Be More Pacific
How Be More Pacific’s flavors cross the ocean between Austin and the Philippines
by Regine Malibiran
Amidst family photos, a mural repeatedly saying “I love you” in Tagalog and tropical remixes of pop songs, Be More Pacific’s homage to the Philippines is lovingly clear.
Owners Mark Pascual and Giovan Cuchapin first met through UT Austin’s Filipino Student Association. They maintained their friendship for years, and almost a decade later they met they decided to do something about the minimal Filipino representation in Austin’s food scene. As first-generation immigrants, the duo created the restaurant to serve as a bridge between their Filipino heritage and their American environment.
Combining Pascual’s background in project management, Cuchapin’s experience moving up in the restaurant industry and their shared love for the food they grew up with resulted in the pair opening Be More Pacific in 2011.
Pascual and Cuchapin initially rented a food truck and began serving customers during the first week of SXSW 2011. Austinites’ response to their food was swift if not a little overwhelming, the pair admits. Early on they relied on the late-night downtown crowds, which was a difficult pace to maintain. At the time Cuchapin was still working for another restaurant and would go straight to the food truck after his shifts ended. Most nights they didn’t leave the truck until three in the morning. Because they rented the vehicle, they had to completely clean the truck and return it to the commissary at the end of the night. As a result, they tended to still be awake in time to greet the dawn.
“[My wife and I] used to wait for the donut shop to open and then eat breakfast so we could [finally] go to sleep,” Pascual recalls.
After six years of irregular sleep schedules and perfecting the balance between “Filipino” and “American” food, Pascual and Cuchapin opened Be More Pacific’s first brick and mortar location on Shoal Creek and West Anderson. For Cuchapin especially, opening up his own restaurant was a massive leap.
Cuchapin went to UT Austin to study nursing, a highly-desired profession in Filipino culture, although he knew he wanted to pursue the culinary arts. He even tried to convince his mom to send him to culinary school because he felt so strongly about food. After three and a half years of battling with the dissonance of knowing what he wanted to do but being expected by his family to do something completely different, he decided to take charge of his career and started working as a dishwasher at a local Fuddrucker’s. As Cuchapin worked his way up in the industry and secured a General Manager position, his mom felt secure that he would be able to take care of himself. Ultimately her pride and respect for her son’s work shone through in their relationship.
“I had no direction at one point,” admits Cuchapin. “[Now my family is] super proud of what I’ve done. And even better, they come here and eat the food they love, too. It’s just a good feeling to see that they support what I do.”
With the help of their head chef, Salvador “Buddy” Melgarejo, Pascual and Cuchapin aim to cultivate a Filipino food movement in Austin. The duo serendipitously met Melgarejo right as they were considering opening their restaurant. At the time, the chef had just moved to the United States. Melgarejo’s recent ties to the Philippines brings truly authentic flavors to Be More Pacific’s menu.
“We want Filipino food to be a household name,” claims Pascual. “We want it on your list of what you’re going to eat tonight.”
To the trio, starting a movement is about paying homage to their culture while also being strategic about introducing their food to a new environment and people. Ingredients that are available in the Philippines are not always readily available in Austin – just think of the accessibility of seafood in a landlocked city versus a country comprised of over 7,000 islands. Plus, the diners’ palettes are different. In true Filipino spirit, Be More Pacific’s leadership innovates, adapts and adjusts based on their surroundings. Their menu spans from Filipino classics (lumpia, pancit, adobo) to street food (sisig, Bicol express) to American-inspired dishes (longganisa tots).
Last year, the trio’s dedication to their food and understanding of their audience won them CultureMap’s Best New Restaurant award. For Pascual, this recognition is particularly validating.
“The thing about that [award] is that we didn’t win a category,” reflects Pascual. “It was just ‘Best New Restaurant’ of all the new restaurants. We didn’t win ‘Best New Filipino Restaurant,’ we didn’t win ‘Best New Asian Restaurant.’ We won ‘Best New Restaurant.’”
As Be More Pacific’s renown grows in Austin, their team is exploring ways to expand. Later this year, they’re planning on opening a location in Houston and continuing to lead the Filipino food movement.