SMALL BUSINESS OF THE YEAR
Julieta Cunanan’s arrival on Saipan in January 1985 became the start of one of Saipan’s most successful Filipino restaurants—D’Elegance Cafe.
The Garapan landmark has withstood the highs and lows of the CNMI economy as it continues to serve Filipino cuisine not only to Filipinos craving for home cooking, but to residents and tourists as well who have come to appreciate the amalgamation of Spanish, Chinese, and American food.
For its sheer longevity and for keeping itself relevant despite Saipan’s changing food fads and its people’s discriminating palates, D’Elegance Cafe is the Saipan Tribune’s Small Business of the Year.
Incorporated on Nov. 15, 1985, and having a grand opening on July 8, 1986, D’Elegance Cafe has been in operation for 31 years, with the primary objective of “making customers feel at home and treating them as family; accommodate everybody to the best that we can; and serve food with a reasonable price that is affordable to everybody,” said officer-in-charge Emily Cabrera, who is Julieta’s sister.
Julieta and her husband Wilson are natives of Pampanga, a province in central Luzon in the Philippines. The province is a hotbed of delicious Filipino cuisine and the Cunanans were able to transplant Pampanga’s native dishes to Saipan and serve it at their restaurant.
The food and excellent customer service has become D’Elegance Café’s calling card these past three decades.
“I think that is why customers keep on coming back,” said Cabrera. “We concentrate on customer satisfaction a lot.”
D’Elegance Cafe serves mainly Filipino food for the numerous kababayans that are homesick and are craving for home-cooked delicacies known as “Lutong Bahay” in the Philippines.
Cabrera shared that D’Elegance Cafe is now also making an effort to serve international food to encourage others to try out the place.
“We also target the Chamorros and the local people as well as Westerners, Chinese, and more,” she said.
D’Elegance Cafe just recently hired cooks that specialize in many different cuisines to expand their menu.
D’Elegance Cafe and Best Sunshine International, Ltd. recently entered into an agreement, in which the latter pays for employee meals at a discounted price.
“We gamble with that. There isn’t much profit, since it depends on how many employees eat here,” she said.
According to Cabrera, about 400 BSI employees eat at the restaurant per day, which she says used to be about 500.
D’Elegance Cafe has also recently extended their restaurant space, adding about six more tables in a room that used to be for guests that ask for catering services.
Cabrera said that the extension was done to further accommodate BSI employees and to look into the possibility of a regular catering service.
Cunanan is not only a business owner. Cunanan also used to be a teacher for the Public School System, teaching at Hopwood Junior High School for 28 years before retiring and later being re-employed at Mount Carmel School for two years.
Prior to her teaching profession, she also served as a waitress at a restaurant that has long shut down.