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Donnie Tantoco’s ‘grocerant’ in the ‘hood takes off

From Rockwell Proscenium, Joel’s Place, an idea whose time has come, expands to Glorietta

Joel’s Place
Joel's Place CEO Donnie Tantoco and son Christian
Joel’s Place

Joel’s Place CEO Donnie Tantoco and COO Christopher Tantoco

Joel’s Place opens July 11, 2024 at Glorietta Ayala Center Makati.

Donnie Tantoco wanted a space that was not only community-centric, but also one that felt like a tight neighborhood, where it’s possible for diners to talk across tables, where they somehow know about each other and can throw greetings and pleasantries at each other. Tantoco wanted a community space that would be both a grocery and a restaurant—a “grocerant”— where you pick out fresh produce and, if you want, have it cooked right there and then. Moreover, he wanted a source-to-shelf space that brings to the busy urbanite goods from the country’s far-flung areas, our local harvest made accessible on the fast lane.

Joel’s Place

Joel’s Place at Proscenium Rockwell

All this came true. The vision of Donnie Tantoco, who comes from the third generation of the country’s premier retail clan behind Rustan’s, has been concretized. Joel’s Place, which opened end of 2023, is now a bustling place at the Proscenium Retail Row at Rockwell Center along Estrella St. in Makati, where the community can come as early as breakfast for coffee, power drinks or bread at the open counter, and on to after dinner, where people hang out to chat and chill over their choice pica-pica.

The president and CEO of Joel’s Place, Tantoco is backed by his wife, Crickette, a seasoned supermarket retailer herself who worked on the start-up operations of Joel’s Place, and only son Christian, who immersed himself in the communities, from Cavite to Aklan, where they sourced dilis and other produce.

Apparently, Joel’s Place is an idea whose time has come. From Rockwell, its concept will be replicated at Glorietta, Ayala Center Makati, where it is opening on the ground floor on July 11, 2024.

The Tantocos meant Joel’s Place to be a neighborhood hub, and it’s become just that at Rockwell Proscenium, where, we noticed, Joel’s Place is like the extended pantry of the home, with residents and other diners foregoing supermarket shopping elsewhere to simply peer over and choose the day’s produce at the counter.

Joel’s Place

Joel’s Place

Ready-to-eat dishes at Joel’s Place

Joel’s Place

The Butcher meat offerings at Joel’s Place

There are gourmet delicacies like Martiko Bloc de Foie Gras de Pato, a premium duck foie gras block renowned for its exceptional quality, or Dok Dall’Ava Prosciutto Bone-In Leg (Dok Dall’Ava only produces 30,000 legs of ham a year to ensure high quality). There are ready-to-eat dishes; a favorite, for instance, is Adlai Seafood Paella, where Spanish cuisine is given the flair of indigenous Filipino produce. The carving station has the Lechon Style Pork Belly and Prime Rib Roast. There’s also the Beef Yakiniku Skewers.

Sourced from local farms and gardens are pako, the Prime Organics’ adlai, and from the artisan kitchens, the Fruit Garden’s jams made from Philippine fruits.

Joel’s Place

Freshly baked savory pastries at Joel’s Place

Joel’s Place

Savory and freshly baked empanadas and ‘cronadas’ at Joel’s Place

The bakery, which opens at 7am, has freshly baked, artisanal bread that draws customers to the counter at breakfast even before the restaurant opens, from good old pan de sal and whole wheat baguette with dried fruit, to novel offerings fresh off the oven, like the Pulled Pork Cronada, croissant-empanada combined and filled with pork adobo

Donnie told TheDiarist.ph that the bakery, which taps the artisanal community, “carries the element of nostalgia.” It is his way of reliving a slice of his childhood, back to basics—the pan de sal, the pan de coco, in the morning—and introducing it to his children’s generation. The malunggay pan de sal is worth checking out.

Joel’s Place

Pastries and chocolates at the bakery of Joel’s Place

The desserts are tempting, like Mango Cream Bomb, a tart and creamy confection of mango mousse bites coated in chocolate, and the Coconut Streusel Pie, a mini pie filled with creamy young coconut custard, topped with queso de bola crumble.

Christian recalled, “Lolo Benny often told us that not having dessert is like a date without a kiss.” “Lolo Benny” is the late Ambassador Bienvenido Tantoco, the beloved patriarch of the Rustan’s Group of Companies. Donnie is his eldest grandchild.

Touring TheDiarist.ph around the over 800-sqm space of Joel’s Place, Donnie narrated how the germ of an idea came to be: “We wanted a good food concept in Manila inspired by London and Paris. What struck us in Paris, like in Le Marais, is the neighborhood feel of the resto. So the first thing I asked the designer was to design a space that doesn’t feel like a store, but a neighborhood, an experience, like a food or gastronomic gallery.”

The pandemic gave Donnie some time to think and, in his words, “reimagine things.”

For the Rockwell residents—the captive market—to treat Joel’s Place as if it was the extension of their pantry, Donnie explained, “We have to look into what their day-to-day life is like, to be able to give them something meaningful, high quality, a repetitive experience. Something that elevates their daily lives.”

Christian Tantoco, Donnie and Crickette’s son who so noticeably remains passionate about Joel’s Place, focuses on what he calls the “narrative,” being the visual content creator that he is. “We need to remain focused on the narrative,” he told TheDiarist.ph. “Source to shelf. We went around the country, to about five different parts, spent a few days in the community. We discovered the boneless dilis in Aklan, and learned that it takes more than 100 people to produce the packed dilis that we have here—the catch, sent to different communities for deboning, drying, cleaning, packing, then selling.”

Fresh fruits and vegetables at Joel’s Place

Fresh fruit shakes and juices at Joel’s Place

Christian and his team went also to Laguna for the fresh produce.

All this is in the narrative captured on film. “It’s simply amazing to know the country through its food.” Christian spoke about their time in Roxas City.

It took the team about eight months to develop the recipes, some of them discovered elsewhere. From Davao, for instance, comes an heirloom dark chocolate cookie recipe from the family of one of Joel’s Place staff.

Christian is proud of the Juicer section—for mocktails, smoothies, shakes, juices, the options change regularly. “I come every morning here for the power shots,” said Christian, “fruits packed with vitamins. Taste your vitamins, your nutrients, your fruits. There are no preservatives. You can choose the sweetness level. We don’t really add sugar to the base, so it’s as fresh as can be. The good food that’s good for you.”

Donnie recalled how “Project Joel” started in Subic, where the Tantocos have the duty-free chain. It was originally “Project Joe,” as in G.I. Joe—Subic being formerly the US military bases site. Then it became Project Joel, perhaps an eventual “intercession” of his late brother, Joel, who was attached to Paris and who loved the French language and the French culture.

So Joel’s Place came to be. “Even the signature looks similar to his. We didn’t make it that way, but it just happened,” said Donnie with a smile.

Indeed, Joel’s Place happened. And it could very well be the game-changer of 2024–2025 in the dining/retail food industry.—Thelma Sioson

Joel’s Place

Christian Tantoco and Camille Tantoco Ng, consultants for Joel’s Place

Joel’s Place is open daily, 9 a.m. to 9p.m., located at the G/F The Proscenium Retail Row, Estrella St., Rockwell Center Makati.

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