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Restaurants / Openings

Dogged Food Truck Owners Shake Off Late Night Robbery, Open Up a New Restaurant

Proud Filipino Entrepreneurs Just Roll On

BY // 01.04.18

The Filipino food truck Flip ‘N Patties has flipped the script on its moveable-feast model and gone brick and mortar.

It wasn’t easy. On top of the regular challenges of opening a restaurant, owners and cousins Don and Michael Jante faced a major setback when their truck was robbed at gunpoint on December 1.

They stayed strong with their “just-keep-going” mentality, Don Jante tells PaperCity. Now, the team are back on their feet, working the floors of their new restaurant.

Their Southeast Asian spin on American classics — think banana ketchup aioli-slathered Akaushi beef patties — are now available at a new permanent location. Their restaurant, bearing the same name and same Filipino-flavored flair on burgers as the food truck, sits at 1809 Eldridge Parkway.

PaperCity grilled Don Jante about the evolution of Flip ‘N Patties, and how these cousins went from driving around town to hanging drywall in their own new restaurant.

The soft opening of the new restaurant was December 27about five-and-a-half years after the food truck’s original unveiling back in July 2012. Their food truck, equipped with a karaoke machine, slowly built a bigger and bigger rep, winning Best Food Truck 2017 honors from the Houston Press.

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The duo started out by literally bringing Filipino street food to Houston streets. But the opening of the new restaurant doesn’t mean they’re putting the food truck in their rearview mirror, Jante says.

“We’re going to do both at the same time. Right now, me and Michael are focusing on the restaurant,” he says.

Currently, the food truck is still running, but its operations have been scaled back to going out only a few times per week. You can still find the truck on Tuesday nights at The Marquis II on Bissonnet and Kirby, and Friday evenings at Axelrad.

They plan to ramp up again. “We have a pretty strong team working the food truck,” Jante says.

Walk up to the line or walk in the door of the new restaurant. There’s more than one way to become a Flip ‘N Patties fan, called a “flipster.”

A Food Truck’s Evolution

The Jantes grew up in Houston along with their many Filipino relatives. That meant classic meals like all-American burgers alongside traditional South Pacific dishes like chicken pupu.

“My grandmother used to make chicken pupu. It’s one I really enjoy, and it transitioned to our menu,” Jante says. His aunt showed him how to make the dish of battered, fried chicken thighs dipped in his family’s secret sauce, or “sweet heaven recipe.”

Before they moved curbside, the cousins “cooked out of my house a lot,” Jante says. Siopao, a meat-stuffed steamed bun, served as the initial inspiration.

It wasn’t long before the duo combined their prized steamed buns with their beloved burgers. “Burgers are one of the foods we love eating, and we had to find a way to use Filipino dishes,” Jante says.

“On one of my kid’s birthdays, I said, ‘Let’s try it out.’ ” The kid got a little older, and his relatives got a little wiser. Siopao became an inventive alternative to a burger bun.

The fusion’s clear in their popular “Amboy” burger. It’s got all the United States bests, Akaushi beef, bacon, mild cheddar, but it’s served in the signature bun.

Like other burgers on the menu, the Amboy gets its name from a little liberty with the American language. “Brekpas,” the street vendor treat and most important meal of the day, features a fried egg next to its sautéed onions and spam.

And “Bedgee,” patty-free and full of portabella mushrooms and signature tang sauce, is perfect for an herbivore picnic.

If you’re going for strictly international, garlic and rice plates do the trick. The Longislog plate comes with the house-made Filipino sausage, and Spasilog comes with Filipino-style seared spam.

The cousins plan to expand on that menu in the restaurant, given all the new kitchen space. At the top of the list: Filipino adobo, a dish of either meat or vegetables marinated in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and black peppercorns. It’s the unofficial national dish of the Philippines.

Lechon kawali, Filipino crispy fried pork belly, also makes the list.

The Robbery

There’s definitely an adjustment period when it comes to using a larger kitchen, though. “Preparation is easier in a smaller kitchen,” in terms of not just ingredients but people. “In a restaurant kitchen, you have to yell at another person across the line,” Jante notes.

But it’s not all new. “The nice thing about us, having run a food truck, is we adjust pretty quickly to our environment. We’re very good at working on the fly.”

In the food truck world, that meant “all kinds of surprises,” Jante says. “The truck breaking down, things like that. You’re always going to run into something unexpected.”

There’s no better example of that than the early December robbery. Don and Michael heard the news from inside the brick and mortar. Two of their workers, who want to remain anonymous, were posted up on Yale Street in the Heights in the food truck. At around 2:30 in the morning, three men crept up on them.

The gun-toting assailants made off with the cash box — three weeks’ worth of cash. “We were moving way too fast, so we had all our cash there,” Jante says.

Their focus has been on opening up the brick-and-mortar restaurant, not on the food truck. Money intended for the restaurant then went toward covering payroll.

“It was a stupid move on our part,” Jante says, “but we’ve been through harder stuff, I guess.” More than the money, his main concern was for his employees and other food truck owners.

“I’m just glad no one got hurt that day. I’m hoping they don’t think every food truck carries that amount of cash,” Jante adds.

They set up a GoFundMe page with a $25,000 goal. To date, it has raised $4,202.

The good news: the restaurant project was almost turnkey. They took over an existing building, which cut down on build time and cost. But still, “we’re very picky, and we want to make sure everything is right and up to functionality,” Jante says.

They’re giving their restaurant all they’ve got, having dreamed about it for years and gotten serious about it two years ago, feeling the right team was in place. They made it happen with their mottos “Never go home,” and “It’s the best day of our lives.”

NextSeed, a crowdfunding portal, had invited them to pitch their restaurant concept to a group of entrepreneurs and investors. Real Estate agent Peter Licata, with TPC Real Estate, “was kind of our hero, so to speak. He gave us an opportunity, believed in our product, gave us a home,” Jante says.

It’s been a tough road, but they’re used to the grind. At the end of the day, “It’s nice to be in a restaurant. We know where we’ll be.”

Add to that the legroom and running water. “I’m getting a lot more exercise,” Jante says. “I hope I’m losing weight!”

They had wheels; they added walls. But, “We’re still Flip ‘N Patties,” Jante promises.

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