ILOILO CITY ? Couple Reginald Sr. and Florenda Jaro literally live and breath their business 24/7.
They lay their heads on the table where they cook, get by on four hours of sleep, brave the weather and deal with the ugly side of the business until they realize their ?bi-bingka dream.?
Less than three decades later, the couple?s hard work paid off. Their RCJ Balasan Bibingka has now become a household name hereabouts.
Customers seek out the couple?s baked rice cake for its no-nonsense preparation, melt-in-the-mouth texture, long shelf life, and that unique mildly sweetish flavor.
Florenda?s bibingka can stay soft even after three days.
What people buy these days from the couple is bi-bingka made of the softest milled rice, sugar, milk, eggs and freshly grated young coconut cooked not in clay pots, but in an oven designed by Reginald who, by now, is proud of what they do for a living.
They sell a pack of eight small bibingka cakes for P20, while a bibingka the size of a paper plate sells for P80. What looks like frosting is actually a combination of egg, sugar and milk.
Reginald and Florenda have come a long way from the northern Iloilo town of Balasan, bringing RCJ Balasan Bibingka to Jaro District in Iloilo City, where they have set up shop at the entrance of the Ledesma mansion beside the Jaro Cathedral by the plaza.
Such is the popularity of the 28-year-old RCJ Balasan Bibingka among pasalubong-crazy Ilonggos that the couple gets orders with pick-up time of 1 a.m. or 3 a.m. ? just before customers take the next flight out to Manila or abroad.
Florenda, 59, sees her flavorful bibingka as her family?s ticket out of poverty.
?My ambition as a child was to finish school, but my parents didn?t think it was necessary,? says Florenda in their makeshift hut at the Ledesma mansion. ?They had the concept that only boys should be in school and, as long as a girl knew how to read and write, that was enough.?
The Ledesmas have invited the couple to stay in one of the mansion?s many rooms on the ground floor. But the Jaro couple feels more comfortable in their hut, with a piece of canvas serving as makeshift roof, since this has been their way of life.
Deprived of an education and hardened by poverty, Florenda hoped that the suffering she went through would never happen to any of her six children.
?So much sacrifice goes into each bibingka we sell. I still remember working and living on Ortiz Street near Balasan?s municipal hall for ten months with only coconut leaves for a roof. Good thing it did not rain during the time we were there,? recalls Florenda.
Reginald Sr., 63, says several businessmen have approached them, trying to buy the RCJ name and offering big salaries to the couple as long as they allowed the businessmen to make some improvements and manage things for them.
But the couple turned them all down.
There was never a time, even on slow days, when the Jaro couple did not profit from the bi-bingka they sold.
Not even bad weather could deter the couple from personally overseeing the preparation of their bibingka. After all, after seeing their children and grandchildren get good education, they still have one more dream left ? owning their very own house and lot.
Certainly, the bibingka sales will see to that.