Those who live in the vicinity of Greenhills, San Juan often marvel these days at the ongoing transformation of what can best be described as the once simple, compact and homey commercial center along Ortigas, San Juan.
Though renowned for tiangge shopping among the balikbayan crowd, Greenhills has long served as a comfort zone for residents of several gated communities (Greenhills North, East and West, Wack-Wack and Corinthian Gardens) and pioneering condominiums and town houses (Avalon and Monteverde) in the area. Families of students who go to school in La Salle, Xavier and ICA (Immaculate Concepcion Academy) also consider Greenhills their go-to hub for errands as well as dining and leisure.
Almost a perfect square, it was common to see until recently senior citizens walking or jogging along the path from Shoppesville to Greenhills Cinema, to Virra Mall (now V-Mall), and back to the former site of Unimart grocery, where they would converge at the coffee shop for breakfast, or walk a bit further inside for steaming lugaw at Luk Yuen.
Come Sundays, generations of families willingly waited for a table at Kimpura Japanese restaurant, not only for its quality food, but because doing so simply meant seeing old friends and neighbors waiting with you.
Nowadays, these scenes, sentiments and flavors are sorely missed in Greenhills, even as the community is pleased to see it transform to its true potential. For indeed, multi-storey buildings taking the place of low-rise clusters mean more jobs and a stronger economy as whole.
Now while the Ng family of entrepreneurs led by second-generation patriarch Peter Ng are positive as their fellow Greenhills stalwarts over the high-speed development, they have purposely committed to keep family traditions alive in the community as best they can.
As owners of entities that have been synonymous to Greenhills for decades, they started out with re-locating Unimart to a brand new building just across historic Club Filipino in mid-2017, making sure to close the original grocery just the day before Unimart 2.0 opened its doors. They thought, where would the moms do their weekly groceries or make a quick run for a missing ingredient had they concentrated all their efforts in the new construction?
This and more were the heartwarming snippets The T-Zone gathered from Mr. Peter Ng on a quiet Sunday morning, as he led the rest of the family in a very simple opening of the new Luk Yuen Greenhills. Like Unimart and Kimpura, the 47-year-old Chinese dim sum and noodle resto’s V-Mall branch had also been knocked down last year, with the Ngs offered new sites within Greenhills to occupy.
“It was my father who started Kimpura almost five decades ago; Luk Yuen followed in 1981, shortly after we set up Jade Garden,” he related to The T-Zone. “So we are the second generation steward of the business, while we’re already starting out our children to make up the third generation managers of these places, because you cannot imagine how very touching it was to receive so many letters from diners saying how sad they were to see not just the these two restaurants close their doors but very fond family memories along with them as well.”
Looking around the excited staff of the dim house gathered for a thanksgiving mass, Mr. Ng added, “The diners know our chefs, managers and waiters by name, whether it be Kimpura, Luk Yuen or Unimart’s small coffee shop for that matter. That’s why we’re re-opening all these ‘traditions’ in Greenhills one by one, where we can, so that even with all these changes, generations of families can still enjoy that sense of community they always felt here.”
A Greenhills regular, The T-Zone can attest to the homey environment the Ngs’ establishments have always given their customers. Shopping at Unimart once, it was quite a surprise to see how a huge grocery operation would close off a cashier for an old regular who buys a very precise number of products (far from anything in bulk) and patiently wait for her to lay them on the counter in a very precise order and manner, at a precise day and time each week.
“Ma’am, pakiusap nalang po sa next cashier na po kayo pumila kasi matagalan po kayo dito,” a very apologetic staffer explained each time a customer approached the special lady shopper’s lane.
At Kimpura, the receptionists welcome most diners who walk in with a familiar smile, once asking after our little boys when The T-Zone and her husband snuck out for a dinner date.
On the day of Luk Yuen’s opening, Mr. Ng who busily leads the family’s multiple businesses took time to check that the newly installed air-conditioners were angled properly so that diners wouldn’t feel the cold air on their backs.
“Their businesses have always been built by family for families, which is why no matter how the different companies of the Ngs have grown, customers always feel a personal connection with their stores and restaurants,” one of the guests whispered to The T-Zone in admiration.
So to those who are missing the Greenhills of old, a little patience is all they need, because—at least for the Ngs—there is always a way to keep traditions alive, even in a different setting.