TOLEDO — A new restaurant that features traditional Filipino cuisine and all-American deli sandwiches brings a fusion of cultures to the heart of Toledo.
Big Chief Deli and Filipino Food, located at 100 Ramsey Way, opened Jan. 4 and was so busy the owners had to buy more food four times during the opening to meet demand.
Sisters and co-owners Janet Hill and Rosalina Caywood said the idea for the restaurant came from their American husbands, who wanted to share their wives’ traditional Filipino cooking.
The sisters, who were born and raised in the Philippines, first met lifelong Toledo pals Troy Hill and Ricky Caywood through an online chatroom. Janet Hill moved to the United States in 2004 to join her fiance in Ethel, in rural Lewis County. At first, she was homesick every day, she said.
“I grew up in the city in the Philippines. I got here and it was so quiet,” said Hill, now 37.
There were few other Filipino people around, and Hill said she sometimes struggled to communicate.
But a year later her sister moved to Toledo to marry Caywood. Then a niece, a cousin and a brother joined them in the area. As the local Filipino community grew, Hill and Caywood started hosting Filipino-American “Fil-Am” parties during holidays and family gatherings. Their cultural food was a hit, especially lumpia, a mini deep-fried spring roll.
About two years ago, their husbands broached the idea of opening a Filipino restaurant to share their heritage with the community. The two households invested a total of about $20,000 in the venture.
“Our husbands are really proud of our food,” Janet Hill said.
If “Big Chief Deli” doesn’t sound particularly Filipino, that’s because the name pays homage to the Cowlitz Indian tribe’s historic roots in the area.
Hill’s sister-in-law, Liz Hill, owned and operated a popular deli at Mary’s Corner until it burned down in 2014. She says she was depressed for a year afterwards and was eager to get back in business.
She joined Big Chief Deli to round out the menu with her locally famous deli sandwiches. Now the three women are working together to run the place by themselves. Liz Hill says she is not a part-owner, but she is helping Janet Hill and Rosalina Caywood learn customer service and how to run a business.
“We’re all trying to learn each other’s (dishes),” Liz Hill said.
She added that her old customers are excited to eat her sandwiches again and interact with new customers interested in the only Filipino food around.
Hill and Caywood say they would like to add deserts to the menu, such as Suman (sweet rice balls wrapped in banana leaves). And if Big Chief succeeds, they hope to open another location in Centralia or Chehalis.
But for now, they are pleased with the surprising success of their first couple weeks in business, especially from customers who have never tried Filipino food before.
“We are very happy that they love our food.”