Back at Five Corners in the early 1970s, Santos says the area around his family’s store had many more Polish and Italian families and businesses and not as many Filipinos. Angelina Ferrer, Santos’ aunt, says the neighborhood back then “didn’t seem safe” and that unruly teenagers would go into the grocery store and steal candy and bananas. But the neighborhood has since changed, she says, and over the years, Filipino businesses expanded on Newark Avenue and around the city – reflecting the growth of the community. The clutch of Filipino businesses around Newark Avenue include restaurants, cafes and even a branch of the Philippine National Bank, where people can wire money to relatives back home. Besides Phil-Am Food, Santos’ relatives have gone into other businesses such as a wholesale company, Max’s of Manila – a famous Filipino fried chicken chain – and Casa Victoria, which Ferrer runs – a décor store that doubles as a bakery-cafe. Santos says business has boomed at
Phil-Am, which draws people from up and down the East Coast, as far away as Maryland and Connecticut. They are drawn to the wide variety of hard-to-find Filipino staples on his shelves, such as the different varieties of soy sauce and vinegar. “People would just take the road down,” says Santos, who believes Phil-Am Food to be the largest Filipino grocery store on the East Coast. “They would say, ‘Look at this. I can’t believe they have this!’” Santos says he has even shipped food to Indiana, where a customer once had a hankering for frozen durian, a spiky, green fruit famous for its aroma of rotten onions and gym socks. He also sends packages to homesick Filipino soldiers at overseas American military bases. “I am giving them a taste of home,” Santos says of the soldiers, who order off the Phil-Am website. Even chains in the neighborhood, like the Dunkin Donuts at Summit and Magnolia Avenues, have become meeting places for older Filipino men, a spot where they can shoot the breeze and gossip, says Homer
Lerma Lasala prepares fans to hang for sale in Casa Victoria
Published on Dec 3, 2011
The Winter 2011 issue of NEW, Jersey City's magazine of arts, culture and lifestyle. Featuring stories on Filipino food & culture in Jersey...