by Keiko DeLuca
After eight years, the Paraiso family shut the doors to Kusina Filipina, Beacon Hill’s beloved Filipino comfort food restaurant.
Despite much fanfare, the family closed its doors after failing to negotiate with the property owner. Although the family knew it was a long time coming, it was a bittersweet moment with mixed emotions.
“My family and I thought that if we tried to keep it, we would just like burn out and not have time for each other. Not thrive. It was a dead-end spot for us. That’s pretty much how it ended,” said Trixia Paraiso, who has worked alongside her siblings and parents in the business for nearly a decade.
For the Paraiso family, their involvement with the restaurant started two years after they immigrated to Seattle from the Philippines in 2006. Eldest daughter Paula Avila took up a part time job as server with the restaurant. After a while, the previous owners asked Avila to help manage their business and later taught her the way around the kitchen.
When the owners decided to go home to the Philippines, they gave the keys of the restaurant to the Paraisos in 2009. Shortly thereafter, the business grew into the premier South Seattle spot for home cooked Filipino food like lumpia, deep fried spring rolls and pancit – a thin rice noodle dish.
The recipes, which came from Avila’s grandmother, brought in a steady stream of loyal customers. For the Paraisos and the customers it wasn’t just tasty food, it was a reminder of their home country, a special place where everyone was like one big family.
A few years ago, they began encountering problems when their property owner changed. There were miscommunications about the maintenance of the restaurant and their lease, which was set to expire in 2017. When the New Year rolled around, the family decided to cut ties and let go of the physical space.
While the closure shocked many customers, Kusina Filipina is just one of many Beacon Hill businesses that has faced problems with property owners, according to Marea Angela Castaneda.
Castañeda is the director of the Beacon Hill Merchants Association. Along with her team, Castañeda assists Beacon Hill community business owners, helping them navigate regulatory compliance and steep rent hikes.
The most vulnerable are immigrant and minority owners, Castaneda said. Oftentimes, they don’t have the funds or the means to take advantage of services that are designed to support small business owners.
When she saw that Avila and her family were at odds with their property owners, Castañeda reached out to the Paraisos. She shared resources available to them while the family worked out their problem.
In the end, the Paraisos decided to relinquish the restaurant but thanks to Castañeda’s help they were able to explore new approaches to the business.
Visiting Hawaii for Avila’s wedding, Trixia Paraiso became inspired by a food truck selling shrimp based dishes. Upon her return to Seattle, Paraiso reached out to Castañeda about resurrecting the business as a food truck.
Growing up, Paraiso helped her sisters and parents but she had never planned to follow in their footsteps. At the University of Washington, she studied communications and sociology. After graduation, neither field seemed fulfilling to her.
She soon found that, like her sister, she enjoyed working with food. After working with Castañeda, her family, and obtaining the necessary equipment and permits, Paraiso started the Chebogz Filipino food truck early this year.
After Kusina Filipina’s lease officially expired, Trixia started the engines to CheBogz which she opened with the hope of introducing Filipino food to more people.
“Honestly, my goal for the food truck is just to introduce to people what Filipino food is. I don’t even know how many times I get asked the question, ‘what’s lumpia?’ or ‘what’s pancit?’ It’s cute, it’s funny but you know, they don’t know,” Trixia said.
Despite being only a few months old, she feels that her new venture has been very successful.
“I think I’ve exceeded more than what I thought I could. I originally thought like, oh yeah they’re probably gonna try it and most of my customers are gonna be like Polynesian, Asian, Latinos because that’s what I’m used to because they’re used to that food. I’ve noticed that I get a lot more people who really don’t know what Filipino food is and because they’ve just never been surrounded by it,” Trixia said.
The food is cooked in Manila’s Pride, Avila’s other restaurant in Federal Way. In the morning, Paraiso picks up the food truck, which she rotates between the Starbucks Corporate office and University of Washington’s Bothell campus.
For Avila and Paraiso, Chebogz is also a way to honor their parents. The name is a play on the word “chibog” which means “to eat” in Tagalog. It is also a mixture of their parents nicknames, Chez and Bogie.
Though Trixia is happy about the business’s current situation, she says her family holds out hope that they can one day return to a stationary location in Beacon Hill.
“A lot of people are sad that one piece of culture is gone. I want to go back to Beacon Hill and be like hey, this is where we started, this is where people will come back for us, you know. This is our roots,” Trixia said. “At least being around, being present with the truck, I can still, I guess fill that gap, fill that space that we had to let go.”