Currently, there are two brands in the market: ELAR’S and ELAR Z. Which one is the original? Who has the right to claim that they pioneered the best breed of lechon?Here is our story:
ELAR history started in 1941, Jose Lontoc of Taal, Batangas, married Leonor Rodriguez of Montalban, Rizal (daughter of Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez who served as Senate President of the Philippines in 1952-1953 and in 1953-1963). The couple was given a 34 hectare land in Leonor’s hometown and it was then that they thought to engage in hog-raising to produce pork meat for public markets.ETIMOLOGY:
Jose Lontoc and Leonor Rodriguez (c. 1960) ELAR is a combination of two surnames LONTOC and RODRIGUEZ. The letter L (pronounced EL) and the letter R (pronounced AR). LEONOR RODRIGUEZ (the eldest daughter of Amang Rodriguez) got married to JOSE LONTOC which gave birth to the brand name ELAR. It was only natural for them to try to roast some pigs for the family, as it was, and still is, a Filipino tradition to have lechon at special family celebrations. It turned out so well that later, relatives and friends clamored for more. By word of mouth, the popularity of the lechon by ELAR spread and the demand from customers had to be met.
They were blessed with five children – all girls. They are Josephina Lontoc-Portillo, Dolores Lontoc-Santos, Melinda Lontoc- Zalamea, Bubut Lontoc-Ora and Marilen Lontoc-Hidalgo. My mother Melinda Lontoc Zalamea was the first one who got married and had kids. Manjo Lontoc Zalamea and Manric Lontoc Zalamea (the first apo's) were born during the 60’s.
Through the years, Jose and Leonor perfected the roasting of the lechon aided by their passion for cooking. They discovered that the best lechon was produced by a combination of having the appropriate breed of pig, the proper feeding and caring for the pig, the method of slaughtering and dressing, and most importantly, the roasting. Jose, an engineer by profession, developed a mechanized system of roasting which turns the pig over the charcoal at a specified speed (depending on the size of the pig) to assure even cooking and avoid over- and under cooking. So in 1972, they formalized Elar Lechon which promised the best-tasting lechon to its growing customer base.
Unfortunately, Manric’s parents marriage turned sour. Because of this, we lived with our grandparents and were brought to Elar Farm (located at San Rafael, Rodriguez, Rizal) every weekend from 1970’s up to year 2000. We stayed with our grandparents most of our lives. Because of being deprived with male children we became the favorites.Initially the ELAR brand has several business entities like Elar Development Corp., (Piggery and Slaughterhouse operations) Slaughter House Operations, Casa Elar Inc. (restaurant in Speaker Perez QC) and Elarfoods Inc (Catering). Melinda Zalamea is the right hand of Jose M. Lontoc (Chairman and founder of the lechon business, piggery operations, restaurant operations and slaughter house). Josefina Lontoc Portillo and Dolores Santos were operating the catering services as their personal business using the family corporation called Elarfoods Inc.
As Elar’s Lechon grew, Manjo and Manric, were the apprentices of our grandparents when we were still studying and we learned the ins and outs of the piggery and the lechon business. Both grandchildren loved animals and went with their grandparents every weekend on their piggery farm. Manjo and until such time that we were able to work fully under the lechon business. This means that the operations of Elar Lechon, Elar Farm and Slaughter House operations were for Jose M. Lontoc (Jepot) and the Zalamea family (Melinda, Manjo and Manric). We supply lechon for the catering services of Josefina Portillo and Dolores Santos under Elarfoods which later migrated to Cuisine et flur.
Under normal circumstances, the Lontoc business should have been divided among the five aforementioned heirs. Operations-wise, the lechon business is under the Zalamea family while Josie Lontoc and Dolores Santos are in charge of the catering end. The two other heirs, Bubut Lontoc-Ora and Marilen Lontoc-Hidalgo did not get involved because they migrated to the US.
Leonor Rodriguez passed away on 1997, followed by Jose Lontoc and Melinda Zalamea on the year 2000. Soon after, Josie Lontoc-Portillo and Dolores Santos took it upon themselves that they are the rightful owners of all assets of the Lontoc family. The Zalamea family only wanted to get their rightful share and start their own but they were denied by the Josie Lontoc Portillo faction. ELAR Z was born when we decided not to pursue the unhealthy and “almost bloody” estate war. We just wanted to continue the legacy of my grandparents of being the top lechon brand in the Philippines during that time.
