Ed Quiambao, the manager of Kababayan Fast Food on 2706 Mission St. — just south of 23rd Street — said that when the owners offered the store up to him in 1995, he said yes, “without hesitation.”
“It changed my life,” said Quiambao, who moved to Los Angeles from the Philippines in 1985 and asked to leave out his family name. But Quiambao found the big city inhospitable and moved to San Francisco, where he got a gig as a concierge. The eventual offer to buy Kababayan, he said, was an opportunity to build his wealth.
And it’s worked — his business survived the 2008 recession, and now the pandemic. When he thinks back on his boyhood in the Philippines, he has good memories of growing up in San Fernando, in the Pampanga province. There, he shined shoes to survive. One day in his twenties, he met an American military man named Albert Anderson on the formerly U.S.-owned Clark Air Base. Anderson hired him as a housekeeper, and the relationship eventually developed into a warm friendship. Anderson and his Filipina wife later took Quiambao in to live with them, and eventually paid for Quiambao to attend both high school and college in the Philippines.
“I think they pitied me,” Quiambao laughed.
But the education has come in handy. When he purchased Kababayan in 1995, the restaurant only offered six trays of Filipino food. Now the restaurant offers more than double that amount, thanks to a hot-food-tray structure he bought for $10,000.
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That’s not the only change Quiambao had witnessed during the quarter century he had worked there. Over time, technology improved, too. He still remarks with some disbelief at how that the ever-present selection of Filipino films he puts on the television screen are streamed instead of played on DVDs.
The customers have aged along with him and the restaurant. He remembers back when one regular, an elderly Filipino man who presently relies on a cane, used to be known as an avid runner. The demographics have also shifted.
In the ’90s, mostly Filipinos patronized Kababayan, but beginning in the 2000s, anyone from Filipino, Black, Latinx, white, or Asian descent would come in and grab a box of lumpia, longanisa or rice. “What would you like, boss?” he’ll call out to them.
The Covid-19 pandemic is another one of life’s curveballs. Quiambao said it’s even worse than the 2008 recession, which forced him to sell some Bay Area properties he acquired during better times.
Kababayan sits in front of a bus stop, which excluded him from building a parklet for outdoor dining. And, during the few weeks of indoor dining, only six customers could eat at a time. Chairs still remain stacked on unused tabletops. And he knows he’s not the only one.
“Did you hear about the Cliff House?” Quiambao shook his head. “I used to eat there. I loved the ambience. Good American food.”
“It’s a big question mark,” he says referring to the chances for his survival. But he hopes so.
When he turns toward the kitchen, he can see his niece and nephew frying up food. And now, in his old age, he said he has passed on the property to his one and only daughter, who is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Philippines, because he wants to retire.
Regardless of the store’s future, San Francisco is Quiambao’s home.
“I love San Francisco,” he said. “I like the climate, the things to do. I don’t know, I just love it.”
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