Originally published in Crude Magazine
There’s only about five places to order Filipino food in Anchorage. One of those places is Jeepney By Adobo Grill, a food truck that serves up Filipino food and culture one plate of lumpia at a time.
Operating the food truck is a family affair. Jerry Manalo, along with his wife, run the operations, while his auntie cooks the food and his cousins help out with the ordering of food.
Manalo grew up in Cavite, a small town outside of the Philippines capital of Manila. He was the previous owner of Kubo, a restaurant in Anchorage that sold Filipino cuisine, but sold the business to start up his food truck and his family.
In an effort to set himself apart from other Filipino restaurants in Anchorage, Manalo has curated a rotating menu that combines American classics, like french fries, with Filipino staples like adobo and sigsig.
“We’re trying to be different from [other restaurants] and do Filipino fusion…They don’t serve that kind of stuff,” Manalo says. “You never know when you’re gonna have customers. That’s why our food truck needs to be unique in order to keep up with other businesses.”
Fifty-three percent of Anchorage’s Asian-American population is Filipino. Yet, their cuisine is underrepresented in the community, with few places to find Filipino food.
“Filipino food is going to be the next thing. You see Chinese, Japanese restaurants all over the place. Filipino food is getting there,” Manalo says. “We’ve seen this a lot where Filipino’s are scared to step up a little bit and do business. They know how to cook, most of them. The problem is they are scared to fail. In order to do this you got to have guts, because you never know where you’re going to end up.”
One of the biggest aspects that sets Jeepney apart from other Filipino restaurants in Anchorage is that its mobile.
“I like the idea of they move place to place. I work at one of the buildings in Providence [hospital] and it’s so convenient to drive to Alaska Regional [hospital] to get my fixings,” Angelica Magpayo, a Filipino resident of Anchorage, says.
Jeepney Grill has done more than just introduce Anchorage to Filipino food through a fusion of America’s own food. They have also come to provide Filipinos, which Manalo says are 80 percent of his customers, with a real taste of home.
“We just want to satisfy our community. They miss home. That’s why we are doing this,” Manalo says. “Food is in our genes, we love cooking and why not just share it and serve the community?”
Authentic Filipino-style street food like grilled pig ears and siopao buns aren’t the only flavors of home Jeepney is serving Anchorage’s Filipino community. Residents can order Jollibee through the food truck’s social media. Customers can then pick up their food at the truck on a later date; something never done before in Anchorage.
Levi Brown, a Filipino resident in Anchorage, says that Jollibee reminds people of their homeland.
“It’s kind of cool that a business is doing large orders of Jollibee and bringing it to Anchorage. It’s practically a tradition for Filipinos to bring back Jollibee to friends and family here after any trip to someplace that has the restaurant,” Brown says.
“This Jollibee thing—it’s the McDonald’s of the Philippines—even though it’s just a burger or chicken, people love it. Our community just keeps pre-ordering. It’s crazy, it’s our number one thing,” Manalo says. “Jollibee is just one of our things that we do to satisfy our community’s cravings.”
Manalo’s cousin in Seattle knows an executive at Jollibee. Manalo gives his cousin the orders, she sends it to Jollibee and then Jollibee express ships the food to her. She ships it to Manalo, and from there Anchorage is supplied with a fix of chicken joy, spam sandwiches and other dishes from the Filipino fast food restaurant.
“Sometimes we receive the box and it’s still warm. It’s not days-old, just hours-old,” Manalo says.
Not only is Jeepney serving food to remind people of home, they also commissioned a Filipino American comedian to perform here in Alaska. Rex Navarete, a well-known comedian in the Filipino-American community focuses his comedy towards Filipino audiences. He performed in Anchorage on Nov. 17, 7 p.m., at the Wendy Williamson Auditorium, and again in Kodiak on Nov. 18, 7 p.m., at the Kodiak Convention Center.
Jeepney is also in the preliminary stages of creating a magazine that Manalo hopes to distribute to Anchorage’s Filipino community.
Jeepney will be open year-round, with the ability to do online orders. They also hope to offer delivery in the near future.
“People in Anchorage are lazy, they don’t want to go out for 30 minutes. We are trying to cater to that,” Manalo says.
With the temperature’s dropping, Jeepney also plans to offer dishes to keep patrons warm.
“It’s getting colder and colder. People need warm stuff. In the Philippines, we have a lot of soups we can make that people know,” Manalo says.
Manalo plans to open a second truck next year in Hawaii, where he has family on the island of Kauai.
“It’s pretty cold here and we don’t want to suffer anymore in winter time. So summer time we want to stay, and then move to Hawaii in the winter time,” Manalo says.