Against All Odds, This Restaurant Opened During the Pandemic
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Go Big or Go Home: Against All Odds, This Restaurant Opened During the Pandemic

Go Big or Go Home: Against All Odds, This Restaurant Opened During the Pandemic

Food & Entertaining | November 8, 2021
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With many businesses closing amid the pandemic, Jean Dumago-Descallar risked it all and opened a fast and casual diner: Diner 55.

Maintaining a restaurant amid the pandemic can be just as hard. There’s the upkeep, overhead expenses, and other costs that are slowly piling up. And there’s just not enough money coming in. Plus, with the ever-changing quarantine restrictions on dine-in guests and the limited capacity that just won’t pay the bills, many restaurant owners have opted to switch to online deliveries or just close down all together.

With all these risks and more, starting a business during the pandemic can be tricky. But the brave ones power on. And Jean Dumago-Descallar—the owner of Diner 55—did just that with the help of restaurant consultant and chef RJ Ungco.

From Humble Beginnings

It all started on March 2021. Diner 55 was a concept that both Jean and Chef RJ came up with, in the hopes of being of service to the people.

“That time, I described to him the kind of restaurant that I wanted to start,” Jean shares. “I told him that when I was young, my family could not afford delicious food—especially those served by restos because we weren’t fortunate enough. Growing up poor, it was heaven for me every time my parents treated me in a carinderia that served affordable local delicious and comfort food. Until now, I still eat there every time I visit my hometown in Mindanao.”

But the tables have turned, literally. Today, Jean shares that God has given her a chance to live comfortably. “Now, I get to enjoy eating in restaurants, both local and international. I [even] remember that during my first visit to the US, I discovered a place that served comfort food. It wasn’t a fast-food chain nor was it a typical restaurant, but it was a diner. This brought about my dream to be able to one day open a ‘diner’ too.”

Diner 55: A Pandemic Passion Project

Chef RJ was very much onboard with the idea. And so, we both decided on the name Diner 55—a fast and casual diner that offers comfort food. Not just any kind of comfort food, however. These needed to be big, tasty, and hearty—and at a good price, too!

But what’s in a name? The number 55 represented more than just Jean’s age. “I added 55, not only because of my age but also because it signifies that it’s the time in my life that I get to realize my dream of having a restaurant,” she reveals. “Apart from serving 55 chosen recipes of comfort food and dishes all over the world, 55 also represents two hands [that are] ready to serve and help!”

Once the name was set, the location followed next. With the help of Chef RJ, Diner 55 was conveniently set in the heart of Quezon City—specifically in Jean’s three-storey house. “The pandemic has hindered our revenue stream from renting it out for movies and TV advertisements. With this idea [of using our own space for Diner 55], we were assured that at least venturing into a new business in our own building will require less capital,” she explains.

The Whys and Hows of Operating a Restaurant

Starting a new business during the pandemic is already a challenge, but venturing into new, unchartered territory in that same pandemic is a whole new story. And that’s exactly what happened with Diner 55. Jean reveals, “Operating a restaurant is not our expertise, but thanks to our consultant Chef RJ, we gained the confidence to start one.”

But with patience, persistence, and Chef RJ’s guidance, Jean’s diner dreams have come to fruition. By adopting a pandemic-ready business model, she has equipped Diner 55 to be sustainable in these trying times. And yes, this includes everything about the restaurant—from the food to the service, delivery, and technology trends for the business to survive.

“Many of my friends are asking me why I ventured into the food business during pandemic, and for me, now is the right time to open one,” Jean shares. “I believe that the economy will be back to normal after few years. Chef RJ also advised us that we should start now so that by the time the pandemic restrictions ease and the vaccinations allow businesses to operate regularly, we are ready to operate as well.”

Inspiration and Representation in Color

Diner 55 is a culmination of Jean’s dreams—a testament to her humble beginnings, her dreams, and her success. But with it comes the struggles and challenges of the pandemic. “Diner 55’s logo is inspired by my backstory,” she reveals. “The girl in the logo is me—a woman from Mindanao with high aspirations in life who won the battle against poverty. [With that], I will continue to serve unselfishly and be a fountain of blessings and inspiration to other people.”

Likewise, there is significance in the colors she chose for her restaurant. “There are three dominant colors—yellow, white, and black—that I used in Diner 55,” she adds. “Yellow represents sunshine, hope and happiness. Hope is being able to believe that poverty is not a hindrance to succeed. It symbolizes being of service to others, and this is what brings true happiness.”

