A one-stop shop for food lovers in Naga City

By Jonas Cabiles Soltes
Bicol Mail

CHEFS. The Pro Chef’s Office Culinary Essentials is owned by (left to right) husband and wife Chef Leandro and Rociel Sto. Domingo, and husband and wife Dr. Stephen Jo  and Leilani Olivia Bonilla. Photo by JONAS CABILES SOLTES

What could have been another food business has found a pioneering niche in this city: a one-stop shop for food lovers.

A few year back, Chef Leandro “Doy” Sto. Domingo and business partner Stephen Jo Bonilla, a surgeon, thought of putting up a food catering business with an office along Magsaysay Avenue.

But a sudden realization changed all that.

“There was a demand for culinary schools then and a place for training hotel and restaurant management students. So we thought of starting a place to meet the demand,” said Sto. Domingo.

That it was also the time when this city was gaining identity as a food destination in Bicol Region encouraged them even more to take the risk.

So after six years of preparation, The Pro Chef’s Office Culinary Essentials (Pro Chef’s)—the first of its kind in Naga City—came to be.

Preparation, according to Bonilla, is essential in every business.

“If you start a business without preparation, there is a high chance of it becoming disorganized along the way,” he said.

Cozy but accessible, Pro Chef’s is meant to be a place where food lovers can dine and experience how food is prepared and where everyone can learn basic culinary skills such as plating and use of knife and culinary terms from Sto. Domingo himself.

Its main feature is a demo kitchen comparable to those used in cooking shows. There, diners can interact and learn with the chef while their food is prepared.

“Here, you can enjoy how food should be. We serve food item at its best for diners to enjoy it,” said Sto. Domingo.

Bonilla said Pro Chef’s is like a school without pressure, although they are planning to secure the necessary permits from the government and convert it into a full-fledged culinary school in time.

Bonilla also would discuss the health benefits of food to diners.

One of its added features is a coffee shop that serves crepes, hot and cold coffee, milk and chocolate, and sandwiches.

“It is open to everyone who wants to eat and learn,” said Sto. Domingo.

Sto. Domingo also owns the nearby Chef Doy’s Gourmet Restaurant and has been among the entrepreneurs that thrive and survive despite stiff competition with established food companies peppering the avenue.

“When you are a chef and into food business at the same time, you know what you are talking about. It’s an advantage,” he said.
Bonilla even had to learn formally the basics of sustaining a business.

“Experience is not enough. It is always balanced by learning,” he said.

Now, the risky venture of Sto. Domingo and Bonilla, which they co-own with wives and business partners Rociel and Leilani Olivia, respectively, is among the bright spots that attract people to the nightlife and entertainment strip of this city.