An Asian food store, a Filipino bakery, and a Chinese family restaurant share their culture with the foods they cook, bake, and sell in the East Texas community.
TYLER, Texas— Editor’s note: The video above is from 2019.
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is a month-long celebration in May to recognize the historical and cultural impact that Asian and Pacific Islander communities have had in the United States.
As the month of May draws to a close, let’s highlight some local Asian-owned businesses that are impacting the East Texas community.
Kabayan Asian Food Store
Ramil Cleofe and Ramon Navarro are the owners of Kabayan Asian Food Store on 6004 S Broadway Ave in Tyler. They are both from the Philippines and came to work in the United States as medical technologists.
As the Asian community grew in East Texas, the need for Asian products became a demand.
“Seeing the Asian community growing here in Tyler and in East Texas, we decided to create an Asian store,” Navarro said.
Cleofe and Navarro decided to open an Asian store so people wouldn’t have to drive two hours to Dallas.
“Whenever we needed something, we would ask our friends ‘who’s going to Dallas’ just to buy some rice or some other item,” Cleofe said. “We didn’t know how to run a business, but all we knew was that we needed it here at Tyler.
Since opening in 2013, Kabayan Asian Food Mart continues to provide a variety of Asian products to customers in East Texas and Louisiana. They even sell Filipino products that you can’t find in Dallas, so people come to their store to buy exclusive products.
“The idea was to open a store to not sell the majority of Filipino products, we want to sell products for all nationalities, that’s why we ask everyone to tell us what products they need in order to that we can get these items for them,” Cleofe said.
Cleofe and Navarro invite the community to shop at their store and try new products so they can learn about their culture.
“We want to expose them to our food and our lifestyle. Asians are simple people and I think one of the ways to introduce them to our culture is through food,” Navarro said.
Kabayan Asian Food Mart makes a lasting impact on its customers and in the community by providing customer service that sets them apart from other stores.
A customer who moved to Dallas and came back to visit said, “I miss the customer service that Kabayan Asian Mart provides to their community. I think what sets them apart is that they are very hardworking, persistent and the customer service they provide always comes from the heart.
Cleofe and Navarro hope their store will continue to serve not only the Asian community, but also the East Texas community for many years to come.
“You don’t open a business just to make a profit, you open a business whose primary concern is to serve the community,” Cleofe said.
Bakery Lourdes Marie
Juna Roberts is the owner of Bakery Lourdes Marie at 119 W Front Street, near downtown Tyler. She left the Philippines to work in the medical field in the United States and has lived in Tyler for 24 years.
In 2015, she took a leap of faith and quit her job as a medical technologist to focus on her family and baking.
“I quit my job because I was family oriented and felt like I had to be there for my daughters who at the time were young. I continued my cooking and baking hobbies and was entertaining orders,” Roberts said. “There was a time when I realized I needed help and wanted to be Ministry of Health compliant since I was cooking at home and had dogs at home. And I think it was the perfect time to open a bakery because my daughters were going off to college.
Lourdes Marie Bakery offers a variety of items such as drinks, cookies, pastries, cakes and specialty Filipino desserts that you won’t find anywhere else.
“We have bread and cakes that no one else has, like mango, taro, and durian cakes,” Roberts said. “Some dessert ingredients contain Filipino products, so they taste different. I try to cook as close to authentic Filipino desserts as possible.”
Although it offers authentic Filipino desserts, Roberts says Lourdes Marie Bakery is not a 100% Filipino bakery because it sells items that are not considered Filipino, such as cookies and some cake flavors.
“I have customers asking me for a German chocolate cake and it’s not Asian but I can bake it. My principle is that I don’t want to limit myself because I can do it,” Roberts said.
Roberts believes her Filipino culture has impacted the success of her bakery.
“Thanks to my culture, I learned to be hardworking from my parents. I don’t think I would be here without them. In Filipino culture, we sacrifice to give to our children,” Roberts said. “My mum was the first person to teach me baking and cooking. She was my mentor and teacher and I felt like the memories were coming back to me when I opened this bakery.
Robert’s mother taught him many special Filipino recipes which she continues to cook in her bakery and she keeps her legacy present every day through the name of her bakery.
“Lourdes was my mother’s name and Marie was my husband’s grandmother’s name, they both loved to cook,” Roberts said. “These are also the middle names of my daughters. So when I was looking for a name, I wanted to dedicate the name of the bakery to them and continue the legacy it taught me.
As Lourdes Marie Bakery’s orders increase, so does its impact on the community, not just on the Asian community, but also on the East Texas community.
“It’s not what I order but what she does for the children we teach at the Caldwell Art Academy. She witnessed a performance at the academy and she was so impressed and believed in the school so much that she wanted to donate snacks for our after school program. She started doing it earlier this week. And out of the goodness of her heart, she doesn’t charge us anything. We are forever indebted and these kids love the desserts she bakes because of the love she puts into every bit she bakes,” said a local customer as he took a special order from the bakery.
For Roberts, she enjoys sharing her Filipino culture through the desserts she makes and thinks it’s important to learn about different cultures.
“Wherever you go, it’s so diverse. It can open your mind to other people’s culture and teach you to respect where they come from,” Roberts said.
Poch Coffee Rice
Aaron Tang is the owner of Poch Coffee Rice located on 1700 S SE Loop 323. He says they provide the best spring rolls in Tyler.
Tang is originally from Taiwan/China but moved to Nacogdoches at age 14 to help his uncle at his local Chinese restaurant.
“It was a difficult transition because the education system is different. When I got here it was March so I had to stay again in 9th grade. That year, I learned English and it got easier after that,” Tang said.
In 2001, his father moved his family to Tyler where he opened his own Chinese restaurant. His father retired and sold the restaurant, but in 2015 Tang opened his own Chinese restaurant.
“The cafe has been open for 6 years. At first, we started slowly, but through word of mouth, we started getting more customers,” Tang said.
From his culture, Tang learned many valuable lessons which he applied to his restaurant.
“My parents taught me to work hard and take responsibility,” Tang said. “You have freedom but you have responsibilities that you must first meet.”
Tang is proud of the food that Poch’s Rice Café serves the community.
“We present our food in a different way but we still show our culture through our restaurant decoration to appreciate Chinese art,” Tang said. “Our restaurant is more of an Americanized Chinese restaurant. We are a small town with few Asians, so we try to provide what our community likes. »
At a young age, Tang understood the meaning of a family business, as he grew up working in his uncle’s and father’s restaurants over the years.
“We are a family restaurant, so we make sure that the quality of our food is always good. You order and we cook it on site,” Tang said.
Tang says it’s important to lend your community a helping hand during difficult times.
“Because prices have increased due to inflammation, we are trying to provide quality food to our customers at a decent price,” Tang said. “If you pay cash, we’re giving you a small discount to help you through this difficult time. If you help us, we’ll help you.”
As for his Chinese-Taiwanese heritage, Tang said he was proud of it and thought it was important for others to know about their heritage as well.
“It’s important to know your heritage because it’s important to know who you are,” Tang said. “I also think that today we shouldn’t focus too much on where we come from, we should all come together, whatever your background. We should all come together.
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