Mack Libago – Nostalgia through Food

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Mack Libago is the owner of Oriental Store of Raleigh

 
GS: Thank you for giving me this interview for Asian Focus. I understand you are familiar with the Dragon
Boat Festival.

ML: Yes. I believe there’s a Filipino DB Team that participates.

GS: Let’s start with your background. Tell me about yourself. What made you come to the USA?

ML. You know how it is in the Philippines. Poverty. I am one of 8 children; some are half-brothers & sisters.
My father is from Guangdong, China. He was a chef in Manila. I recall him saying that when he came to
the Philippines he only had 500 pesos in his pocket. I grew up in Mindanao; a Christian. I went to college in Manila, studied Business & Marketing. I worked briefly at Scribner, then Asia Brewery where I met my wife. Later, I worked for Coca Cola (PI) for 10 years. My oldest brother has been living in California. I came to California on a Work Visa, worked as an accountant for a company there. I was in California for 13 years.

GS: How did you get into the grocery business in Raleigh.

ML: Through family contact. My wife is related to the Ng’s who owned the store. You know, The Oriental
Store is the first “minority store” in Raleigh, established in 1965 Downtown. In 1972, they expanded and
moved to this area. In around 2000, the Ngs felt like it was time to retire. Their children have grown.
Two are doctors and one is a computer engineer, none of them wanted to take over the business. So, I
came to Raleigh to check it out and worked at the store for 2 years. In 2012, I bought the store. My wife and I used our savings, some family members pitched in, and the Ngs lent us the difference. (Banks do not usually lend people money just for the store.) Business has been good. In 5 years, I could pay them off.

GS: Who comes to the store?

ML: Our customers are diverse, though our restaurant serve mostly Filipino food. There are Africans,
Filipinos, Japanese, Koreans and some Vietnamese. Many are Caucasians, married to Asians. Then there
are groups from the military. They learn the language of the country they are assigned, and they come
to the store to experience a little bit of Asian culture through the food. Some bring their family to get
the ingredients that they would like to try to prepare. I have a client who drives for 3 hours to come to
the store twice a week.

GS: What do you like about this business?

ML: Marketing. I know the trade. I am outgoing, love learning practical things. I listen to customer
feedback. I like finding specific products from suppliers who want to be competitive. Some of the
products are from California, and sometimes I use online marketing. I like to see them happy when they
see something they have not seen in years. They can get nostalgic from familiar products.

GS: Any challenges?
ML: Having this business is all consuming. I hardly have time for social activities. I do use Facebook to
reach out to my customers. We close the store on Mondays so I can have time for family and do other
things.

GS: How do you like Raleigh so far?
ML: You know I grew up in the province (rural PI) where the pace of living could be slow. Raleigh is
neither very fast, nor very slow. It is convenient in many ways…My wife is a nurse and we have a
15-year-old son.

GS: What is it like to raise a son here?

ML: Someone advised me not to make decisions for them… I do teach him Tagalog.

GS: When was the last time you went back to the Philippines?

ML: Two years ago.

GS. How are things there in the Philippines now.

ML: Many are successful. We now export electronics, and other manufactured products. Of course, we
are also rich in raw materials.

GS: Any challenges here?

ML: You know, some are talking about racist tensions. But we, Filipinos, get along. We adapt.
“We can conquer the world without the world knowing it.”

GS: You mean we can avoid conflict?… Or there are different ways of solving problems? What
changes have you seen since you came here?

ML: Within the last few years, the population of Raleigh has spread out.

GS: Demographic changes?

ML: Yes, but, you know, those who leave or are no longer with us are replaced by new immigrants.

GS. Thank you for your time and sharing your experiences with Asian Focus .

 

Do you have a story to tell? We’re looking for personal stories and family stories for any Asians living with ties to the Triangle. If you have a story to tell, contact us!