Whoever said eating too much lechon will make you sick and weak, obviously hasn’t met Lydia de Roca—the woman behind the lechon empire carrying her name.
We met Lydia last week over lunch at their newest branch in Marcos Highway and it was honestly the first time I saw her. Of course I know Lydia’s Lechon but I never actually googled her or saw any of her photos. And because Lydia’s Lechon just turned 55, I was actually expecting a frail old woman with several assistants backing her up.
Instead we saw a sprightly lady who didn’t look her age. A proud 72 year old, Lydia says she still makes regular rounds at her numerous restaurants.
And when our host Spanky Enriquez called her to chop the lechon, I was thinking of just a ceremonial photo. So you could just probably imagine my surprise as she raised the knife and chopped the lechon all the way through in just one motion (complete with small bits of lechon flying toward us)—and she didn’t just do it once or twice—but three times to split the whole lechon and showcase their famous seafood paella filling.
This woman meant business and as she told me later—it was a business that began way back when she was just seven years old.
DEVOTION MEETS PASSION
The Redemptorist street near the National Shrine of or more commonly known as Baclaran Church, is known for a lot of things a refuge for devotees of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, the endless tiangge stores that sell clothes, vendors’ stalls, jeepneys, traffic jams and the landmark restaurant that is Lydia’s Lechon.
It was in the 1950s, Lydia recalled that she would skip school every Wednesday to sell street goods such as tomatoes, onions, and even turon. She admits to being born to poor family, and the young Lydia needed to work and save money because she didn’t want to burden her parents even more by asking for her allowance.
Even as a young girl, Lydia knew she had to do something because she didn’t want to spend the rest of their lives selling in the streets.
At age 12, she told her father, who was a butcher to roast the pigs he slaughters instead and that she would sell them as lechon.
Her father was hesitant to listen to the idea of his little girl but with her persistence he finally agreed to set up a shop in front of Baclaran Church where she sold their roasted pigs. It became such a hit that they were able to sell an average of five kilos of lechon every Wednesday.
By 1965, 17-year-old Lydia married Benigno de Roca and started a family. She then expanded her lechon business by cooking meat innards into dinuguan to avoid wasting the entrails and add more choices to her dishes.
At first Lydia began to set up tables along Redemptorist street that served as her makeshift restaurant to sell slices of lechon to the church-goers of Baclaran, as well as the hungry folks shopping in the area, but as their customers grew in numbers, the couple eventually put up a full-on restaurant along Roxas Boulevard.
A CRISPY, CRUNCHY BREAK
It was during that time that they got their first significant break happened as a well-known hotel requested for a delivery of ten whole lechons every day. This presented a huge challenge for Lydia as they never encountered an order this huge before. Using the Php500 they received from the godparents of their second child as business capital they purchased 10 live pigs and sold them at Php80 per roasting.
Now that her clientele has also changed, Lydia realized she had to take her lechon to the next level knowing that they will be served to the city’s well-to-do diners.
She decided to mix lemongrass, pandan leaves, and salt with the pork belly to bolster its flavor and aroma and sure enough it became an instant hit.
Her next break came from one of their loyal diners—the owner of a growing number of malls, Henry Sy.
The SM Malls founder used to eat at Lydia’s restaurant every Sunday. Lydia mustered all of her courage to talk introduce herself to Mr. Sy and that conversation would lead to an offer for her to open a store in one of his malls.
In 1990, Lydia’s Lechon opened its first mall branch in SM Sta. Mesa, which was followed by another one in SM Makati and 25 other branches in the next few decades.
Lydia’s Lechon would eventually became so famous that tourists, balikbayans and OFWs, would make it their very first stop after arriving from the airport.
From being the star of the table in every Filipino celebration, the lechon has become become a go-to dish, perfect for everyday meal thanks to the various lechon recipes out there.
As Lydia explained, “We want our patrons to enjoy Lydia’s Lechon in different ways.”
In time for their 55th year, Lydia’s Lechon introduces the following Pinoy Classic Bowls: Pinakbet & Pork BBQ Classic Bowl,Lechon Sisig Classic Bowl, Lechon Paksiw Classic Bowl, Kare-Kare Classic Bowl and Dinuguan Classic Bowl.
And Lydia isn’t just focusing on their dishes as Lydia’s Lechon also offers a diverse and growing product portfolio starting with a wide assortment of condiments, as well as snacks that are perfect to take home for pasalubong or to send to your relatives abroad.
Also new on Lydia’s Lechon delivery is the signature Lechon Bilao which is available starting at Php2,500 and can serve up to eight to ten (8-10) persons. Patrons can order the signature Lechon Bilao and the rest of the menu items online thru the food delivery partners, FoodPanda and GrabFood.
In addition, Lydia’s Lechon has launched their online customer rewards apps in partnership with Globe Rush along with Lydia’s Lechon HAPPY Card for free, the bearer is entitled to 5% discount on whole lechon and 10% discount for dine-in orders.
Lydia’s Lechon is working on all these new offers and more as they gear up for its 55th anniversary celebration. “We are excited to bring you more surprises, especially now that we are on our 55th year of bringing everyday lechon happiness to everyone,” added Ms. De Roca. *All new menu items will be available in selected Lydia’s Lechon stores starting July 15, 2019.
For inquiries, you may contact Lydia’s Lechon at 939-1221 and 939-4665 (Quezon City); 8512987 to 89 (Baclaran); Globe 0917-5380304 or 0917-8202989; Smart 09189675213. For more information, visit www.lydias-lechon.com.