If you visit Mercado de San Miguel around lunch or dinner, you’ll notice the wonderful fragrance of meat grilling wafting through the air. And you don’t have to go far to see where it comes from: EATadakimasu.

The Japanese restaurant, which debuted in April, is the most recent addition to Puerto Princesa’s dining landscape, taking the risk of opening during the coronavirus outbreak.

EATadakimasu is actually “Itadakimasu,” a Japanese tradition of clapping hands together to humbly accept wonderful meals before eating them that has been passed down through generations. It roughly translates to “Let’s eat!” in English, or “Tara, kain tayo!” in Filipino.

Opening a business during a pandemic is a risky proposition, but EATadakimasu is worth it if it means providing affordable Japanese cuisine to local taste buds, never letting go of his love for excellent food and sharing it, and providing employment to people who have lost their income sources due to COVID-19.

Rix Rafols, entrepreneur and owner of EATadakimasu, believes that food is necessary at all times. Food, he thought, would offer memories and comfort to everyone during difficult times.

“Ang pagkain kasi, other than essential siya, it brings memories. Nagpapagaan ng loob, nagpapasaya, kaya nga sinasabi nila comfort food. Food always makes you feel better. So ‘yon ang naisip ko na during this time, other than ‘yong family support, other than kinds of support, kailangan mo ng food, kailangan mo ng good time to share,” he said.

Beyond offering a good Japanese dining experience for residents, opening EATadakimasu, most importantly provides work for 20 people.

Some of them are displaced workers from Cowrie Island, which relied on tourism, and former employees from eateries that had to close, and even overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

“Sa totoo lang, lakas ng loob. Kasi sa sobrang dami ng businesses na nagsara, ang daming tao na kailangan ng trabaho. Katulad sa amin, nagsara ang Cowrie Island, ang dami namin na nawalan ng trabaho. Sabi ko, kahit maliit na tindahan, kahit na ‘yong essential, ‘yon ang binuksan namin kaya nagbukas kami ng restaurant.

EATadakimasu opened on April 18, but it only provided food takeouts then due to the hard barangay lockdown imposed by the city government as COVID-19 cases surge.

The lengthy quarantine protocol, which affected the restaurant’s location in Mercado de San Miguel, Brgy. San Miguel, was inconvenient, but it didn’t deter the restaurant from continuing to offer inexpensive Japanese cuisine made from premium ingredients.

Rix says that the products they use, such as tender meats for grilling, are United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-graded and of excellent quality, and that the fresh prawns come from Quezon town.

“Nauso ang Korean unlimited, sabi ko, kesa Korean unlimited, Japanese unlimited kasi isa o iilan pa lang ang nagdya-Japanese unlimited dito sa Palawan. Ever since naman ay malapit sa panlasa ng Pinoy ang Japanese (food). Ang teriyaki, soy sauce, maki, sushi, all these things (ay) very familiar sa Filipinos,” he said.

“So, I think very malapit sa panlasa ng Pinoy and we are offering high quality Japanese food at very affordable prices. Alam naman natin na hindi mura ang Japanese items pero we are doing our best to sell them at fair prices,” he added.

Rice meals can be availed from P100 to P200 while the unlimited Japanese food can be enjoyed for as low as P425.

“Ang kagandahan kasi naman sa pagkain, it becomes an event. Kung minsan, puwede pag-ipunan ng kaunti para mas maging masaya, pinag-iipunan para makalabas,” he added.

Food business in a time of pandemic
Rix acknowledges that establishing EATadakimasu during COVID-19 is difficult because of the constantly changing quarantine requirements, protocols, and other laws that affect their sources of supplies, as well as working hours. Some of their supplies are from Manila, so the changes in quarantine controls also affect their logistics.

He prefers to acquire all of his supplies locally, but he must order from outside the province due to a lack of availability.

Even price stability is a challenge in the food industry right now, he added.

EATadakimasu adapted to the city’s limitations on takeouts and al fresco dining until a limited number of dine-in customers were permitted.

“Sobrang hirap kasi sa food industry, kailangan mo maamoy. Smell, taste, touch, and look. Napakahirap noon kasi naka-face mask ka and hindi mo maamoy. Doon na lang na simpleng amoy, hindi mo maamoy. Sa amin, sa amoy pa lang, natitikman mo na agad kapag nagluluto ka. Napakahirap sa kitchen side,” he said.

“Sa restaurant side, sa service side, mahirap. Dahil ang tao, one ay takot lumabas which is understandable. Two, ang tao ay nagtitipid, kaya marami kaming tipid meals. Number three, ang protocols ay nag-iiba. Halos every week o every day, kailangan mo na updated. Ang mahirap sa amin ay hindi kami makapagplano,” he added.

Customers in restaurants are now fewer, as opposed to pre-pandemic years, according to Rix. On the other side, the beauty of it is that most of the clients are families.

EATadakimasu also has about six delivery partners for takeouts for the convenience of certain customers. It also teamed up with a group of displaced motorcyclists to transport meals ordered straight from their eatery.

Future of EATadakimasu
“Ang Japanese (food) kasi, sa sobrang normal niya. I think napakalapit sa panlasa ng Pinoy na madaling ma-adapt ang Japanese food—ang kagandahan noon, madali siyang mabenta, madali siyang ma-appreciate ng locals,” he said.

After a few months of operation, the restaurant intends to expand its menu to include sushi, maki, and sashimi, in addition to unlimited grilling.

“Gusto ko sana mapakita ‘yong ganda ng maki, sushi, sashimi. Iyon ay unti-unti natin nilalabas ‘yon. Iyon ang future plan natin,” he said.