Chef Vince Pausanos used to run one of the popular beaches in Puerto Galera—the Coco Beach Island Resort. It’s a ten-hectare property with 110 rooms and four restaurants. It used to be the preferred destination for many weekend beach lovers, especially foreigners who loved its nipa hut-style rooms.
The tropical beach resort became like a little pocket of home to the Pausanos, who developed the property in the 1980s. The family hailed from Cebu and moved to Oriental Mindoro in 1986 when Vince’s parents, Dennis and Connie, saw an opportunity to put up a resort business there. His parents leased the land and developed it, and eventually acquired the whole property.
Vince was only two years old when they moved to Puerto Galera. “We literally grew up in the resort. The staff who were with us since the beginning said they used to see me running around as a little boy,” says Vince, the youngest among four kids.
When the child turned nine, he was tasked to become a “bread boy”—tasked to offer bread to guests come dinnertime. When he entered high school, he would assist as a waiter, and sometimes as a folk dancer, which was part of the resort entertainment.
“Pag peak season during summer, every Saturday we would hold either a garden fiesta or a glamping party for the guests,” Vince recalls. “Pag fiesta, merong mga performances like tinikling, pandanggo sa ilaw, during dinnertime for the guests. So I would perform and at the same time help out by serving the guests. Sobrang saya,” he recalls. His siblings would also do the same tasks.
Vince took up Restaurant and Hotel Entrepreneurship at Enderun Colleges and eventually led the resort’s Food and Beverage Department. His sister handled sales and marketing, his older brother ran the resort operations and diving services, and his other brother managed the procurement.
“Initially, we had other plans for ourselves aside from helping to run the resort, but eventually we decided that we needed to do more for the company and help out our mom. That way, she’d have less things to handle by herself. It was our way of showing our appreciation, our way of thanking her and giving back to her,” says Vince.
Closure of Coco Beach
Ironically, business slowed down for Coco Beach Island Resort just as tourism boomed in the Philippines. “Madami ng hotels and resorts na nag-pop up, na hindi mo na kailangang tumawid ng dagat,” he explains. It didn’t help that the pandemic happened, which lessened the volume of tourists even more.
“The last resort before we shut down was to lower the room rates, and then bawiin na lang sa food and beverage and other activities. Pero hindi pa rin kayang i-sustain [ang resort] kahit ganoon ang gawin namin,” Vince shares.
And so on February 29, 2020, they had to make the most heartbreaking decision—to cease the resort’s operations to avoid further losses. Fifteen days after Coco Beach’s shutdown, the lockdown was implemented by the IATF.
“Pinag-usapan namin kung after the pandemic itutuloy pa din ba namin [ang operation ng resort]. Ang napagdesisyunan ng family is to sell the property na lang,” he says. However, due to travel restrictions, scheduled site visits and talks with potential buyers were postponed. The resort is still up for sale until now.
New business opportunity
The idea to start an online lechon business based in Puerto Galera came up when Vince’s wife, Arch. Maan Shayne Pausanos, was hired to design a project by the local government in the area. Before this, Vince’s family had been based in Manila for a while because their kids study in the city.
“Nag-decide kaming sumama ng mga kids [kay Maan] kasi ang Covid cases dito [sa Puerto Galera] sobrang kaunti pa lang. Nung time na pumunta kami dito, zero case pa sya. So sabi namin mas safe ang lugar,” he says. They eventually decided to start a food business in order to augment the family’s income.
The Pausanos had been selling Cebu-style lechon in Puerto Galera since 2017, but they got busy with other things so they were not able to focus on it. Now with time in their hands, Vince and his wife decided to offer the product again. But to make it affordable, they decided to sell lechon belly instead of whole lechons—and it clicked. They call the business Mr. & Mrs. Piggy’s Bellychon and interested parties order via its Facebook account.
“Wala pa kasing lechon Cebu dito sa Puerto Galera. Meron dito yung usual na lechon na walang timpla. So yung mga tao dito, nung na-try nila ang lechon namin, sobrang sarap daw, kahit walang sauce,” he says. They also started offering lechon rice toppings which is even more budget-friendly. “Sobrang nag-click din sya. So tuluy-tuloy lang kami thru online.”
Vince got the basic recipe for the Cebu-style lechon belly from his relatives in Cebu but he made some adjustments and applied some of his acquired knowledge in culinary school to enhance the flavor and make it crispier.
“Sobrang juicy. Talagang pag chop ko tumatagas ang juices nya. Then yung skin nya is malutong. Standout ang flavor nya,” Vince says proudly. “Kasi I don’t provide sauces. Pag may naghahanap, sinasabi ko, ay hindi na po kailangan. Try nyo po muna [ng walang sauce].”
For the past several months, he and his wife have been doing the cooking, even the delivery, themselves. They’ve been selling 20 to 25 kilos of lechon belly every day. (The price of half a kilo is P350.) The lechons often get sold out. “So pag may craving ang buyers, we can’t cater anymore. So people have been suggesting that we open a restaurant para madali na sila um-order, kung mag-crave sila, and they can also pick up [their order],” Vince says.
The couple gave in to the requests. Next week, Mr. & Mrs. Piggy’s Bellychon restaurant will open at the Muelle Port. They already hired two people to assist them in cooking and selling.
Life still ain’t entirely a beach for the Pausanos. “Kailangang magpursigi. Pakasipagan,” says Vince, sharing the lessons he’s learned going through losing one business and risking a new one. He says family support is important, as well as constant communication among the team, and thorough planning. “At yung quality [ng product] wag na wag nyong isa-sacrifice.”
In business, as in life, adaptability is the name of the game. The faster you’re able to adjust, the faster you recover. Oftentimes, change is tough, but it could lead to discovering new opportunities. For Vince, it led to a second chance at success in the island he grew up in.