Beyond the Limits

The Texas Story Project.

Interior of the M.Y. Chock Dee grocery store and restaurant.

Merle Rivera was born in the Philippines and migrated to Texas in 1976. Helping reduce hardships for her family and siblings was her primary motivation in everything that she did. She felt so fortunate as soon as she moved to Texas that she kissed the ground as she arrived.

The Filipino culture is vibrant and lovely where we welcome almost every individual with open arms. Our country is well known for its sceneries like the beaches, outdoor activities, and historical artifacts. But behind all these wonders, the Philippines is also a country where families are living in poverty as they struggle to make a living. There are children who have no proper education because their parents are unable to provide for their needs. Filipinos sacrifice everything to have at least one child with a college degree. That tension between few opportunities in the Philippines versus better opportunities in the United States and Texas drew Merle and other Filipinos to work abroad.

Merle and Yong Dawsey are the two business owners who operate M.Y. Chock Dee, a Filipino store with a buffet dining located in Universal City, Texas where locals enjoy the delicious Filipino dishes and desserts. Both Merle and Yong started their business from the root until it flourished into what it is now. With a budget of $5,000 they bought equipment that provided a service and an opportunity to showcase their passion for serving others. Back in the early 2000s Merle and Yong had a restaurant called "Mekeni" which was located a few blocks away from their store. At times they would host the boxing events of the famous Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao. Their customers would enjoy both their food and the defining moment of the event. But now, Merle and Yong have combined both the grocery store and buffet dining into one location so that it would be more convenient for their customers to not only eat a scrumptious meal, but also to take home snacks and other goods from their small Filipino market. It’s not just about being a business owner. It’s about serving others in a non-traditional way.

Merle thanks her employees for their day-to-day hard work and kindness to their customers. She also rewards them by taking them out to eat at good restaurants in San Antonio, Austin, and all other cities. It became their tradition that she wants her employees to value their success just as if they were her own children. Likewise, when an issue arises, particularly if a customer dehumanizes her employees, Merle steps up and confronts the issue as she strongly protects her own workers. The biggest issue is that we often treat workers in the food industry as if they were slaves. Merle and Yong disagree with this attitude.

Their pricing for their buffet is reasonable for what you’ll see on the line. Whenever my family dines at their restaurant, we value the freshness of the food and feel grateful that they are consistent with filling up the line as the food trays become empty.

Merle’s favorite part about being a Texan is supporting her family. She also likes traveling all over Texas and visiting other restaurants in other cities. One of Merle’s favorite moments was to hear her customers’ feedback that they would recommend her business to the people that they know.

In the near future I can definitely see the opportunity here in San Antonio, Texas for this Mexican-influenced community to add a touch of a Filipino culture to embrace the diversity within ourselves. Filipinos somewhat replicate Mexican dishes when it comes to pork, chicken, and beef. Some of the top Filipino entrées that our culture has been known for are Spring Rolls, Pancit, Lechon, Sisig, Halo-Halo, and so much more.

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