How technology helps fuel the Filipino Food Movement

Restaurant owner Krizzia Yanga shares how digital media keeps her business fresh

A classic Filipino feast — kamayan.

by Jessica Lee

Editor’s Note: With the advent of technological advances affecting our everyday lives, so many members of the Asian American community are being left behind. As digital access moves from being a benefit to an absolute necessity for all communities, understanding the needs of our emerging and diverse population becomes even more important. This summer, we partnered with the Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership (CAPAL) to host a Community Action Project with a team of scholars and interns. The project focused on story collection about the importance of internet and technology for our communities. The blogs focus on students and digital access, businesses and social media, and domestic violence and technology and will be released over the next few weeks. While data on Asian Americans and digital engagement fail to paint a complete picture, we know that the stories collected from this project can help shape the discussion around our community and digital access.

Featured on Buzzfeed’s “The Best Ice Cream Sandwiches in America, According to Yelp”, Bonifacio, a young Filipino Restaurant, sits at #11 with their Instagrammable ice cream sandwiches: beautiful and vibrant purple yam ice cream served on a fried bun decorated with Fruity Pebbles drizzled with coconut caramel sauce.

Popularly referred to as the Filipino Food Movement, the boom of Filipino food into mainstream food culture is largely associated with the rise of social media and access to information. Easily considered a risky move two decades ago, the increase in Filipino restaurants parallel the increase in exposure of Filipino food starting from around 2010 with celebrity chefs like Anthony Bourdain bringing visibility to Filipino culture.

The ube ice cream sandwich, a popular item at restaurant Bonifacio.

Krizzia Yanga, Bonifacio’s young business owner, is proud of the growing success of Bonifacio, aptly named after her grandfather. Boni, a nickname fondly given to the restaurant from the locals and restaurant regulars, was the first Filipino restaurant to open in Columbus, Ohio. Her pride stems from being able to share her culture, traditions, and love of food; however, her Filipina identity had not always been a source of empowerment.

Growing up, Krizzia rarely saw anyone who looked like her on TV or in movies, so she flocked to YouTube where young Asian Americans could find success via the young platform. With the emergence of YouTube, Facebook, and other platforms, she was able to begin connecting with other likeminded individuals also searching for their identities.

Before the improvements in communication technology, she remembers rarely seeing her mom on the phone with any of her family in the Philippines. Making international phone calls used to be more difficult; first, one would have to buy international phone cards, dial in for a connection, and then connect with the local number. This process was not only lengthy, but also expensive and not always successful. However, with the development of better computers and phones, the integration of the internet, and the widespread popularity of internet calling, she was able to connect more with her culture and her family.

Krizzia explains that prior to the internet, there were not many places to learn about what it meant to be Asian American, much less Filipino American. As one of the only Asian American kids in her school and the only Filipino student, she was ashamed of being Filipino because she was the “other.” It was not until college and simultaneously the increase in internet use that she began to take pride in her identity and meet other Filipino Americans who were having the same experiences as her.

Krizzia says she most likely would not have opened Bonifacio had it not been for the public online support that other Filipino restaurants were receiving in cities like New York. While one of the reasons she wanted to open Bonifacio was because she wanted to share her love of Filipino food, ultimately, she is financially responsible for the restaurant and her staff and must make sure her restaurant is sustainable. Seeing the success of other Filipino restaurants via social media and the internet gave her the confidence and encouragement to open Bonifacio and showcase Columbus’ first Kamayan, a Filipino feast enjoyed on a communal table without utensils.

Instagram helps the restaurant build brand awareness.

For many businesses, marketing goals focus on expanding brand awareness, and Bonifacio is no different. Using her experience from her first business Red Velvet Café, a family owned and operated coffeehouse and bakery, she realized the power of social media. When Red Velvet’s Filipino brunches were first starting, they used Facebook to help it take off, garnering popularity not only among the café regulars, but also with folks who wanted to try Filipino food. Through social media, she can give people a visual and an idea of the experience they can expect, and that has proven very effective with new menu items and special events like Kamayan at Bonifacio. Because the restaurant’s target audience and consumer base has grown steady, they mostly use targeted Facebook and Instagram ads to continue their brand awareness, and keep their loyal followers updated on new and delicious updates.

Through Bonifacio, she has been able to introduce and share Filipino culture with her community and has collaborated with various Filipino organizations to fundraise and do outreach. Loyal to Krizzia’s goal of sharing her love for her culture’s food, Bonifacio’s name is spread through word of mouth and through their popular Facebook posts and Instagram feed, following in the footsteps of the restaurants before it that provided the confidence and inspiration for its’ own creation.