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Julie’s Milky Way

Homecomings are such joyous events. After so many years, you meet up with old friends, some of whom you haven’t seen in ages. It is a time for reminiscing, for catching up with the past, for bringing back fond, old memories and a chance for comparing not just notes but waistlines and silver threads as well.

At times, homecomings can also be sad, unexpected and difficult to comprehend.

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Last week, Julie Gamboa came home from Singapore. After nine weeks spent at Mt. Elizabeth Hospital in the island state fighting an uphill battle against a rare form of blood disorder, she moved her oxygen mask and gently indicated to Nards (her husband Leonardo) that it was time to go. Perhaps at some point during her long illness, she saw what some people who had been to the edge have reported seeing—a place of great beauty, peace and comfort. And so she slipped away quietly.

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Whenever I wanted some really good kare-kare, or fried hito, or craved for some halo-halo (in spite of my being a diabetic), I would go down to Milky Way on Pasay Road and order my favorite Filipino dishes. Perhaps the best part of the meal would be Julie, who never failed to drop by and make sure I got things exactly the way I wanted them. The personal touch is often the mark of distinction and excellence in the food industry.

Many years ago, Milky Way was a simple ice cream parlor in the old San Miguel district owned by Doña Maria Cartagena de Tomas. When Doña Maria migrated to the United States, the Araullo sisters bought the business and opened their first outlet on Aguado Street near Malacañang Palace in 1962. I am told there also was a Milky Way in the Malate area, but this eventually closed down.

Julie’s mom, Epifania Valbuena of Guagua, Pampanga, soon added selections of her own like dinuguan, relleno, halo-halo, homemade cakes and other Pampango specialties often requested by her regular patrons. Milky Way became a popular eatery with the Palace crowd. Julie’s father was Florencio Araullo, an equally astute entrepreneur.

While working for the Carlos Valdes accounting firm, Julie met a fellow CPA, Leonardo Gamboa of SGV, whose family also came from Guagua. In fact the Valbuenas and Gamboas were old family friends, but it was only later that Julie and Nards really got to know each other. They were married in 1963.

In the 1970s, Julie opened her first Milky Way located at the Fast Food Center in downtown Makati. It was a huge success and led to several other branches in one-stop restaurants, office cafeterias and executive dining outlets.

After a few years, Julie and Nards decided to move away from the fast food and cafeteria business that involved higher rentals, lower margins and tighter competition. They put up their own building on Pasay Road (the present location of the main Milky Way outlet) and with a Japanese partner, they opened what is considered one of the premier Japanese restaurants in the country, Tsukiji.

In 1994 El Cirkulo Tapas Bar & Restaurant was opened and introduced Manilans to Spanish tapas, sangrias, with a fun ambience to go with the new dining experience. When the bar concept faded away in popularity, El Cirkulo became Cirkulo Restaurant with a revamped menu that included contemporary dishes aside from the original Spanish favorites.

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With the growing popularity and appreciation of Thai cuisine among Filipinos (Bangkok continues to be a holiday destination for our people), Milky Way brought in two Thai cooks and opened Azuthai Restaurant serving home-style Thai fare. It would attract a new market segment since Thai food was also a favorite among expats in the city.

Before she left, Julie made sure Milky Way remained in capable hands. Popsie, the eldest of the Gamboa children, runs Milky Way at the Power Plant. Malu, along with Jay, one of the top chefs in the country, look after the main restaurant on Pasay Road. A small outlet was opened several months ago at the Greenhills Shopping Center in San Juan. Another daughter, Gina, is a lawyer with one of the top law firms in the country. She also left behind six grandchildren.

Last Thursday, classmates of Julie from St. Theresa’s College Class of ’54 gathered for her final homecoming. Always generous and ready with a helping hand, she was the treasurer for life of her class. Her passing has created a vacuum that her friends and family members will find difficult to fill.

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In the normal course of life, it is usually the children who bury their parents. Sometimes it is the other way around.

A few weeks ago, former President Fidel V. Ramos lay to rest Josephine “Jo” Ramos, the second of his five daughters. On her tombstone were etched the lines, “God’s daughter, talented person, beloved mom.”

My own father buried a daughter and three sons.

Somehow I was reminded of a letter written to a friend who had just lost a son:

“There are no words to dispel your feelings at this time. And there is no time that will ever dispel them … When one of our children goes out of our life, you think of what he might have done with a few more years and you wonder what you are going to do with the rest of yours. Then one day, because there is a world to be lived in, you find yourself a part of it again trying to accomplish something—something that he did not have time enough to do and perhaps that is the reason for it all.”

We all wish that life were simpler. That loved ones never have to die. That tragedy can be avoided. But that would imply the loss of our humanity. In the end, it is the Almighty that sustains us all.

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Preschool students at Bobon Second Elementary School in Camiling, Tarlac, took a day off from school for fun-filled festivities with singing, dancing, games and tasty treats to celebrate the inauguration of their new school building. The two-classroom edifice was a gift from the International Bazaar Foundation (IBF) to a charity chaired by Mrs. Pinky Aquino-Abellada, AGAPP Foundation Inc., which stands for Aklat, Gabay, Aruga Tungo sa Pag-Angat at Pag-Asa. In cooperation with the Department of Education, AGAPP aims to build as many preschool classrooms and libraries as it can raise money for its Silid Pangarap program. Since its inception on Aug. 1, 2010, AGAPP has built a total of 109 early education classrooms throughout the country. Mrs. Gretchen Del Rosario, wife of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario and chairperson of the IBF, along with Rep. Enrique “Henry” Cojuangco (1st District, Tarlac) cut the ceremonial ribbons for both classrooms. Before this, the young kids attended their kindergarten classes in a bamboo structure with no running water, a dearth of books and instructional materials and a miserable lack of preparation for quality education.

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TAGS: El Cirkulo Tapas Bar & Restaurant, Epifania Valbuena, Guagua, Homecomings, Jay Gamboa, Jo Ramos, Julie Gamboa, Milky Way, Pampanga, President Fidel V. Ramos, Tsukiji
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