted that her discipline and hands on in the business play a big role. “Alas-5 pa lang gising na ako. Hindi porket lumaki na ang negosyo pababayaan ko na lang. Kung kailangan akong magkatay, magkakatay ako. At pagdating sa timplahan ng mga pang-lechon talagang tinututukan ko ultimo pagbili at pagpili ng gulay, baboy at iba pang mga sangkap.”

Overcoming Trials

Just like any mortal beings, Lydia De Roca had her own fair share of trials. One was when his son Ricky got sick and had to be admitted to the hospital. De Roca explained, “Ayaw nilang iadmit ang anak ko kasi wala akong pangdeposito sa ospital. Pero sabi ko kaya kong bayaran. Syempre hindi ko naman pababayaan ang anak kong magkasakit at mamatay na lang ng basta basta dahil sa kahirapan. Awa ng Dios nakaraos kami, at ayun unti-unti kong nabayaran ang utang namin sa ospital.” She added, “Hindi lang sa ospital ako nagkaproblema, pati sa din eskwelahan. Ayaw din akong tanggapin kasi nga wala akong perang pambayad ng matrikula. Pero pinilit ko na gawan ng paraan kasi parehong anak kong lalaki sa Letran nag-aral at yun ang pangarap ko sa kanila.” 

Generosity in times of crisis

Last March 22, 2022, a tragedy hit the De Roca family when the husband of the lechon queen died, Benigno De Roca, a.k.a. “Boy Lechon”. But this never hindered the De Roca family to help, when several hospitals cried for help to provide food to their frontliners.

The team from their Quezon City branches (Timog and Roces) planned on how to bring the food in order to ensure that the hospital personnel will have something to eat while making sacrifices and risking their lives to assist patients infected by COVID-19.

“Ang pakikipagkapwa at pagtulong lalo na sa panahon ng kagipitan ay dapat manaig. Kaya di kami nag atubiling kumilos sa kabilang ng aming pagdadalamhati sa pagkamatay ng aking asawa,” De Roca said.

Family on her mind

For the Lechon Queen, apart from sending their children to a good school, she had her simple pleasure in life that she wanted to give to her children, a television set! But her simple pleasure dream did not go unchallenged. When she wanted to get a TV the first question that was asked of her, “May pambayad ka ba? Eh nagtitinda ka lang sa bangketa.” Of course, for her it was not an insult but rather a realistic question and a challenge from someone who was also into business. So instead of feeling bad, De Roca answered, “Wag kang mag-alala, mababayaran kita. Pag hindi kita nabayaran eh di kunin mo ang TV.” With that, she was able to get a TV even if she was not qualified to be given an installment plan for the TV she wanted for her family because of her persistence.

Seizing the Opportunities, Establishing Credibility and Ensuring Quality

While Lydia’s did not have a big place to accommodate diners because she only had 1 small table and chair, their lechon becomes very popular not only to the devotees of Baclaran, but also amongst journalists who are based in Aduana (port area). And because of the truly delectable taste, freshness and crispiness of Lydia’s Lechon, the manager of Hyatt Regency Hotel dropped by at her store and asked her if she can deliver a lechon to their hotel, knowing that she lacks the logistics and capital to buy a delivery truck and more pigs for roasting just in case the hotel orders for more.

But De Roca did not look at the problem, rather she sees the opportunity and in full confidence, she said to the hotel manager that she can. Then other hotels started to order from Lydia’s until at one point in her life, the famous Lydia’s Lechon did not only serve the hotel, but also the Presidential Palace during the time of Marcos. When ex-First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos heard about Lydia’s Lechon, she was asked by the caterer of Malacanang Palace if she could roast 50 pieces lechons on the spot which was needed during the laying of the corner stone of Puerto Azul, as usual De Roca said yes. But instead of 50 lechons it then became 300 lechons. This prompted her to ask her two young boys Darly and Ricky to help him in roasting the lechon. But serving the first family did not stop there; the late Ex-President Ferdinand Marcos even had Lydia’s lechon served during his birthday.

The Expansion and Innovation

When there was enough capital to expand, Lydia’s opened its first branch outside of the southern part of Metro Manila at Timog Avenue, Quezon City in 1989. Thereafter, more stores opened in the eastern part of the Metro Manila. Although originally intended to be a close family corporation, the first franchise of Lydia’s Lechon was sold in 2005 for a fast food and retail outlet at SM Megamall in Mandaluyong City. Today, Lydia’s Lechon Restaurant is considered as the biggest chain of lechon outlets in the country. Interestingly, Lydias also broke into the global market by exporting their famous lechon sauce and other condiments.

Hands-On

While others would rest on their laurels, Lydia De Roca is still very much hands-on in the business and this surprises a lot of people because for 57 years, she is still working instead of retiring. She said, “Ayoko ng patulog-tulog na lang. Sabi nga nung iba, umasenso ka na bakit hindi ka na lang magpahinga at pabayaan mo na lang ang mga anak mo ang magmanage?” But for her, “Hindi pwede yung papabayaan mo ang binigay ng Dios. Kailangan palaaguin mo, bantayan mo at ayusin mo. Kaya ako halos apat na oras lang ang tulog ko sa isang araw, swerte ng makatulog ako ng anim o walong oras sa loob ng isang taon. Bakit? Kasi ako ang namimili ng mga gulay, nagmimili at titimpla ng mga baboy at iba pang sangkap. Gusto ko kasi consistent. Kung ano ang Lydia’s nung sinimulan ko sa bangketa ng 1965 ay siya pa din Lydia’s na alam ng mga luma at bagong henerasyon. At ganun din ang mga anak ko, may weekly meeting kami. Sila din ganun ang mga ginagawa nila sa mga branches nila. Pati ang mga driver kinakausap namin para alam nila ang pananagutan nila at duty na ihatid ang mga orders on time”, De Roca said.  

Family Affairs

We heard a lot of sad stories about a family fighting over the same business and thus creating factions amongst family members and losing grip in the industry which they once lorded.

The matriarch of Lydia’s Lechon ensures that her children will not fight over what they have now. She wants to perpetuate the legacy of Lydia’s which she painstakingly built 57 years ago and hopes to continue till the next generation. “Walang tampuhan sa amin o inggitan. We work together as a team at ayaw naming magkakawatak-watak. Ang mahalaga, kung ano man ang plano nila for the future, alam ko naman na para sa ikakabuti ng Lydia’s yan”, De Roca said in closing.

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