And just as there are good times, there are bad times, too. Choosing to face her challenges head-on, Jean paints her restaurant in the color she chose to represent defeating said challenges. “[On the other hand], black represents the difficulties and challenges that I faced in pursuing my dreams. These challenges have developed my drive to be a strong-willed person. Black is powerful!” she beams.

“[And finally], white for me signifies integrity, honesty, and transparency in everything that I do. It also represents my pure intentions and my advocacies. These character traits, together with my drive to pursue my dreams, have helped me gain the trust and help of my family and people who share my advocacies to achieve my dreams,” she ends.

Good Food with a Heart

Borne out of Jean’s desire to bring great food to people, Diner 55 offers hearty comfort food favorites at affordable prices. Together with Chef RJ, both created a special menu that embraces diverse cuisines from around the world and even elevated them with their own brand of creativity.

The result? A menu that celebrates the Filipino’s diverse palate—a one-stop-shop that touches on every flavor profile, from east to west, and in some cases, a fusion of both. “Good food brings joy. It is true that Filipinos can find it in every home, every city, every country, every culture–around the world. Good food transcends differences and crosses borders. That’s what Diner 55 is all about,” Jean explains.

Diner 55’s Bestsellers

To date, Diner 55 is now open—ready to serve customers with their comfort food favorites. But with 55 dishes on its extensive menu, it can be quite overwhelming. Not to worry! These are some bestsellers that you cannot miss out on:

Go big or go home. The 5-5 Burger is not your ordinary smash burger. This 100% pure beef patty is grilled with American cheddar, and Diner 55’s special burger sauce then sandwiched between soft pillowy potato brioche. It’s garnished on the side with American pickles, red onions, fresh tomatoes, and lettuce, and served with a mound of fries. Eat to your heart’s content.
Savor that sweet-soy tender beef belly with their Garlicky Beef Bowl, Diner 55’s take on your all-time Japanese favorite, Gyudon, sauteed with onions and lots of garlic. Enjoy this dish that’s topped with soft boiled egg and crispy onions.
If you’re on the lookout for something healthy, Diner 55’s High Five Salad is your go-to choice. Get to choose between asparagus or French beans, and enjoy a bowl of corn, crispy onion, cucumber, tomato, hard-boiled egg, lettuce, grilled Piri chicken, and drizzled with Diner 55’s special and tangy orange dressing.
Up for something adventurous? Check out Diner 55’s Yo! Fernando Pizza with double smoked ham, peaches (yes, you read that right!) and mozzarella cheese, and balsamic reduction on a tomato pizza. You won’t find this pizza anywhere else. Move over Hawaiian Pizza, there’s a new fruity pizza in town.
This feast for the eyes is also a feast of textures and flavors. Get crazy with Diner 55’s Hey,Jean! This Fugazzeta style pizza is made with piri grilled chicken, melted cheese, fresh arugula, corn salsa, crispy onions, and drizzled with aioli.
Ready for something big with a twist? Diner 55’s Ooh-Beh! Waffle and Chicken is their take on your classic chicken and waffles, all but made with homemade buttermilk ube waffles with whipped butter and salted dulce de leche.
Simple yet sinfully good. Diner 55’s Cereal Milk Panna Cotta will keep you coming back for more. Enjoy a mouthful of corn flakes infused milk pudding with caramel popcorn, and your choice of scoop of ice cream.

Service with a Smile

Good food, good prices, and good intentions. If anything, Diner 55 proves that it’s never too late to turn your dream into a reality—even at 55. Celebrating her journey, her dreams, and her desire to serve people, Jean wanted these feelings to translate in her food. And by the looks of it, it looks like she did.

Diner 55 gives me more opportunities to serve others and connect with my loved ones through food,” Jean ends. “I believe in the adage that says, the people who give you their food, give you their HEART. [That’s why] Diner 55 not only serves great food but [also] serves customers with a HEART.”

Photos from Diner 55

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Visit Diner 55 at 1-i Dr. Garcia Street cor. Mother Ignacia Avenue, Brgy Paligsahan, Quezon City, 1103. You may also call +632 7256 4345 to order for pickup or delivery. The new diner is open daily from 11 AM until 8 PM. To learn more about the new branch and exciting updates, follow Diner 55 on Facebook or Instagram.

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