From a hole-in-the-wall, Halo Halo de Iloko is now a well-known restaurant offering comfort food to both locals and tourists in San Fernando, La Union.

When the restaurant-museum was just starting in 2004, Xavier Balangue Mercado used a portion of their garage to offer halo-halo.

Xavier shared that the name of the restaurant came from ‘Museo de Iloko’, a popular museum in Agoo, La Union. Little did he know that the small restaurant tucked in a garage would make it big.

From a single menu, Halo Halo de Iloko slowly expanded to offer more to its growing customer base. Today, both locals and tourists rave about the unique and tasty local dishes that the restaurant offers.

Singage of the Halo Halo de Iloko restaurant in La Union

Starting small

Initially, Xavier set up a dining area in the garage where the public could dine in. He recalled that he was literally crawling in the dark as the space is limited and he did not have enough resources yet. The refrigerator was only lent by his parents.

With only Php 25,000 as capital, Xavier used this amount to start his dream of owning his own restaurant.

Just like any other business, Xavier had to face financial, manpower, and supply challenges before Halo Halo de Iloko became successful.

“I wanted to hire additional employees to help me with the operations, but I did not have enough money that time,” he recalled. He then decided to tap his close friends and relatives in running the restaurant.

“Friends would come here to help me serve customers,” said Xavier who has always been grateful to friends and relatives who extended their support.

After a few months, Xavier’s recipe of halo-halo lured many customers—even during rainy season.

Ingredients of Halo Halo in cups

Special Halo Halo of Halo Halo de Iloko, served in coconut shell

Xavier has always loved halo-halo as a dessert, and tried creating his own version, which is offered at Halo-Halo de Iloko.

When Xavier noticed the increasing customers, he decided to expand the menu by offering various Ilocano cuisines, thereby standing out among existing restaurants in the province of La Union.

Boosting local tourism

Xavier shared that they get supplies from local farmers and fisherfolks. “Around 98% of our supplies all come from La Union,” he said, adding that they would look for other suppliers only after they have exhausted the possible sources in their province. In times when the supplies within the province are not enough, Xavier would try to get in touch with farmers in other provinces such as Pangasinan, Cagayan, and Ilocos Sur.

Xavier Balangue Mercado presenting their well-renowned special Halo-Halo

Interior of Halo Halo de Iloko restaurant

Xavier also tries to promote local tourism and local products by selling souvenir items in the restaurant.

A testament to the success of Halo Halo de Iloko is the demand for a bigger space to accommodate the increasing number of customers, which is also a challenge for Xavier. The need for a bigger parking space pushed Xavier to consider to move to a better location.

The ladder to success, however, does not come easy. As an excellent cook, he is aware that this alone is not enough to have a successful food business. He went out of his way to learn how to run a business.

He shared that the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) helped him through the Kapatid Mentor ME (KMME) program. “KMME taught me innovation and creativity,” he said. He added that the program made him realize the importance of having a good attitude to become successful.

Asked on how budding entrepreneurs could succeed, he said: “One should have perseverance, determination, passion, and a vision for the business to become successful.” He said entrepreneurs should learn the different aspects of running a business and be willing to mentor employees as well.

More than the profit, Xavier underscored the importance of finding ways on how a business could help the community.

Xavier Balangue Mercado preparing a special Halo Halo