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From P50 si-log to senator’s favorite: How a small carinderia turned into a Las Piñas Icon

By Eileen Mencias

Vibang’s is a testament to the power of family, hard work and a love for good food.

In 2003, Vibang’s began as a small carinderia with just a counter and three tables, nestled on a corner in Las Pinas City. Back then, it was a family affair. Van Victor Leano, his siblings, and their parents, Bang and Vic, ran the show.

Bang and Vic would rise at dawn to visit the market, returning to cook up delicious P50 si-log meals. After school, Van and his siblings would take over, tending to the shop and their first loyal customers – tricycle drivers.

The area around Vibang’s was a far cry from its current state. Empty lots resembling fields surrounded the carinderia, with garden supply shops as their main neighbors. But a passion for food burned bright within the Leano family. Bang, ever the nurturing cook, enrolled in cooking classes to hone her skills and cater to her children’s love for good food.

Encouraged by friends who enjoyed her cooking at events, Bang started selling cakes at the BFRV Clubhouse. This, along with the growing demand at the carinderia, fueled their ambition. They expanded their menu from a mere five dishes to ten, constantly adding new creations based on customer requests. This dedication to their patrons’ desires has blossomed into a menu boasting 60 unique dishes today.

The best sellers include inihaw na liempo, sinigang, caldereta, lumpiang hubad, piniritong lumpiang togue, and tortang talong, which is stuffed with ground pork and bursting at the seams. Another signature dish is sinampalukang manok with usbong ng Sampaloc, which is difficult to source and a hassle to prepare.

The Leanos never dreamed that their open-air carinderia with its pawid roof would be a Las Pinas landmark. It was purely word of mouth. Its following livened up the area, and other establishments sprouted; many have come and gone.

It only struck Van that Vibang’s had become big when powerful people started dropping by and became regulars. Senator Mark Villar, whose parents live just a few streets away, is a regular and even went there with a blogger during the 2022 campaigns to shoot a video.

The journey wasn’t all that rosy. After they decided to incorporate in 2013, their accountant cheated them out of millions. Issues with accountants have a chain effect, and they soon found themselves in trouble with the BIR.

“Taon taon kami ino-audit hanggang 2019 (they audited us every year until 2019),” Bang said. “Pinauubaya ko na lang sila sa Diyos (I just leave their fate to God).”

The rising cost of food items is also a challenge. They experimented with frozen meat in the past but dropped it.

For Van, the food doesn’t taste as good when you use frozen meat. The reason they dropped bulalo from the menu because they could not find a consistent supplier.

Van suggested that it would be more practical to adjust prices accordingly: increasing them when necessary due to rising costs and reducing them when expenses decrease.

According to Van, the main lesson in setting up the business is: “Kailangan hands-on pa rin.” Nowadays, his mom still takes charge of cooking and marketing, but they now have cooks to assist her. Van has taken on the responsibility of managing the books, licenses, permits, and other regulatory requirements.

One piece of advice Van has for anyone going into the restaurant business, or any business for that matter, is to have a lot of patience. The secret to their food is that they use fresh ingredients.

The Leanos are hoping to move to a bigger place nearby, but the plan is to maintain the homey atmosphere and the quaint pawid ceiling/roof because it’s cooler.

Like many businesses, the pandemic also dealt them a blow. With no sales, their primary concern was their employees, and the subsidy from the Social Security System helped them through. It took some time to revive the business, leading them to venture into delivery in a limited area.

Van acknowledges the importance of establishing a social media presence and is currently developing a Facebook page. While there are no plans for a new branch or franchising in the near future, Vibang’s remains a family-run business for the Leanos.

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