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How my mother’s BBQ put me through college

Photographer Nazzi Castro shares her family’s story, her mother’s iron will, and how Nancy’s BBQ became a neighborhood fave in Cubao, Quezon City.
By Nazzi Castro as told to Elyssa Christine Lopez |

ENTREPRENEURIAL. Nancy has been running her carinderia for 9 years now, earning a reputation in the neighborhood and has been recognized in various media outlets. Photo by Nazzi Castro 

 

My parents’ love story can rival that of teleseryes' (soap operas).

 

My mother, Nancy was a probinsiyana (countrywoman) from Laguna when they moved to a humble home in Cubao, Quezon City. Then came my free-spirited father, a Fine Arts student from the University of the Philippines who expressed admiration to this new girl in the neighborhood. Almost written from TV, rightfully, my grandmother was against this.  

 

Still, my father did everything just to get my mother’s yes: he cooked for their family, did the laundry, and one night even shouted from the street: “Nancy! I love you! Please be mine!”

 

Nine months later, my big brother was born.

 

To support their young family, my mother did the laundry for our neighbors and even served as a household help. My father drove a jeepney, and encouraged my mother to set up a barbecue stall. With the whole toda or jeepney driver group as customers, it was enough for a while.

 

Until an offer came from Saudi Arabia and made my father—like thousands of Filipinos—seek better pastures abroad. He became a draftsman for a plant and left my brother, sister and me with my mother in our home in Cubao.

 

By this time, my mother was already itching to have a place of our own, as we were still living with my father’s family. One thing I learned from my mom: If you want it bad enough, you can work hard enough to achieve it too.

 

And so she did.

 

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EARLY YEARS. Nancy first put up a small barbecue stall in the 90s to help with the family expenses. She is joined in this photo by her firstborn, Nazareth. 

 

‘Business plan’

I remember walking the whole day. I was 7-years-old and already in Grade 1, when mother and I would knock on offices in Ortigas, Makati, Alabang to earn enough for my brother and sister’s baon (stipend) for school and for our daily spending at home.

 

“If I could earn a thousand a day, then I can go home,” I remember my mom telling me one time I asked her why she was getting home so late every day.

 

We used to visit a particular salon at The Manila Peninsula in Makati City, as she tries to sell them direct-selling goods from Avon, Natasha, Sundance, and Wacoal. Her friends became my titas (auntie-like), and I knew even then what my role was: a cute accessory to make these pretty women buy my mother’s goods.

 

Meanwhile, my father came home after a few years, missing the sounds of Manila too much. He used his talent for a signage business instead and made everything from tarpaulins, T-shirt printing, to putting up stall carts. And this was before Photoshop.

 

Related: Philip Rosales: The enterprising street artist


This “business plan” worked for the next five years.

 

Looking back, I cannot believe how my parents managed to sustain our lifestyle. Earnings from these gigs can be lucrative, but they were seasonal and weeks passed without any orders.

 

Still, they never made us feel that we were deprived in life. My brother went on to college, while my sister pursued an Architecture degree.

 

And my parents did all these without getting a full-time job, and they did not even finish school.

 

 

‘Entrepreneurial knack’

Perhaps, you could say my parents always had the entrepreneurial knack in them.

 

By the time I was in high school and both my siblings were in college, my mother decided to open a sari-sari (variety) store to replace the barbecue stall from a few years back. We already had our own place then, but still lived in Cubao.

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My mother was the first store in our street to introduce online gaming cards. At the time of dial-up Internet and Internet café boom, a store with such product is a water pool in the middle of a desert.

 

It was heaven sent. We always ran out of stocks, sold out almost every day. By the time we were earning triple, more sari-sari stores opened and also offered what we did, plus they introduced electronic loading.

 

Competition can be tough, even in small time businesses. But my mother never ran out of ways to outdo the rest.

 

A next-door carinderia (eatery) was booming in the neighborhood and my mother heard talks that the land owner of the stall was not in good terms with the tenants anymore.

 

Until one day, I saw my mother in a fight with the carinderia owner. She was insisting on getting hold of the stall as the tenants were no longer paying the necessary dues. The next day, they were out of the neighborhood.

 

And Nancy’s BBQ was born.

 

NINE YEARS AND COUNTING. Nancy's carinderia now earns P8000 on a regular basis with a more varied menu. Photo by Nazzi Castro 

 

Nancy’s BBQ and us

I was hesitant to the idea of a carinderia at first. My mother was not getting any younger and sustaining such business would put her whole day, her whole week, swamped with work.

 

But knowing her, she never backs down from a fight. Besides, the whole point of the business was to get enough income to put me through college. I was yearning to attend the University of Santo Tomas in Manila.

 

On our opening day, she woke up as early as 1 in the morning to catch the first and freshest goods in Nepa Q-Mart. By 3 am, she was back and preparing the menu for the day, by the time the sun rises, almost all meals are ready to be served, waiting for customers to discover them.

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But it was already past 9 am, and no one was coming in. I was the assigned “cashier” for that day and felt some sort of loss that early in the morning and asked myself: Who’s going to eat all these now?

 

My mother never bothered, and as if she knew what was coming. By 12 noon, the customers were all lining up. We sold out on our first day and raked in more than P10,000 ($212.21). My mother, as always, was right.

 

This has been her life, every day for the last eight years. Nancy’s BBQ has put me through college, gave me a debut celebration, and has kept our family together.

 

But my mother’s Nancy’s BBQ also supported my passion.

 

Back in high school, my mother started to notice my liking for photography. She saw how eager I was in taking photos from the mundane to the celebratory, but always had to borrow my friends’ camera just to do so.

 

After all the hard work my mother puts through, she never wanted us siblings to feel we had to beg for something. So one day, we went to Hidalgo in Quiapo to score a fair price for the latest professional camera.

 

We were both crying on our way home. Now, I am working as a photographer for a daily broadsheet.

 

My parents always made sure to support me in my endeavors. I never lacked opportunities. And whenever I asked for something, they will always say: “Magagawan ng paraan ‘yan.” (We'd find a way to get it done.)

 

 

Nancy's BBQ is located at 23 Rajah Matanda St., Project 4, Quezon City; +632 438-0626; open daily from 6 am to 12 midnight. 

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