Founder and owner of Brewerytown’s Filipino go-to eatery, Raquel Villanueva Dang, won’t let COVID-19 get in the way of her hunger for community and personal creativity.
In late 2018, Raquel officially launched what is now known as her full-time passion, Tita Emmie’s. She felt creatively restricted in her current day job, as well as wanted to pay homage to her family and the influence they had on her passion for food- she even named the pop-up after her mom, Emmie! She explains that Filipino-Americans don’t tend to have the stereotypically expected love language of nuclear families, but instead show their love and appreciation for one another through food.
“Growing up, my parents weren’t like ‘Good morning, I love you...’” she recalls, “it was ‘Good morning, did you eat?’”
This love language is echoed in Raquel’s own endeavors, and guests will be pleasantly surprised to find that the passion she was raised with shows through in each meal she creates. She describes the cuisine of Tita Emmie’s as very “eclectic” and unique to the Philadelphia area due to the fact that many Filipino-Americans are working within the restaurant industry here in the city, yet at the same time, very few Filipino-style restaurants have had the opportunity to make their debut.
Like many other local business-owners, Raquel encountered unprecedented times during the pandemic which required her business to make changes. The crew of Tita Emmie’s took a break from service from mid-March to July as they figured out how to maneuver through the convolution of the pandemic. She says that although they continue to follow established safety guidelines today, their business has had to plan blindly along with every other business in the area; however, even in times of uncertainty, Raquel maintains an optimistic philosophy during the era of COVID. Although the pandemic has certainly hit the local restaurant community harder than others, Raquel’s perseverance and optimism through it all has ensured that the message behind Tita Emmie’s isn’t going anywhere.
“The best thing that has come out of COVID is the emphasis on self-care and everyone taking time for themselves,” she says.
Additionally, Raquel says she has been extremely lucky when it comes to access to certain essential ingredients during the pandemic. For many restaurants, being able to find the right ingredients that they need to operate has been increasingly difficult and expensive since the lockdown began in March.
As things are beginning to look up, Raquel and the Tita Emmie’s team are looking to share their love and culture to even further audiences. Even before the pandemic, the Tita Emmie’s experience was centered around a communal table; putting strangers together to bond over novelty dishes was a “vulnerable, intimate” experience, and one that Raquel continues to strive for, even as things continue to change.
Excitingly enough, Raquel hopes to expand the pop-ups and supper clubs to a culturally fruitful restaurant in the future. It would be a unique dining experience unlike any other in the Philadelphia area. Not only would the communal table continue, allowing people to bond over food, but Raquel would relieve the stress of dining out by making a fixed menu. Customers would not have to fret over what to order, but instead simply be taken on a delicious, pre-picked food tour; all they would have to do is make Tita Emmie’s aware of any allergies.
“I don’t have a footprint, I don’t have a physical location,” Raquel says. “...so I think that’s the next step for us.”
Regardless of whatever COVID throws her way, Raquel is ready to deliver the optimal experience to her customers in the best way she knows how — through love and passion.
“We’re hoping to create an intimate setting for our customers when the time is right,” she says, “I just love waking up and cooking for people.”
In strange times like this, one thing’s for sure: Raquel is setting the stage for Filipino-style restaurants here in Philadelphia, and we don’t want you to miss any of it. Raquel puts it perfectly by saying, “if you want to experience something different, come check us out!” We can only echo this — if you want a unique dining experience coupled with some absolutely delicious food, head on over to Tita Emmie’s, where you’ll be treated like family!