Monday, April 28, 2014

*367. Good Times, Great Eats: SPIC 'N SPAN

SPIC TO ME. A 1950s advertisement of Spic 'n Span, one of Pampanga's premiere and  popular restaurants founded by Pilar Mendez-Gomez, widow of Vicente Gomez of Angeles. 

 “Let’s have ice cream at Spic ‘n Span!” 

Whenever my dad was in the mood for treating us kids, he would holler those words, and we would all respond with squeals of delight at the prospect of having a good time over at Angeles’ most popular haven of refreshment.

 Long before McDonald’s and Jollibee, there was Spic ‘n Span, located along the national road in Balibago, Angeles City, near the Mabalacat town boundary. It was not exactly a fastfood restaurant, but it billed itself as a “cocktail lounge and restaurant”, catering to banquets, wedding receptions and parties at popular prices. But to us, Spic ‘n Span represented everything that was cool, clean and refreshing, a break from our humdrum routine and a special time for family to bond and recharge.

 In fact, it was the latter that became the guiding light of the Spic ‘n Span founder, Mrs. Pilar Gomez, in the successful management of her restaurant business, elevating it as one of Central Luzon’s best.

Pilar Mendez was born in Paco, Manila on 2 October 1899, the daughter of Manuel Mendez, a Tabacalera executive, and Benita Bautista of Victoria, Tarlac. Of Spanish stock, Pilar grew up speaking Spanish, and was educated at Sta. Isabel College and St. Scholastica College.

 Just a few years into college, she met Vicente “Centi” Gomez (b. 24 Nov. 1889), the son of Esteban Gomez and Josefa Pamintuan of Angeles. Esteban was the first-born of Nicolas Gomez (aka Fray Guillermo Masnou, cura of Angeles) with local lass Patricia Mercado.

Their short courtship culminated in their wedding on 19 Mar. 1920. Their children—11 of them-- would come in quick succession, and to help fend for the family, Pilar set up a small restaurant in 1945—“Linda’s Nook and Drive In”, which was to become the forerunner of “Spic ‘n Span”.

 In 1953, her husband, Centi, died leaving the widow alone to run the restaurant business. Her devotion to her family spurred her in steering Spic ‘n Span to greater heights, which eventually became one of Pampanga’s finest and well-known restaurants and caterers. For over two decades, Spic ‘n Span would serve hundreds of thousands of food-loving local and international guests (it was a favorite watering hole of Clark Air Base personnel), cater to countless wedding receptions, graduations and other milestone events. 

To hone her knowledge in the food industry, Pilar enrolled as a member of the Hotel and Restaurant Owners Association of the Philippines, and joined the delegation for observation tours to Japan and Hongkong.

 In all these years, Pilar managed to preserve the unity of her family despite time and distance. All but one (Pilar Ines, who died in infancy) would finish their education and move on to other fields of endeavour: Esteban (Commerce, La Salle), Pacita, Angel (Mechanical Engineering, Mapua), Hermelinda, Floriana (H.E., Sta. Paul) , Vicente Magno Jr. (Commerce, La Salle), Manuel Benito (Mechanical Eng., La Salle) , Pilar Vicenta (Secretarial Science), Benita Paula (Bachelor of Arts) and Salvador Senen (Bachelor of Arts, La Salle).

 Spic ‘n Span’s heyday would continue on till the 70s, and so did our regular after-school hours stop. On the long drive back to Mabalacat from Angeles, we would drop by for a scoop or two of my favorite chocolate ice cream—which was what my dear father could afford in those days.

By then, the area had become crowded, and alternative eating places, like A&W Drive-in (Open 24 hours! Angeles’ newest and most fascinating!), Shanghai Restaurant, Kentucky Fried Chicken and even Didi’s Pizza, had started burgeoning in far more spacious and developed locations. In a few years, Spic ‘n Span was no more.

 Mrs. Pilar Mendez would pass away on 21 October 1983, but her legacy lives on in the happy recollections of satisfied customers like me, who regularly had a dose of wholesome fun at her special place that brought hospitality, excellent taste and warm service together under one roof" Spic 'n Span!!

No comments: