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Ever Beautiful and Precious ( The Eng Bee Tin Story)
ASK anyone what's the best hopia in town, and he or she will surely answer: "Eng Bee Tin" without really thinking hard.
For almost 19 years now, Gerry Chua's melt-in-the-mouth purple yam (ube) hopia has been a staple in households and ranks as one of the most sought-after welcome treats by returning Filipinos. (No exaggeration. After being away from the country for five years, my ~lad asked me to bring him a pack of Eng Bee Tin's hopia ube at the airport.)
Proof of this is the long line of customers at Eng Bee Tin's one and only store on Ongpin Street, Binondo. Whether early in the morning or late at night, the store is always packed with people buying different flavored hopia and other Chinese delicacies as though it would be their last meal. In fact, customers come to Ongpin from far corners of the metropolis just to sample the hopia ube that Chua made famous.
Many people wonder why Chua chose to maintain the small Binondo outlet when he could open a huge shop in any of the major malls. Eng Bee Tin has such a huge following that any shop he opens would surely make good profit. But Chua has his reasons. He wants the business to remain in the same outlet where the first generation of Chuas manufactured the first Eng Bee Tin hopia nearly 80 years ago.
It is also in this same shop where Chua 3earned the most valuable lessons in life.
ENG BEE TIN's hopia products may be rich, sweet and delectable, but the story behind Chua's success is the exact opposite. The trials and obstacles he had to go through would have made a person of weak constitution lose hope. But nowadays, Chua's story is a source of inspiration and hope to others. Here's why.
Chua took over the family business at age 21. As the eldest of four siblings, he says he felt he had to help his father when business really went bad. Back then, Eng Bee Tin was just one of the hopia makers in Ongpin, and one of the less popular ones because their hopia was well, quite tough.
"The original hopia we made was tough and quite hard; even I myself didn't enjoy eating the hopia that we manufactured. But it had to be really solid because back then, hopia was peddled in the streets in cartons behind a bicycle. So if the hopia was made soft, it would collapse in the pile," explained Chua.
The increased competition in the area contributed to the demise of the family's hopia business. Things were so bad that creditors refused to deliver flour, sugar and milk to Chua's family because of rumors that they issued bouncing checks, which actually happened later on, he said.
On top of that, family friends deserted them
So when Chua decided it was time he helped, he was all alone in his efforts. He made the hopia himself, packaged it and delivered it to various markets, reaching as far as Cavite and San Pablo, Laguna. He struggled to make both ends meet for his family while juggling life as a management siudent at PSBA.
Angel in disguise
WHILE business was miserable and life seemed to kick Chua harder where it hurt, he was unaware that his kindness toward other people was about to give him the much needed boost.
Out of the blue, a mete acquaintance in school dropped by at Eng Bee Tin and handed Chua P10,000---- a loan he never asked from the person, although he had practically tried to borrow from everyone else he knew, but to no avail. Ten thousand pesos at that time was a big amount, and it helped bail Chua's family out of the financial problems they were having. On top of that, Chua was selling a bit of hopia to elderly people, whom he was popular with because hee would take the time out to talk to them, help them with their baggage's, or give them extra plastic bags although they shopped from another store.
One day, when he spotted a bottle of halayang ube in a grocery store, the innovative Gerry had an epiphany, why not make hopia ube? And he did, and he thought the product had potential. But still, the new product was met lukewarmly by the community so use to hopiang munggo and baboy.
Then, it happened. The ever-helpful Chua assisted the staff of Cory Quirino's then starting program CityLine interview an owner of a Chinese drugstore; video a Chinese Temple as well as interview members of the Volunteer Firefighters group which Gerry greatly admired and wanted to be part of since his childhood days.
So grateful was Quirino that she promised to help Chua. CityLine was the first to feature Eng Bee Tin's hopia ube on television. Little did he know that it would forever change his life.
Reaping the rewards
THE next day Gerry was surprised to see his phone ringing off the hook. He received dozens of calls from interested customers, dealers and kibitzers.
Soon, Chua's personal quota of 50 pieces of hopia a day became a foggy memory. He was receiving thousands upon thousands of orders. Not one to be contended by instant fame, Gerry even went to Pampanga to train under the best halayang ube makers to perfect his recipe.
As the years went on, Chua's hopiang ube sustained Eng Bee Tin, which by the way means "Ever Beautiful and Precious." The small, dark store at the corner of Ongpin Street was transformed into a well-lighted shop where customers came in nonstop.
Nowadays, Chua produces more than 15,000 packs of hopia a day and this is distributed all over the country and even exported now since his products have a shelf life of one week outside the refrigerator.
So how did Chua's life change with his newfound success? Not much. He simply had more time to concentrate on the one thing he loved most to be: a volunteer fire fighter. Yes, Eng Bee Tin's success also fanned the flames of his passion for firefighting. With the deli doing incredibly well, Chua helped support the volunteer group. No less than four purple fire trucks have been donated by Eng Bee Tin.
Chua admits that he never dreamed to reach this far. But, as the old saying goes, kindness begets kindness, and it seems only right that Chua be rewarded generously for his good deeds.
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