Ode to Joe

03 March 2018, Los Baños, Laguna–When I saw this handwritten note outside the all too familiar door of Joe’s, my heart sank. It was a goodbye that meant a lot–maybe too much. Because for me, and for a lot of elbi people, Joe’s was a restaurant that held too many memories.

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For most, it was the restaurant you brought someone you were serious with. At that time, Joe’s was perhaps the most expensive restaurant in Los Baños, but no one complained because the food was exemplary. Back when there weren’t too many food stops and restaurants in elbi, Joe’s was always the top choice for dates, special occasions, or a major catching up session with a good friend you haven’t seen in a while.

For college students, you had to earn going to Joe’s. You had to save your allowance just to take that special girl to that very special place. That moment at Joe’s, sitting at one of their tables with the red covers–precious indeed.

It was this small, cozy, intimate place that Los Baños students and residents reserved for the momentous events in their lives. Their meals that ranged from PhP 200 to PhP 300 were still cheap compared to high-end fancy places in Manila, but for the elbi lifestyle back then, Joe’s was a luxury and every time you dined there it was special. For a time, it was the only place to get good pasta and steak.

And now, just like that, it’s gone.

Every time I’m at Joe’s I see the happy faces of the people there. Usually there are couples and families all celebrating birthdays, or anniversaries, and other victories. Each time I dined there, it was with people special to me. I had a lot of catch up sessions there, a lot of tita dinners, dates, birthdays, and even some random night outs when we just wanted some good food.

It was never crowded. It was always filled with the right amount of people. You could always have intimate conversations and you could tell secrets. It felt like home. It was like you were in the kitchen of an Italian couple. My grandparents who lived in Italy for a long time also enjoyed the food at Joe’s.

And now, just like that, it’s gone.

Los Baños is not without fancy restaurants. For a while, Bonitos was the expensive place to dine in for special occasions. Then came Faustina’s and Dalcielo among others. Then slowly, but consistently, more food choices popped up all over this small town. And it was good. It was fun, especially for a foodie like me. But as the students became richer, the restaurants that popped up also had higher prices. In fact, the prices of some of these places were even higher than Joe’s.

And as other restaurants closed and were replaced, I never thought Joe’s would be one to go.

Because it was always just there.

But now it’s suddenly not.

And maybe that was the problem.

Maybe we took you for granted, and I’m sorry for that.

We may never know why you decided to go.

We don’t know if you will resume operations.

And all we can do for now, is mourn and hope.

Goodbye, Joe.

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