‘Coconutchoy’ gets thumbs up from Trip Advisor users
It looks like an ordinary carinderia, probably a converted garage, which one could easily miss while going to or from the market and plaza of Mandurriao district in Iloilo City.
This unassuming place, Lars Buko Batchoy and Eatery, has been drawing crowds for its unique take on the popular Ilonggo soup, its specialty called “coconutchoy. ”
Unlike the classic batchoy, which uses artificial meat broth as its main base, Lars’ coconutchoy is infused with coconut milk.
“We use coconut because it is the tree of life,” said Primrose Uy, the eatery’s chief cook and co-owner, with Larry “Lars” Abanilla Lao. The slightly sweet soup comes with either pork or chicken toppings, garlic, chicharon, spring onions, boiled eggs, noodles like miki, bihon, misua or sotanghon, and, of course, strips of coconut meat.
“It is alkaline and not oily, so it’s healthier than the traditional batchoy,” she added.
Primrose and Lars came up with the recipe after extensive online research on the food business and dishes being served in restaurants. They wanted to create something not offered elsewhere. “We discovered recipes online, but opted to add our own touch in order to come up with something unique,” said Primrose.
Lars used to work at a restaurant in Dubai, but quit and came home after suffering a stroke.
Besides coconutchoy, Lars Buko Batchoy and Eatery also serves flavorful but healthier alternatives to popular fare: buko burgers, lumpiang shanghai with buko strips, buko mami, buko pancit, and buko Batangas lomi.
All of Lars’ soup dishes are served in coconut shells with coconut meat as one of the main ingredients. “Our soup dishes are best eaten as soon as they are served, because the coconut shell absorbs the heat,” Primrose advised.
With buko as key ingredient, it’s no wonder that the eatery consumes an average of 50 coconuts on a regular day, thus helping coconut farmers in the province of Iloilo.
Since he’s in charge of marketing, Lars is aware that even with delicious offerings, a restaurant needs something more to sustain its popularity. Tapping into his Dubai work experience, he harnessed the power of social media to reach out to customers and expand the clientele.
“When we set up a Facebook page, more people learned about our establishment and dishes,” he said.
Apart from posting photos of their mouthwatering fare, Lars also asks customers if they are willing to be photographed dining in the eatery and have their pictures posted on its official Facebook page. He also maintains a good relationship with social media influencers who endorse Lars Buko Batchoy on their blogs and social media accounts, giving the eatery a broader online reach.
‘Best Philippine fusion dish’
Another valuable online tool is the Recommendation feature found on most social media page sites. “Diners would give feedback on our Facebook page, which has more than 300 recos to date,” Lars said. Some also leave reviews on Trip Advisor, where even tourists from abroad can check if the eatery is worth the trip, since it is a bit far from Iloilo’s main commercial areas.
“Our coconutchoy has been dubbed as ‘the best Philippine fusion dish’ and ‘genius creation’ by Trip Advisor users,” Lars said proudly.
The online presence of Lars Buko Batchoy eventually caught the attention of Choose Philippines, an ABS-CBN TV tourism website. “On our 10th month of operations, our coconutchoy specialty was given the 2016 Best Fusion Dish award from Choose Philippines,” Primrose said.
As the eatery’s presence expanded, Lars and Primrose decided to accommodate online orders and delivery services. “Customers can place coconutchoy orders through our Facebook page,” Primrose said. “Even Ilonggos based abroad book orders for loved ones back in Iloilo City, then pay for everything online.”
Internet boosts business
As they mark their third year in the food business, Lars and Primrose attest to how the internet has been instrumental in the success of Lars Buko Batchoy.
Both Smart subscribers, the two restaurateurs said that the network’s significantly stronger cellular and data signals allow them to continuously research on new food offerings, promote their dishes and establishment, and conveniently process online orders for both local and international customers.
Ilonggos’ overall use of the internet is expected to increase following Smart’s upgraded LTE-A and carrier aggregation technology in Iloilo province. The wireless services provider completed the boost of its total LTE base station count across the country by 65 percent toward the end of 2018. This ultimately aims to improve the mobile internet experience of Smart, Sun and TNT customers throughout the Philippines.
For Lars and Primrose, this means more orders of coconutchoy.