How a pandemic fostered an artisan community in Coron

With an economy mainly dependent on tourism, the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic came as a shock to the people of Coron. It was something they never expected to have a devastating impact on their lives, living in what has been known for many years as one of the best islands in the world.

“When the pandemic hit, everyone panicked,” recalls American chef Eric Hermes, who at the time had just moved to the island with his Filipino wife and started working as a consultant for a city ​​hotels. “All the tourists have left. The hotels were empty. The eating establishments were empty, as they were not necessarily frequented by locals.

Chowline offers a variety of breads and pastries. Photo courtesy of Chowline

“The confinements were terrible”, explains Nestlie, the wife of chef Eric. “You can’t go from one point to another. You can’t walk around. You must ask for the kagawads to buy your things and deliver them to you, which they can only do once a week.

Like the rest of the world whose lives had been disrupted by the pandemic, it was essentially a time for the islanders to pivot for survival. With no tourists, everyone had to think of other ways to generate income. “[The pandemic] forced people to be creative,” says chef Eric.

For the Hermès, who started supplying different breads to a few hotels in the city before the pandemic, their way of pivoting was to open an American takeout and delivery business called Chowline, with pizza and pasta as their mainstays. offers.

Realizing that they could no longer depend on tourism, the islanders also began to explore their other skills and interests. There were divers who opened a craft brewery business. A chef who came to Palawan to become a scuba instructor now makes great homemade sausages and sells them at his shop called Papa’s Meat and Deli.

Dad's meat and charcuterie
Papa’s Meat & Deli offers a selection of fresh meats and deli meats. Photo taken from their Facebook page

“The positive effect is that the pandemic has fostered a community of artisans here, at least on rue Real where we are located,” offers chef Eric.

Those who had existing businesses learned to diversify their product offerings. Maambeng Farm, which was basically a calamansi farm, started growing other vegetables like lettuce and pechay. Nestlie cites a dive instructor who managed to grow all organic peppers and basil.

Maambang Farm
Maambang Farm, which used to grow only calamansi, now grows other green vegetables like pechay and lettuce. Photo taken from their Facebook page

Chef Eric himself has started fermenting his own chili sauce, since he grows chili peppers in his garden. A backyard that now also produces fruits like bananas, language, and calamansi. They also grow lemongrass and pandan.

“It’s not just the expat community that has flourished during the pandemic, but even the Filipinos who lived here in Coron also learned how to turn their normal life into something that turned out to be even better,” says Nestlie. “It’s great to see that in the difficult times, in this crisis that we felt, there were positives.”

Chef Eric Hermès' fermented peppers
Chef Eric ferments his own chili sauce, since he grows peppers in his garden.

Ever-changing culinary scene

According to the Hermès couple, another positive change that recent years have brought to Coron is a richer gastronomic scene. Many entrepreneurs from Manila and overseas had seen the great potential of the island. So by the time the couple moved to Coron in 2019, there was already a vegetarian place, a Thai place, a tapas bar, a Mexican restaurant. “People understood that it was a good investment to be on the island because it is still the best island in the world. It was a good opportunity,” says Nestlie.

Additionally, food and service have improved on the island because owners and chefs are more active in running their businesses. “Now the owner is the cook, the owner is the cashier, sales and marketing, the owner is everything,” says Nestlie, obviously speaking from experience.

Chef Eric makes Chowline’s pizza from scratch. Photo courtesy of Chowline

The past few years have undoubtedly been a great time for everyone to harness their creative culinary energy. Chowline’s menu, for example, has changed a lot since the pandemic began. Besides pasta and pizza, it now offers chicken burgers and chori burgers, which have received good reviews. Last week, they launched their Asian-inspired dishes, based on popular Chinese takeout dishes in the United States, such as Yellow Cab’s Charlie Chan, PF Chang’s Orange Peel Beef and Yang Chow’s fried rice. Their Wednesdays are Mexican nights where the star of the show is their taco pizza.

Even though Chowline is a takeout place, their location has a common seating area where people can have their meals like in a food market. Chow Line also has an open kitchen, so people can watch Chef Eric and Nestlie cook and prepare meals.

Two blocks from Chowline is Tupi Barbers, a barber shop with a cafe. “They did the food really well,” Nestlie offers. Also at the B Complex where Chowline is located, there is the Bam Bar, which has its own mixologist who makes excellent craft cocktails.

BamBar has its own mixologists. Photo taken from their Facebook page

Business owners in the complex hold monthly bazaars to showcase their wares. “It is the owners who think about how to sustainably continue their business without having difficulties,” says Nestlie. “It’s a good experience to be here right now.”

Tourism is slowly picking up too, the couple say. There have been domestic tourists throughout the holiday season, and they expect the influx of international tourists soon.

Tupi Barbers
Tupi Barbers serves sandwiches and other snacks. Photo taken from their Facebook page

The people of Coron have made great strides in rebuilding and improving their restaurant industry. Their goal, says Nestlie, is to continue to grow the food and beverage community. “We would like everyone to realize that there is more to Coron than its beautiful islands,” says Nestlie. “That it is not a tourist destination that you will only visit once. There are now more reasons to return to Coron year after year.

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