Saturday, June 27, 2009

Homage to Harana

"Homage to Harana"
Sun.Star Davao, June 27, 2009

Growing up in Davao, my fondest childhood memories definitely included a hearty meal at one of the city’s most frequented family restaurants, Harana.

Whenever my dad or mom announced that we were going to have dinner at Harana, shrieks of glee could be heard from my siblings and I. We were not just thrilled about savoring Harana’s well-loved specialties. Most importantly, we eagerly looked forward to hours of fun and frolic at the restaurant’s expansive playground.

Through the years, our family has remained loyal to the establishment. In fact, entertaining our out-of-town visitors would never be complete without stopping by Harana.

On the occasion of Harana’s 30th year anniversary along F. Torres St. this June 29, 2009, I had an insightful tete-a-tete with the grand dame of Harana—Mrs. Rosario “Charito” Abella-Lizada.

Born for business

At an early age, Charito Lizada was exposed to the exciting world of business because of her parents, Lucas and Miguela Abella, who were originally from Laguna.

“My father, a mestizo Chinese, was quite entrepreneurial. During the pre-war years, our family ran a restaurant, bakery, ice drop factory, lodging house, bus line and funeral parlor (interestingly named Popular Funeral Parlor) in Davao”, Mrs. Lizada relates. Mr. Abella even managed a marching band which was very in-demand during town fiestas.

Mr. Abella always advised his youngest daughter, Charito, to go into business. “Like the Chinese, go into the three basic needs—food, clothing and shelter”, he would say. However, Mrs. Lizada did not immediately heed his father’s suggestion.

After graduating from the Philippine Women’s University in 1952 with a degree in B.S. Education, she taught Filipino at the Immaculate Conception College and later moved to the Philippine Women’s University in 1953.

Together with her husband Rogelio “Noning” Lizada and sister Nita Abella-Fajardo, they became partners in establishing the La Suerte Bakery in Digos from 1956-1959. Mrs. Lizada also opened La Filipina Bakery from 1960-1966 in Toril.


“Harana started in a little garden at the back of my brother Atty. Fermin Abella’s residence in Juna Subdivision, Davao City in 1966”, Mrs. Lizada discloses.

“I was sitting at a table during a party and was looking at the garden. Seeing how beautiful and conducive the place was for gatherings, I had a sudden idea to put up a restaurant there”, she recalls.

“With an initial capital of two thousand pesos lent to me by my cousin, I invested in a few open nipa huts sheltering bamboo tables and rattan chairs. Under the branch of a young mango tree stood the small barbeque pit. In the evenings, the place was lit with tiny gas lamps. Its specialty then (and now) were fried rice and spare ribs, my original recipes”, Mrs. Lizada describes.

Mrs. Lizada shares that she and Noning came up with the name “Harana” because it is the Filipino term for “serenade”, which was how her husband, a noted Dabawenyo writer and historian, wooed her.

“Noning would go to the PWU dormitory with friends in the evenings. Armed with a guitar and gifted with a brilliant voice, he would perform romantic songs and profess his love for me”, she smiles.

The name “Harana” turned out to be an apt name for the restaurant as it became a favorite hang-out/dating place of Philippine Women’s University and Ateneo de Davao High School students.

“Just to make sure that the students were properly monitored, I requested some of the teachers to sing at Harana on a regular basis from 4pm-6pm”, Mrs. Lizada laughs.

“We did not do any advertisements with the original Harana. It was through word-of-mouth mainly by the students that we became known to the public”, she adds.

Family haven

In 1970, the Abellas needed the little garden and Harana had to move out to its new home along MacArthur Highway in Matina. The place was spacious and the owners thought of a novel approach in the restaurant business. Thus, the playground concept—complete with swings, slides and bars---came about.

“I kept the prices of our food very reasonable. I wanted the families not to hesitate in bringing along their yayas and drivers to eat at Harana”, Mrs. Lizada says.

Aside from the bestselling Mongolian spareribs, Harana is widely known for its lip-smacking barbeques and Filipino dishes such as kare kare, kinilaw, longganisa, sinigang soup, crispy catfish, chicharon bulaklak and many more.

As devoted parents to four kids--Rene, Amylou, Benjie and Aileen and because the Lizadas were actively involved in the Christian Family Movement, they saw to it that Harana would be a “wholesome, clean and family-oriented place where there was no drinking and womanizing”.

On June 29, 1979, during the feast day of St. Peter, patron saint of Davao, a second Harana was opened along Florentino Street to serve the growing demands of a fast developing city.

“At that time, F. Torres was dark and avoided by motorists at night. There were only kangkong fields, wild reeds and clusters of unkempt banana shrubs. But, when Harana opened, F. Torres was no longer the same. Instead of darkness, the place was festooned with bright lights and the sound of music and children’s laughter echoed”, Mrs. Lizada proudly declares.

Now, F. Torres has become the number one food street in Davao City.

You’re my number one

“They say in business, the most important person is the customer. In my opinion, the number 1 is my people. Number 2 is my customer”, Mrs. Lizada states.

“Without my people, our business won’t be as successful. Therefore, I believe that taking good care of my employees is very essential. I let them feel very secure with me”, she explains.

“Some of my staff have been with me for over 20-35 years. I also hire from within my household staff/yayas. For my first batch of employees, we provided housing, insurance and a lot of other benefits. A few of them have even become my consultants upon retirement”, Mrs. Lizada reveals.

“I see to it that the service charge that we collect goes fully back to the employees. When the restaurant is busy, the staff won’t feel burdened or complain because they know that they will ultimately benefit from the influx of customers”, she shares.

Mrs. Lizada likewise awards incentives from the chiller cake sales of Bistro Rosario, one of Harana’s sister companies. “I share a certain percentage to the baker, decorator and sales girls”.

In addition, the Lizadas have an employees’ canteen and provide free board and lodging for the single staff who live far away from the city.

“I truly believe that, in business, we must share our blessings to our people”, Mrs. Lizada opines.

Homage to Harana

Now at eighty years old, Mrs. Lizada has amazingly defied time and maintains a youthful appearance.

When I arrived at Harana for my interview, she was busy overseeing an ongoing extension project at Sarung Banggi, the Lizadas’ steak house. “This outdoor area would be a lovely place to have grilled steaks”, she enthuses.

Even with grandson Carlo Aguilar, a graduate of a Hospitality and Management course from Switzerland now co-managing the various businesses, Mrs. Lizada still never tires in being hands-on with her other restaurants, namely: Mongolian Garden, Cups and Lowercase, Golden Peter Pan and Traliccio Pizzeria, all located along F. Torres St.

Her youngest son, Benjie, is also in the food industry. He owns and manages Taps and Kasagingan which have several branches in the city.

Robbie Aguilar, her other grandson, is soon going to enroll in a 4-year course at the Culinary Institute of New York.

To keep abreast with the latest restaurant trends, Mrs. Lizada often travels abroad. “I believe that it is through upgrading and continuous learning that a business remains competitive”, the passionate entrepreneur intimates.

After 43 years in the restaurant business, I asked Mrs. Lizada if she ever imagined that Harana would become a highly regarded Davao institution, she replies, “Not really...we started small but when I look back now at what we have achieved, I feel so thankful. God is so good. Thank God for the blessings!”.

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