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.