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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

OF UBE, FIRETRUCKS AND HARDWORK: THE ENG BEE TIN STORY

In the past few years, Filipinos have been celebrating Chinese New Year with more enthusiasm, from serving auspicious food like tikoy, counting the number of lucky fruits, exchanging red envelops to decorating their houses with Feng Shui items and wearing charms in the hopes of inviting fortune and prosperity into their lives.

But for Gerik Chua, the VP of the Hopia empire Eng Bee Tin, eating all the tikoy, wearing all of the charms in the world and following all those superstitious beliefs is no match for good old hardwork.

 

The Eng Bee Tin story

 

Their hopia story began way back in 1912 when his great grandfather Chua Chiu Hong, migrated from from Xiamen, China, to the Phiilippines and put up a small store along Nueva St. Binondo.

 

He called it Eng Bee Tin which, contrary to many beliefs, isn’t a name of a famous person or ancestor. Those three Hokkien words actually mean Forever. Beauty. Precious. Words, Gerik said, stand for how they value their products and customers.

@lola_lamon Their hopia story began way back in 1912 when his great grandfather Chua Chiu Hong, migrated from from Xiamen, China, to the Phiilippines and put up a small store along Nueva St. Binondo. 💜💜💜 . He called it Eng Bee Tin which, contrary to many beliefs, isn’t a name of a famous person or ancestor. Those three Hokkien words actually mean Forever. Beauty. Precious. Words, Gerik said, stand for how they value their products and customers. @engbeetinph #engbeetin ♬ original sound - Lou Sv

 

The business was later on inherited by the son Menito, who handed it over to Gerry, Gerik’s father. At that time, however, the bakery was struggling and the family was hard on cash and deep in debt. Gerik recalled because they had no cash, his father issued so many checks to pay of their debts. “Everyday nasa bank ang father ko just to know which checks need to be funded, so that we wouldn’t incur a penalty which will put us even deeper in debt and make us the talk of Chinatown.”

 

The mom-and-pop bakery sold a variety of Chinese treats for decades, but their hopia and tikoy have been their bestsellers—the problem was they were transporting them in jars and the hopia would be crushed by the time it reached the stores.

 

“Para na siyang piyaya, flat na,” Gerik said with a laugh. So they thought of a way to make the crust thicker. “It did preserve the shape of our hopia—the downside was it also made it very, very hard.

 

Old timers will probably remember the jingle “Hopiang di mabili, may amag sa tabi,” well that pretty much described their hopia, according to Gerik.

Never one to give up, his father Gerry was always thinking of ways to improve and make their hopia different.

 

One particularly slow business day Gerry felt the need to cool and decided to get some ice cream at the grocery store he frequented regularly for market research. He then asked the saleslady what ice cream flavor was the bestseller.

 

“Ube,” the saleslady said.

 

“Gerry then took six ube jars, and blended the ube with hopia,” said Geric. “After tasting it, he knew he was on to something.

 

Back then, hopia only came in two flavors—baboy and monggo. An ube-flavored hopia will surely be different and a bestseller. Right?

 

Well not quite.

 

Gerry initially baked samples for friends to try it out. Most said it was delicious, but when he asked if they’d buy it, their answer was not the one he was hoping for.

 

Still, he believed in his innovation and continued producing the first-ever hopia ube. He even traveled to Pampanga to master the art of ube-making under the tutelage of the best halayang ube makers. He patiently worked on his ube hopia. When the ube flavor was introduced, orders trickled in. Things eventually picked up.

 

But the rest is still not history.

UBE FIRETRUCKS

 

Besides baking hopia, Gerry’s other passion was being a volunteer for the Binondo FireStation.

 

And it was actually his work as a firefighter that eventually gave Eng Bee Tin the exposure it badly needed.

 

TV Host Cory Quirino was shooting for her late-night program “CitiLine” and because Gerry could speak and translate Chinese, he became the unofficial tour-guide/interpreter for the crew around.

 

After the shoot Quirino promised to go back to Eng Bee Tin to feature his ube-flavored hopia on her next show. That episode provided the much-needed publicity that made ube-hopia their best-selling flavor in the years to come.

 

The ube-colored fire trucks you see around town are the result of the familys social-oriented efforts.

 

When sales skyrocketed and Eng Bee Tin became synonymous to hopia, Gerry vowed to donate a firetruck to the firestation.


They’ve already donated 10 ube-firetrucks and 2 ambulances.

 

“Both my Dad and I started very young in firefighting,” said Geric. “We have put together the largest volunteer firefighting organization in the Philippines, Txtfire.”

 

Binondo, or what is known as Chinatown, has become known for the best volunteer fire-fighting unit in the city. It began as the residents’ response to the frequent fires in their community. Txtfire now has more than 4,500 affiliate firefighters nationwide.

 

“Besides the fire trucks and ambulances, we have a coffee shop, Café Mezzanine, that for 15 years has been donating 100 percent of its revenues to our firefighting cause.”

 

During the first months of the pandemic, Gerik and other volunteers went around the city to distribute bread to several communities around the city.

BAKERY FAIR 2023

 

Innovation has been crucial to the success of Eng Bee Tin, that is why Gerik has also been a staunch advocate of helping the food, particularly bakeries adopt to the challenges presented by the post pandemic situation.

 

As the current president of the Filipino Chinese Bakery Association, Inc. (FCBAI) Gerik shared that they will be holding FCBAI's much-awaited "Bakery Fair 2023" from March 2, 3 and 4, 2023 at the World Trade Center in World Trade Center at Sen. Gil J. Puyat Ave. cor. Diosdado Macapagal Blvd., Pasay City.


The "Bakery Fair" is the biennial (once every two years) civic project of the Filipino Chinese Bakery Association, Inc. (FCBAI) to promote and uplift the Philippines bakery industry and support socio-economic development. FCBAI is also part of the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce & Industry, Inc. (FFCCCII).

 

Gerik Chua is Vice-President for Operations of Eng Bee Tin bakery business, which includes The Great Buddha Cafe in Ongpin Street, Binondo, Manila; Eng Bee Tin Chinese Deli; Cafe Mezzanine; and Mr Ube Rice and Noodle House.

 

A graduate of BS Business Administration Major in Marketing Management of University of Santo Tomas (UST) in 2012, trained in Baking Science and Technology at the American Institute of Baking in 2012, Gerik Chua is also Executive Director of the Filipino Chinese fire volunteer brigade called "TXTFIRE Philippines". Chua is also Past President of Philippine Society of Baking (PSB).

 

To pre-register to enter the Bakery Fair 2023, follow the online link https://www.bakeryfair.ph

 

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