In the quest to greatly improve his lechon product, Manric believes that the supply of the raw material which is the native pig, should be addressed. If you can have the best supply you can address 50% of what is needed to produce the best lechon. The other 50% would be comprised of the marination, the roasting process and the system.VISION:
First "Ipaabot ang Pambansang Pagkain ng Filipino sa lahat ng Filipino kahit saan man sa mundo", considering that lechon is the national dish of the Filipino.
Second “to make the national dish of the Filipino available to all segments of the Filipino market from class A-D.
Third “To be able to provide lechon for all, social classes and location notwithstanding” and Third “To be the Filipino dish as the BEST Filipino Food product to be distributed and highlighted in the international market”. On 2016 according to Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern who are considered world-class in the international food industry, the Filipino food is the next big thing in the global market. We have a “foot in the door” so to speak.
The question in Manric's mind since the 80's is why can’t there be a lechon brand that can be as big as other Filipino global brands like Jollibee, McDonalds and KFC? The reasons are:
- Product issue – Consistent crispiness of the skin is hard to standardize.
- Supply issue - the supply for the best breed for lechon is not available.
- How to provide lechon to everybody including the lower C & D market who cannot afford to buy fresh lechon considering that it is expensive.
- Business Strategy to be able to penetrate global market.
When the Josefina L. Portillo faction “took over” the Elar’s piggery, the Pambansang Baboy Project took form. My goal was to have a nationwide expansion but our piggery (Elar Farm) cannot sustain it and backyard operation produces slow-growing pigs, thereby making them not profitable.
Since the beginning of the project-study that started in the 1980's, I have noticed that the pigs that we buy from the provinces are better than the pigs that we produce in Elar Farm. The reason is that the native pigs are slow growers and eat natural food that is why their skin is crispier and the meat taste better. The best breed for lechon are native pigs -- but they grow too slowly. All over the Philippines, the so-called native breeds are actually "Chop suey breed" since they are mostly cross-bred. All of them are backyard operations and are too slow to grow, making them not profitable.
There are no professional entities that took care of native Filipino breed until 2012 when the Department of Agriculture Bureau of Animal Industry started tracing the pure native pigs and developing them in Tiaong Quezon.
Not to mention that backyard farming is the second biggest agricultural business after Palay production, done by small farmers.
In 2011 Manric went to Tito Tony Meloto and Luis Oquinena from Gawad Kalinga to explain my study for the best breed for lechon. The program “Pambansang Baboy Project” would be a good agricultural venue to make the Filipino farmer earn as much as the executives in Manila.
At that time I also partnered with Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and Spread Organic Agriculture in the Philippines (SOAP) in an effort to streamline, assist and promote Pambansang Baboy Project. To make the Filipino farmers on a par with the executives in Manila, I experimented in formalizing the study on the native pigs to be upgraded-native pigs. To make the native pigs grow faster and have better litter size (offspring) and the way to do it was cross breed the native pig to a foreign pig to attain faster growing pigs, more litter size and better taste.
Upon my introduction of this idea to Gawad Kalinga Program for Social Entrepreneurship, Spread Organic Agriculture and DAR, the concept blew sky high. The original intention is to provide livelihood and upgrade the income class of marginal Filipino farmers but because of the beauty of the program, a lot of rich farmers also followed suit and adopted it for their own businesses. The best lechon is a combination of Filipino (local/native) and imported breeds. These crossbreeds are only produced in the Philippines and is a world- class product to produce lechon that can be exported globally!DESTINY
Since its inception in the year 2002 until 2011, ELAR Z was only close to second place to Elars in terms of sales. In terms of branding, Manric carefully planted seeds to be able to build ELAR Z as a solid brand. Some of the seeds are:
- Supplying the 5-star hotels since 2004 (Manila Hotel, Sofitel, Shangri-la group of hotels, SM cooperative, San Miguel Corp, City of Dreams and so forth).
- Documentation of famous customers who buy ELAR Z.
- The President of the Philippines served Elarz Lechon to Pope Francis when he came to the Philippines.
