Words by: Kimberly Custodio and Kezia Dominguez
Photos by Karl Angelo G. de los Santos
Passionate, determined, and truly inspiring Rowena P. Romulo flew all the way from her base in London to her native homeland to personally receive the award from her alma mater. She was nominated by Ms. Gina Consing-McAdam a friend and fellow La Salle Alumnae based in London. “I am honored, at the same time privileged that my university has actually given me this recognition. Obviously, I am very very delighted,” Rowena tells AnimoMagazine.
This isn’t the first time Rowena is noticed for her excellence in handling the business. She is among the 100 most influential Filipina women of (FWN) Global in 2017. Filipina Women’s Network or FWN is a global search for Filipina women who are disruptors, innovators, thought leaders, visionaries, policymakers, founders, emerging leaders, and changemakers. She was recognized by FWN Global for ‘putting the Philippine cuisine on the gastronomic map of London in less than a year since the opening of their café.’
An alumnus of St. Scholastica’s College just across DLSU, Rowena finished her AB Economics degree with a Cum Laude. She then joined Citibank for 32 years, moving from one city to another city, and to more other cities, before retiring and partnering up with her life partner Chris Joseph in bringing the Romulo Café from the Philippines to London. Chris is also a La Sallite and formerly a senior executive of an international food chain.
Shifting career from being an international banker to bravely enter the food business as an entrepreneur was not just a whim. It was a leap of faith. Expanding internationally the successful Romulo Café in Manila needed her strong determination and trust for the Filipino food. The goal was not just to establish a branch in London but “most importantly, make it stay”.
Fuelled by her high regard for Filipino food and determination to enrich her family´s heritage as well as to expand, internationally, the successful Romulo Café in Manila, she mustered all her courage and embarked on an ambitious mission to not only pave the way for Filipino cuisine in the established London food scene but
Inspired by the beloved Ambassador Carlos P. Romulo and his wife Virginia, Romulo Café is the
“Home of the Filipino comfort food”. More than just a place to eat, Lifestyle Asia describes Romulo Café as “a haven for lovers of traditional Filipino cuisine served with a side of history.
A simple café that grew from Scout Lazcano in Quezon City, to the Azumi Hotel in Alabang and in Jupiter street in Makati. People Asia praises Romulo Café as it “elevates Pinoy lutong bahay’ to an elegant dining experience.”
In the heart of Kensington in London.
When Rowena finally convinced herself that bringing the Romulo café to London is a good idea, she immediately hired a UK consultant to formalize a business plan, presenting it to her family in the Philippines, and then having to find a suitable spot—Rowena had to keep reminding herself of the goal so she wouldn’t get cold feet.searched for the perfect spot to build it and set up the menu—since they couldn’t just straight up copy their menu in the Philippines. The fact is, not all the ingredients are available in London, and they had to choose what’s appealing to the eyes of the London locals.
They also had to give their dishes a little touch of the other countries’ cuisines. Yes, they have the Filipino regulars, but they had to evolve to catch up and get the attention of the locals, to be really able to fulfill their objective. Because this was a goal that required great strategy and strong passion.
“The objective was to really raise the profile of Filipino cuisine in the UK. That was our biggest challenge because we’re the underdog in terms of Asian cuisine. We (Filipinos) have so much to offer and yet no one thinks about Filipino cuisine. That has been our goal and objective.”
In the same year it operated in 2016, the first foreign branch of Romulo Café in Kensington, London, has received multiple recognitions already. From being a runner up for the ‘Best Loved Restaurant in Kensington’ title from Time Out, to getting 5-starred ratings in food bibles, to being featured in the TATLER Restaurant Guide in 2018.
All the success they gained happened because of the challenge they have taken. Their determination led them to a greater achievement and now they have shown what the Filipino pride can do.
Rowena has faith in the uniqueness of Filipino cuisine. For her, it is a mesmerizing combination of four culinary traditions – Spanish, American, Malay, and Chinese, and a real fusion of flavours from the East and West. And she’s earnest in making it known and savored by the world.
This article was originally published in Vol 17 No 2 of Animo Magazine