Princess Restaurant, circa 1960

Long before chicken barbecue became a food fad, Davao was already home to a Kapampangan-inspired Princess Restaurant, famous in the 1960s for its delectable, ready-to-grill premium pork barbecue. It started as a gift shop but later morphed into a diner.

Initially, the restaurant only served signature Kapampangan dishes. Owned by Davao native Mariano Solis, who was city police chief during the mayoralty of Elias B. Lopez, and Tarlac-born wife Lourdes Cura, the eatery was the first 24-hour restaurant in town.

Offering Kapampangan dishes started as a home-based business in the Solis residence at Matina. Because they were also selling clothes, shoes, and accessories, young ladies would flock to their place in search of articles that would fit the Sunday service decorum. The trend then was to buy bags, fans, veils, shoes and garbs with the same color. And as the business grew after demand for the merchandise rose, the couple decided to relocate the business elsewhere.

Mariano found a small space along Bolton Street, now Paciano Bangoy, with the help of friends. The Solis couple called the tore The Princess Gift Shop. But Lourdes had another idea in mind; she wanted to introduce Kapampangan dishes, particularly pork barbecue because nobody offered a better alternative. As the food business started picking up, which by now required more attention, they decided to rename the shop to Princess Restaurant.

Overtime, the eatery’s hit pork barbecue, served with fried rice and home-made achara (green papaya relish), became a bestseller. With its heirloom condiments, it drew curiosity and patrons were dropping to taste the skewered food.

Competitors tried replicating the restaurant’s favorite pork barbecue, but the secret recipe remained with the family until the establishment folded up in the 1980s.

The diner’s landmark signage was a huge marked crown brandishing the logo, name of the eatery, and year of founding; it greeted diners at the entrance. A glass encased grilling station could also be found at the doorway, allowing pedestrians to see the actual cooking and smell the chargrilled aroma.

The inner arrangement of the restaurant was chiefly native. Varnished bamboo halves covered its walls and two small steel bridges traversed a lit pond in the middle of the place. A coin-operated jukebox with 45 rpm vinyl records played the latest Top 40 hits.

On Sundays, given the restaurant’s proximity to San Pedro Church, it was a preferred place for families taking lunches. With its popular pork barbecue as come on, the place was almost always filled up. To the youth of that generation, it was their favorite hangout.

Adjoining the restaurant was hole-in-the-wall store named ChiRoMaBo (purportedly an acronym of the initials of the children adopted by the Solis couple), selling callcards with back-to-back hugot lines, vibrant trinkets, neon posters, and stickers.

As interesting as the eatery, the power couple, who bore three children, behind it were highly educated individuals. Mariano, fondly called Marianing, completed postgraduate studies at the University of America in Washington, D.C. as scholar of the late Bishop Clovis Thibault, PME. At the time, Davao City was still a prelature, where Mariano was employed.

Lourdes, whose pet name was Onding, was alumna and professor of University of Santo Tomas (UST) before she left for abroad to pursue doctorate degree. When the couple decided to reside permanently in the city, she taught at Ateneo de Davao University and Immaculate Conception College (now a university), retiring in 1959. In 1973, she was bestowed the Datu Bago Award, the city’s highest honor, “for exemplary contribution to the progress and welfare of Davao City in the field of humanitarian service.” For her efforts, her Alma Mater established the Dr. Lourdes Cura-Solis Humanitarian Award.

Despite the good life, they did not forget their intention to start a home-based retail business by selling the apparels and accessories for women they had brought from the US.

To relocate in Davao in the mid-1950s, the Solis couple had to travel by boat from Manila. Auspiciously, they found out during the journey that Mariano’s classmate, newly wedded Elias B. Lopez, and Iloilo-born wife Alma Concepcion were also in the same vessel.

When Lopez was reelected mayor in 1967, Mariano was offered the post of city chief of police, which he accepted. In support of her husband’s new job, Lourdes established a non-profit organization called the Welfare Action Foundation (We Act). Engaged in socio-civic activities, the charity launched many projects through the years, foremost of which is Davao Boystown at Maa, supervised by the Salesians of Don Bosco. (Additional source: www.foodbevg.com)