Larry J. Cruz, My First Boss

LJC. He was my first boss. It was a shock to hear about his death last Monday.

LJC was the first true bon vivant I met. The year I worked for him was before the LJC Restaurant Group was even formally named although they already had a string of restaurants open in the Philippines and in Washington DC. That was the year Karihan Karitela and Cafe Adriatico-Hong Kong were opened. It was an exciting time and I was so young – everything was just so new to me. Your first job is always your baptism of fire and it was for me…I still shudder when I recall how dumb I was back in those days.

LJC: Hello Mita, what did you do today?

Me: Sir, you won’t believe this…I typed ONE letter the whole day today.

LJC: Ummm….I’m not paying you to type one letter a day….

Is it any wonder I didn’t stay on long as his secretary, with my boss mostly in the US on vacation! I was promptly moved to the Marketing department. But I learned so much working for LJC. He was involved in every phase of conceptualizing, menu-planning, recipe-testing, building and construction and marketing of each and every single restaurant he opened. Everyone knows he was also a former journalist and government press officer and avid antique collector before he became a restaurateur so there was nothing that escaped his watchful eyes. I learned just by watching and listening and boy did I lap it all up.
If there’s any one person I cannot separate from LJC when I think back, it was his father. Ambassador Emilio Aguilar Cruz, Lolo Amba as his family and all his employees called him, was LJC’s best friend and probably the biggest influence in his life. It was always a pleasure seeing those two men interact – more than father and son they were mentor and student, best friends. LJC had a reverence and respect for his father like nothing I’ve ever encountered. That truly was a special relationship.

I remember LJC, like his father, had that curiosity for new technologies. You might guess my age if I tell you one story to back me up…but here goes…

When cellphones were just introduced in the market, LJC promptly got one and was on and on about how wonderful it was he could conduct business while sitting in his car weaving through the infamous Manila to Makati traffic of those days.

Lolo Amba on the other hand was so fascinated by a photocopy of my hand I had tacked by my desk and asked if it was a fax copy. He went on about how wonderful fax was and how easy communicating had become. Sadly, I lost contact with them before the internet and email. I always wondered how Amb. Cruz would have felt about it all. He would have been a great blogger if he ever got into it.

LJC’s mother, Fely de Jesus-Cruz or Lola Ising as we called her, was another fixture in those days at Bistro Burgos. She’d come by usually in the afternoons and sit by the restaurant patio. I loved talking to her and listening to her stories of when she was a young wife and mother. She was a published writer too so her stories were all very interesting and brought me to an era I never experienced.

Those days, it seemed LJC was always in a hurry…he had this purposeful shuffle, with both hands in his pockets, walking from his car to his office in an old converted garage right next to the old Bistro Burgos. I’d spy him from the second floor window of my office and before I even had time to prepare he’d be barging in with an energy that always surprised me.

He’d be on the phone with his daughter first…then he’d have his stereo playing classical, jazz or broadway music depending on his mood, and conduct his business in just a couple of hours with people coming and going through my office it made my head spin …and then he’d be off again…to one of the restaurants most probably.

LJC’s passing has left a big, gaping hole in Philippine society. He was a forceful influence not just in the restaurant industry or publishing or urban renewal. In a way, you could say his influence spanned a couple of generations of restaurant patrons in the country and raised the bar for what to expect when you enter a restaurant….spoiled us all if you will.
As each and every person walks into any restaurant bearing his name in the future, they will be welcomed into Larry Cruz’s world…a wonderful, soothing world of the best food and and music, set against an ambiance only Larry Cruz could dream up.

12 Replies to “Larry J. Cruz, My First Boss”

  1. hey mita, i just happened to stumble upon your blog..and im really touched about what you wrote about my father, even as his son there are stories about him i dont know. so i would like to extend my thanks to people like you who write so generously about him, and at the same time letting me learn more about my father who was one of THE MOST admirable men in my life. If there is anything pls feel free to email me:

    thanks again!

    with best regards, Raphael Cruz

  2. Hello Raphael…You are most welcome. I was very saddened by your dad’s passing. At 66, he really was gone too soon.

    Sadly, we never met although I heard you were the handsomest baby. The year you were born was the year before I left the company. I hope your relationship with your dad was close to what he had with your Lolo Amba….that would have been the best legacy he could leave you and your brother. I’ll email you with more stories from that period when I worked for LJC…those were the company’s glory years in my eyes…then again, I have reason to be biased.

    My sincere condolences to your family…

  3. Hi Mita!
    LJC was indeed a person to remember. I also worked at LJC-RG as the marketing officer of Inner Circle. He always treated everyone like family. I would recall the times he would invite us over at their place in Pasay. Raphael and Leonardo were just toddlers the last time I saw them. (Please send my condolences to Raphael if you happen to have his email)

    Peace be upon the soul of Larry J. Cruz! It’s unfortunate I missed out on his wake at Santuario, worst not even able to pay him a visit when I came back to the Philippines.

  4. I never knew him but from your stories, I think he was someone whom you would describe as larger than life. I know how much you admired him, as I am sure, countless others. I am so sorry to hear about his passing.

  5. Hiro, it certainly is….hard to imagine the Manila restaurant scene without LJC.

    Hello Mike, I was around when the Inner Circle was being conceptualized! Oh gosh, those were the days…I was with the Marketing Department then with Mark Wilson handling most of the ICC details. Raphael posted his email addy right in his comment.

    Dettie, come home soon and we’ll have lunch in Abe in Serendra or Trinoma…or maybe Fely J in Greenbelt. How nice that there are restaurants named after LJC’s parents….and I’m so lucky I got to meet both of them.

  6. Hi Mita,

    It was a shocking news for me to hear about LJC’s passing. Just like you, I also worked for Larry Cruz as his secretary. It was the best years of my career having the experience to work with a very talented boss like LJC. He had definitely change the concept of fine dining in the Philippines. I feel nostalgic and remember a few people like Mang Cata (the ever loyal chauffeur of LJC), Lola Ising (I didn’t know that she also passed away). I still have the sweater that she gave me. Gee, that was more than 10 years now and I’m still using it here in Australia. And Lolo Amba (I was there during the wake). It was like a big family working with LJC. I’m pretty sure that LJC will be missed and it won’t be the same without him.

    My condolences to the family!

  7. Dear all,

    Raphael here once again. I am coming home from Singapore somewhere between August and September. We now live a stone’s throw away from abe in Serendra. If ever anyone of you mi padre’s amigo’s especially are around. Do let me know when you drop by you can ask the managers il find a way so you can get in touch with me. But for now my email is

  8. Hi Raphael! I’ll take you up on that…

    Do you have any plans for Sept. the 17th? I remember that was your dad’s birthday. I hope all the restaurants in the LJC chain will have something special on that date every year….like a Toast to Larry or something….his was a life to celebrate, don’t you think?

  9. Hi! I just came across this now.

    I’m loving Fely J’s!! 🙂

    I wish they opened one in QC!!

    The only one we have in the QC area is Abe – which is also good!

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