A Proud Pinoy in Dallas
PEOPLE By Joanne Rae M. Ramirez
Philippine Star, Tuesday, June 26, 2007, 11:16:27 PM

In a city of giants - from malls to oilfields, here is a Pinoy who started small but made it big.

Dindo Orosa owns and manages a restaurant and banquet facility at the Trammel Crow Center in Dallas, Texas that will make fellow Pinoys proud. Called Aija, the restaurant (its corporate name is Arts District) was recently featured in the 248-page US glossy magazine D Weddings, where it was described as a "one-of-a-kind venue" for "distinctive wedding receptions."

The restaurant's executive chef Raoul Orosa is Dindo's brother, and together they have set a standard for other Filipino-operated enterprises in Dallas. They go beyond Filipino food - which is Dindo's specialty at home - and offer seamless fine-dine services to engaged couples in Dallas who want a truly memorable wedding reception.

"Couples and their guests can enjoy breathtaking downtown views, museum-style banquet rooms and an outdoor garden area with remarkable 18th-century sculptures," says D Weddings of Aija.

"The culinary creativity of executive chef and owner Raoul Orosa and his professional banquet staff offer guests unparalleled cuisine and intuitive service."

"Combining grandeur, grace and elegance, the Arts District Banquet Facility executes every wedding wish with precision and attention to detail to bring dreams to life," gushes the magazine.

Service is the domain of Dindo, who used to be a flight attendant. During the restaurant's early days, Dindo set up the table arrangements himself, so that when a member of the crew charges him for two hours' work for doing the same thing, Dindo replies, "But you can do table settings in one hour. I do."

Dindo hires mostly Mexicans as waiters, because Filipino waiters sometimes "find it hard to distinguish between a friend and a boss." His observation, I believe, should be a lesson for overseas Pinoys who cannot draw the line between work and friendship and take it against a Filipino boss when the latter starts imposing workplace rules.

Dindo, who is married to the former Karen Anne Reyes, says his business could never have flourished if also not for the patriotism of Americans.

Dindo recalls that after 9/11, it was an uphill climb for Aija. But he noticed that Americans were closing ranks to prop up the country and its fledgling businesses after the demoralization of 9/11. So he proposed to owners of the building to give him a rent moratorium till Aija was able to get back on its feet.

Because the building's landlords did not want any establishment in its premises to close down - they had foresight, too, not just patriotism - they granted a rent moratorium to Aija. The decision paid off because after the wounds of 9/11 healed, business started picking up.

Dindo credits his success in the US to his faith in God, perseverance and a profound respect for the people who work for him. "When you put your employees first, it will show in their service to you," says Dindo.

The events of September 11 were not the only challenges they faced in 2001. Dindo recalls that just when they were expecting their second son Joseph in 2001, he got laid off from a high paying job in San Francisco.

"I was just having a drink with the boss on Friday, and there he was, on a Monday, telling me I was one of the hundreds who were going to be laid off!" Dindo recalls during a dinner hosted by ad executive Bobby Caballero at the Italianni's Greenbelt, where we had a preview of its "masterpiece" dishes like Venetian steak and prawns, chicken picatta, Corsican steamed fish fillet and braised lamb shanks.

After he was laid off, Dindo recalls, he sat for one hour inside his car in the parking lot, unsure of the future but sure of the love of his family.

Upon the encouragement of his Dallas-based brother Raoul, he and Karen tried their luck in Dallas, where starting over was not easy. To make things more difficult, 9/11 struck just when they were settling down. It was a double whammy for Dindo and Karen.

When things hit rock bottom, Dindo and Karen sought strength in their Catholic faith. They joined Couples for Christ and even became coordinators for Gawad Kalinga in Dallas.

Without their meaning to, their business flourished as their faith did.

"It's because Karen and I learned how to 'let go, and let God.' When you trust in God, nawawala ang pressure and it is easier to make decisions," believes Dindo.

Aside from offering catering services for weddings, Aija is known for its lunchtime buffets. Aija's buffet was recently rated the only four-star lunch buffet in Dallas by the Dallas Morning News. Historically, lunch buffets are rated only a 3 1/2 star.

The restaurant's specialty is its big Pacific Dover, and for dessert, the winner is the Pinoy cassava cake with caramel topping. Dindo says they infuse Filipino dishes and seasonings into the entrees, like the rib eye steak tastes like steak a la pobre, and the chicken soy vinaigrette is just chicken adobo with another name.

Last year, the Orosas put up a Japanese fastfood outlet at the Dallas International Airport.

After his recent visit to Manila, during which he got reacquainted with world-class Filipino food, Dindo is thinking about opening a pastry store cum merienda place in Dallas offering both Filipino and continental favorites.

From the lows of being laid-off and the pains of 9/11, Dindo and Karen Orosa have found the ingredients to success and personal happiness. And both say they're no secret!

(You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com)

To visit restaurant web site, click on attachment below: