It's been a while since we've heard from '90s matinee idol Romnick Sarmenta and former actress Harlene Bautista. Since they got married 17 years ago, they've been busy raising five kids (yes, one boy and four girls!). SmartParenting.com.ph caught up with the couple at the launch of their newly-opened family restaurant Salu in Quezon City.
Since leaving the limelight, they've been busy with their production company and ventures in the restaurant industry--all the while managing a quiet home life with their kids Abijah, 18, Seki, 16, Bo, 10, Merel, 7, and Yuwela, 3 years old.
We've all heard about how it's a bad idea not to get into business with your better half. But that's not true at all with Romnick and Harlene. "It's really our passion for food, doon talaga nagsimiula," Harlene shares. While a home-cooked family meal is a staple in their home, she clarifies that they didn't study to be restaurateurs or chefs. It's their mutual love for food that drives them. Harlene adds, "We really support each other. Whatever endeavor that I want to get into, sinusuportahan niya talaga. And most of the time naman pareho kami ng interests. I think that's what makes us successful in a way."
A big leap from the small bar and a coffee shop they had years ago, Romnick and Harlene decided to put up a family restaurant that serves their specialties at home, such as adobo and kare-kare, which their kids also love. "Ang gusto namin i-cater talaga are families. As Filipinos, very important yung oras sa dining table. It's where the time we can communicate most openly," Romnick explains. While he describes mealtimes at their home as "riot" because of their kids' kulitan, they still make it a point to have one meal with the entire family in a day, or at least in a week.
Salu, indeed, has the Pinoy family vibe down. They serve traditional dishes with a twist and regional favorites, such as Binagoongang Lechon Kare, Pinalutong na Sisig Hito, Hinurnong Manok, and Brazo de Kalabasa, a healthier take on the classic Brazo de Mercedes. Each dish is distinct with its story, and each plate made special with local ingredients and traditional ways of cooking. Romnick and Harlene had traveled across the country to personally meet with the local produce farmers and created partnerships to be able to give back and support their livelihood.
Salu, a play on the word "salu-salo," or gatherings of family and friends over food, has buffets on weekends and "tusok-tusok"--yes, they have a table dedicated to street food we love such as fish balls, kikiam, singkamas, and hilaw na mangga. They even serve party fare popular during kiddie birthday parties in the '80s like hotdog, pineapple and other fruits. It also has their own unique version of flavorful, crispy, and juicy fried chicken that the kids will love.
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The one thing we love about Salu is it has a play area for kids (see below), which has a mini sari-sari play store with childhood favorites such as Chocnut, Tarzan, Mikmik, and Lemon Drops, which the kids can all have for free. "And doon sa kids area, may mga child-minders para hindi nagwo-worry yung parents na sino nagbabantay, baka nag-aaway na yung mga bata. Para nage-enjoy din yung parents kasi alam namin yan, lima anak namin," Harlene says. "Most of the child-minders are parents also, so alam nila kung paano kausapin ang bata, may pasensya sa malilikot, magaling maghabol, marunong makipagusap sa bata," Rominick adds. They are also training some of their staff in storytelling and naptime exercises.
That's just a taste of the kind of service you'll get when you bring your family to Salu. "It's more than just serving with a smile," Harlene says. Romnick says that the rationale behind the service is akin to Filipino hospitality: "to serve is because you care about these people having [and you value their quality time with each other]... to make sure everything that [the guests] need is there, for you not to think of anything else and just enjoy each other's company."
The kind of attentive and gracious service Salu wants for its customers mirrors the values that Romnick and Harlene have always strived to instill in their kids. "We encourage honesty; they can talk about anything with us," Romnick says. Another is respect for everyone "kahit anong antas ng pamumuhay ng tao," Harlene adds. Another is family first, which the couple also models for their kids. "Ang nakakatuwa kasi gusto naman nilang sumasama [lagi sa Salu]. Enjoy sila sa kids area, gusto nila yung food," Romnick shares. And even if their teenager kids have gimmicks on their own, they always make sure their events with their barkadas don't get in the way of family time.
It was no surprise that the kids do get involved in the family business. The eldest took up a short course on being a chef and worked in the restaurant, not as COO or "child of owner," but as a kitchen worker. "Yun yung gusto natin ituro sa kanya; we want them to start sa pinakamababa muna. Kailangan mapagdaanan mo at matutunan mo lahat, hindi pwedeng hindi ko mo mayroon kang pribilehiyo na kayo and may-ari, eh, manager ka na or boss ka na," Harlene says. In showing their passion for food and the business side of it, they hope that their kids learn they really have to work hard for what they want.
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Salu is located at 26B Sct. Fernandez corner Sct. Torillo, Bgy. Sacred Heart Quezon City. For reservations and inquiries, call at (02) 921-24-48 or send them a message on via their Facebook page.