- If Cebu lechon was highlighted by Anthony Bourdain in his show, Elarz was aired by Andrew Zimmern in his show Delicious Destinations (Bizarre Foods) for the lechon brand to be highlighted globally. Please watch the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJTQipnnZAg&t=23s
SOME OF ELAR Z FAMOUS CUSTOMERS SINCE 2004 UP TO PRESENT
- Bloody estate fight for assets.
- Lechon business where Elar’s objective is to destroy ELAR Z.
- My estate lawyer filed 30 cases against me to get Speaker Perez Property.
- In spite of ELAR Z made a record in the franchise industry and sold 150 outlets in Five (5) months. ELAR Z being the cover pages of many banks for being one of the best SME. ELAR Z being highlighted by Gawad Kalinga and one of the highlight programs of Bam Aquino during his announcement for running for public office lost everything due to unforeseen events.
In studying the business from 2002-2011 on the beginning the intention was to beat Elars but trough time it diversified in aiming to be like the big Filipino food brands like Jollibee, Mcdonalds and KFC because there is no big player in the lechon industry that can be at par with them. Manric realized from my organization versus Elars was that Elars organization after the president and up to the last critical employee was better than ELAR Z in all aspects and most specially, they do not believe in Manric’s vision. In learning that Manric decided to create a new team and after 5 months ELAR Z made a record in the franchise industry by selling 150 kiosk outlets.
The unforeseen event is ELAR Z old organization and my wife did not the success in a positive note and sabotaged the operations and in 2013-15 ELAR Z lost everything. Manric and some loyal employees stood up against Elars, Estate lawyer, family feud, and old employees.BRINGING THE PHILIPPINES TO THE WORLD:
Refusing defeat, Manric channeled his will power in studying how to get back and Manric carefully studied and fixed all the mistakes of ELAR Z and created a better program anchored by the following ideologies: To be able to provide lechon for all income class of the Market segment in the Philippines (including C & D market) and to reach the Filipinos all over the world, Manric created “LECHON DE LATA" – THE WORLD’S FIRST CRISPY LECHON IN A CAN. Now there is a LECHON product that can do all of the above. The bigger goal is to provide the Filipino dish to the international market. The pork consumption in the global market is in the millions of metric tons per year and there is no Filipino flavored pork globally, thus that was the opening for global penetration. We would like for the Filipino pork dish to be available to the whole world.
- Malutong - Crispy Skin,
- Laman ay Juicy - flavorful meat and
- A good lechon sauce (soon to be mass produced).
--Lechon de Lata has the qualities of a real lechon if you follow the cooking instructions.
- Lechon de Lata is more than 100% cheaper than fresh lechon thus making ELAR Z Lechon de Lata affordable for all Filipinos.
- Lechon de Lata has a shelf life of 2 years and transportable anywhere. We have made ELAR Z Lechon de Lata product to be available anywhere "Kahit Saan at Kahit Kailan", now all Filipinos all over the world can eat the national dish of the Filipino.
In 2017 ELAR Z launched the better version of the franchise program and I offered the franchise to several prominent people but they all counter offered to be and equity partner which but I declined.
Simultaneously continuing with the program ELAR Z is in partnership with CARD MRI, Department of Agriculture and Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) in its project is called “First World Philippines Program - Support the Filipino Farmer”. Please watch the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNlZgQx9Wyw&t=5sSAVE THE PLANET
Another issue that the program wants to address is Climate Change. Animal farming is the biggest contributor to climate change through the methane animals release from their manure. To address this issue the inclusion of a Biogas Digester is the solution. The second advantage is if the methane is contained it can produce free fuel for the farmer.CELEBRATIONS MADE HEALTHY
We can say that the development of the Best Breed for lechon started with the PAMBANSANG LECHON (ELARZ) brand and we will continue with the development side by side with the Government to create livelihood for thousands of farmers.FIRST WORLD PHILIPPINES
Another First Mover product for global market - Our frozen “Lazang Pinoy” line are frozen lechon using native mestizo breeds (Pambansang Breeds) which is not available in the international market. This project is called “First World Philippines” where the goal is to make the Philippines become closer to a First World Country by making supporting the Filipino farmer. Lazang Pinoy will soon be available in selected supermarkets and will be available in the international market as well.