Opeña’s Rendezvous @ 100

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  • PENN T. LARENA

Opeña’s, one of the home-grown and purely local fast-food restaurants in Dumaguete City, is celebrating its centennial this year.

Founded in 1921 by Brother Knight Aquilino Opeña Sr. and his wife, Crispina Cequiña, it is considered the city’s first-ever fast-food business. The young couple got married in Bohol and then migrated to Dumaguete City for Aquilino to continue his studies at Silliman University while Crispina, who was raised in a family where cooking and baking were the household norm, decided to open their first business venture.

Their specialties were the halo-halo, homemade bread and binangkal, a type of native doughnut that proved so popular that other establishments copied their recipe.

When World War II broke out, they evacuated with their children Winefredo, Felicidad, Virginia, and Aquilino Jr. to the mountain area near the lake in Tubigon Sibulan. To survive the hardship, Crispina continued to make all kinds of food from the available crops, and had her children barter these with other crops.

After World War II ended, they reopened a nipa hut restaurant in 1948 and they called it Opeña’s Rendezvous. It was located in the middle of the downtown area at the corner of Dr. V. Locsin and Calle Alfonso XIII, presently the Gov. Perdices streets. It then moved to its present location on Corta Street (now known as Mayor J. Katada Street) in 1950.

Halo-halo was the favorite merienda of my grandfather before his mahjong session. My late mother ordered binangkal, ube bread, banana cupcake, and siopao every Saturday. During her birthday, she would normally order icing cake.

One way to connect a family’s past and present is through food. Opeñas Café cheese roll is one of the family’s traditional recipes that had been passed down through generations. It was first introduced in the 1970s as the sweet special bread topped with toasted grated cheese. Instantly, it became the town’s favorite. It was the first cheese roll sold during that time.

Nothing gets old and stale if tendered with true loving care; it’s still the same taste, probably even better, preserved with so much respect.

In 1978, with daughter Felicidad Opeña-Merced, they rebuilt the building and opened a 14-bedroom hotel and restaurant. It was the first catering services for all occasions in Dumaguete.

During its early years, it offered budget meals, mostly for students in the city. In 1979, it started offering the catering services it is known for.

Sir Aquilino Opeña was a well-known civic leader, entrepreneur, and Knight of Rizal. He served as public relations officer in the KOR of the Dumaguete City Chapter and a volunteer of the local chapter of the Philippine National Red Cross.

Who wants to try Rizal’s favorite dishes? The late Mr. Opeña is a Rizalian by heart, they served pancit, tinola, monggo, hamonado, bistek tagalog, fresh lumpia, and empanada. You will all be surprised to know that Rizal’s top favorite dishes are the usual ones we often served on our dining tables and are available here.

Opeña’s is also known for its empanada, one of its best-selling products. According to current manager Judaline “Judy” Merced, its recipe has been handed down through generations.

“My grandmother was a great cook and baker, and taught me at an early stage,” she said. “I saw how they struggled to bring up their business to flourish until they passed away.”

Opeña Restaurant and Pension House is a favorite place among students during lunch and dinner time. Ricardo Merced, who managed the place in the 90s, had their bread and desserts displayed outside the fast-food store so that passers-by could buy them.

I have a good experience with Opeña’s, my favorite place to buy my favorite food. Opeña’s plays a big part in the culinary history of Dunaguete. I hope the Opeña-Merced family will continue this wonderful legacy.

Every bite brings one back to a wonderful memory lane; it is authentic, it is unique, it is a legacy, it is family. Cheers to another 100 years! – NWI