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  • Ida Beltran-Lucila

Arts in a Business Model

The Panciteria de Manila in downtown Edmonton has evolved through the years, from its opening in 2012, from a family run eatery on popular Filipino foods, to a Filipino hang out, and incubator of emerging and suppressed talent. Owned and operated by Bayani Alcantara, together with wife Lorena, they have, wittingly or unwittingly, woven art in a successful business model.

I initially regarded Panciteria de Manila as another one of the sprouting Filipino restaurants in the city, eager to brand it based on which Filipino food/s it would stand out against the others. However, while organizing the entertainment program for last June’s Edmonton Filipino Fiesta, I noticed that there was a circle of performers whose common denominator was the Panciteria de Manila, and Bayani Alcantara. This then made me very curious and eventually impressed with the ongoings at this hive of a place and the person behind this concept.

Bayani Alcantara hails from V. Luna, Quezon City, studied at the University of the Philippines and worked at St. Luke’s as a cardiovascular technician. His family arrived in Edmonton in April 2002. Like other immigrant stories, he took on an assortment of jobs in Edmonton all the way up to Fort McMurray. He has a passion for youth causes, so it’s not surprising that the restaurant has become a vehicle for this - to detract them from vices, to develop a sense of belonging in the restaurant’s circle of customers and performers, at the same time providing an opportunity to demonstrate and hone their talents. He also sits as Director for the Clairview Multicultural Centre, under the auspices of the City of Edmonton.

Belonging to a family in the restaurant business, Bayani conceptualized Panciteria as a fast food type of restaurant (place your order in the counter, no servers type) with an area for karaoke, considered the Filipinos’ favorite past time. Gradually, customers would request for extended time to sing, then a scheduled performance, and later on, suggestions for technical equipment and stage set-up. These would normally be people who belonged in bands and were performers in the Philippines and are wanting to find an outlet for their talents here in Edmonton. Bayani would readily accommodate these requests, eager to nurture and improve their shows. The restaurant now hosts a weekly karaoke and live band night, produces special shows, and functions as a performing venue for veteran performers, and training ground for emerging ones.The acts were no longer confined to karaoke but broadened to acoustic music, improv-comedy, open mic and poetry nights (“Hugot Lines”), bands, variety shows/musicals, art exhibits and fundraisers.

These opportunities have not only given growth to the individual performers but have also fostered collaborations amongst them. Through his connections with the Clairview Multicultural Centre, he has provided performing engagements for his in-house artists. He dreams that the artists he has been instrumental in developing will find viable careers and gain renown in their chosen fields.

Some of the products of this performers’ incubator and who have continued to earn engagements elsewhere and developed a following are: The Girls of Crazy Sexy Cool; Sooner Band; Escapo; Dos Diablos; Genghis Rex; Stringed Sessions; Kainos; Diversity; Headcakes; and hosts Ode Mamu, Kriss Diva, Donna M.. Emjae, Nelly, Bhelle, Kim JD and TJ. The Panciteria has also featured Enoch Attey, Jamaican singer and guitarist and Music Coordinator of iHuman Society, who was a regular customer, and other Canadian artists of country music, thereby increasing the restaurant’s customer base.

During his student years, Bayani used to hang out in this folk/pub house where the likes of Lolita Carbon, Heber Bartolome and Noel Cabangon used to play. It is sweet that he has come full circle now, having hosted shows by Lolita and Heber this year at Panciteria. Other produced shows include: Bamboo (2014), Parokya ni Edgar, Ely Buendia (2015) and Klowns Komedy Bar (2016).

Although the support provided to these performers stemmed from his passion for youth causes, it has generated more income for the business - emphasizing the symbiosis of arts and financial sustainability. The in-house shows have been a vehicle to reinvent the restaurant. This is a model where one aspect of the business markets the other.

Filipinos normally don’t bond together easily but they bond together through food, drinking, singing. It is not uncommon to have people in different tables, strangers to each other, end up connecting their tables and becoming fast friends. Panciteria revives the atmosphere of a town plaza/square where people commune, congregate to celebrate. A percentage of Filipinos come to the restaurant to celebrate their Canadian citizenship after their oath taking ceremony at the Service Canada a couple of blocks away. It has also been a place where romance has blossomed and a subsequent wedding celebrated.

Panciteria de Manila has evolved in a way that not even Bayani has envisioned. But this evolution has been organic, stemming from the man’s passion for youth development, and a basic desire to relive what he misses in his life back in the Philippines. He performs the roles of entreprenuer, talent developer, promoter and booker with a humble and cheerful disposition. In Bayani, I found a kindred spirit in aspiring to elevate the profile of the Filipino within a multi-cultural society, and the honing and showcasing of Filipino talent. Kudos to the man who is indeed living up to his name of being a hero and a champion to so many he has helped and is supporting in his endeavours!

* This article was published in the Alberta Filipino Journal December 2016 issue.

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