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Home Community The Lovely Pao, Inc. Story: From a humble home to feeding Ontario, Canada

The Lovely Pao, Inc. Story: From a humble home to feeding Ontario, Canada

The Lovely Pao, Inc. Story: From a humble home to feeding Ontario, Canada
Lovely Pao has changed a lot of lives, not just in Ontario Province but also, and even more so, in the Philippines. Since 2014, when Connie opened her first store in Toronto's famous Little Manila neighbourhood at Wilson and Bathurst, Lovely Pao had been hiring i-Benguet and other Filipino friends. Benguet kailiyans make up 80% of Lovely Pao's workers right now. But the Igorot-owned restaurant doesn't just hire Filipinos; it also hires people from India, Iran, Jamaica, Vietnam, Laos, and Portugal, among other places. (Photo credit: Connie Laoyan)

By Gretchen Mangahas

(President, Kabenguetan Ontario (Association of Indigenous Peoples of Benguet)

Agi Award Nominee:
Concepcion “Connie” Ogues Laoyan
Municipality: Kapangan
Service: Food Business (Photo credit: Connie Laoyan)

Siopao saves Connie’s family

What started as a means to support her family at a time when she was in financial need, ended up as a thriving iBenguet-owned business in Toronto, Canada expanding to two other locations in the province of Ontario (Leamington and Guelph).  Lovely Pao is the first Filipino-owned restaurant ever established in the town of Guelph.

With only $100, Connie who hails from Cadtay, Kapangan, courageously set her mind to start a home-based business selling puto, kutsinta, suman and siopao.  Lovely Pao was born in 2012 when Connie had a hip replacement surgery and was unable to return to her dentistry profession.  She was supporting her son then who was in college pursuing a police foundation program.  With her last pay check, Connie had to think of ways to make the much-needed additional income to sustain her family.  They were about to be evicted from their rental apartment in Toronto.

While at home and without hesitation, Connie thought she can sell home-made food since she knew how to cook.  She was not discouraged when fellow Filipino-owned businesses turned down her ask to sell her products at their stores.  Instead, with her Benguet resilience from her ancestors, she braved uncertainties, improved her products and put up her own business now known as “Lovely Pao, Inc.”  Her product line has expanded to: lomi and mami which are sold at more than 100 store outlets all over Ontario, the most populated province in Canada.  These outlets include established Canadian store chains such as Loblaws, No Frills, Wholesale Club, FreshCo, and Multi Supermarket in Ontario.  Lovely Pao products are also delivered via online food delivery companies such as UberEats, Skip the Dishes and Door Dash.

Lovely Pao offers hope to others

Connie’s innovative and creative mind, coupled with her “guts” pushed her to expand her scope from her small siopao business to producing an average of 1,500 siopaos per day which is around half a million a year enjoyed by patrons in the Greater Toronto Area, Ajax, Oshawa, New Market, Aurora, Barrie, Hamilton, St. Catharines, London and Windsor.  Her business is now registered under the Canada Federal Business allowing her to reach other provinces in Canada.

Lovely Pao is well-known for its quality siopao with its full tasty filling that satisfies every customer unlike most commercial siopaos sold in Canada that are mostly made of fluff.  Connie wanted customers to enjoy their products by ensuring its quality.  Just like the Benguet farming community who feed our country with nutritious vegetables, Connie said that she wants everyone to “eat.”

During the first year when she was starting out, she went around other Filipino-owned stores asking them to sell her products.  She was frequently rejected. Instead of feeling disheartened, Connie took this as a challenge and vowed to help others in their own businesses which she had been doing in the past 10 years.  Lovely Pao now fully operates in three branches – Toronto (in June 2012), Guelph (in October 2019), and Leamington (in October 2022).  Lovely Pao established a buffet restaurant with a 200 sitting capacity in Leamington.

Lovely Pao has impacted many lives not just in Ontario Province, but more significantly, in the Philippines.  In 2014, since Connie opened her first store at Wilson and Bathurst, the famous Little Manila in Toronto, Lovely Pao had been employing fellow i-Benguet and other Filipino kababayans.  Benguet kailiyans currently comprise 80% of Lovely Pao’s workforce.  But the Igorot-owned restaurant does not only employ Filipinos, it also has workers from diverse countries of origin such as India, Iran, Jamaica, Vietnam, Laos, and Portuguese.

Concepcion “Connie” Laoyan received the Excellence in Entrepreneurship and Social Responsibility award, the inaugural award presented by the Province of Benguet under the category Adivay Global Icon (AGI) Awards at this year’s Adivay Festival. The award is presented to exemplary Benguet citizens in recognition of their role as Global Bearers of Benguet Identity. (Photo credit: Connie Laoyan)

Connie has innately carried her “semek kon sik-a,” her love for her family and for others while pursuing her dream of establishing a successful business.  She has since then sponsored the immigration of five workers and 2 families which she hopes to keep doing as her business expands.

In 2021, Connie partnered with an employment agency based in La Trinidad to look for workers to sponsor to Canada.  She said she also wanted to support the employment agency business.  Processing took only 6 to 7 months and upon their arrival in Canada, Connie made sure that Lovely Pao also provides assistance for their settlement.  She said, “I made it a point to hire dagijay talaga nga mangkasapulan tapnu matulungan da.”  (I made it a point to ensure that I hire only those who are truly in need so we can help them). 

Connie as a mentor

Vowing to help others and share her blessings, Connie has mentored a number of Filipinos who seek for her advice.  Two of the now successful businesses that she has assisted are: Ana’s Sweet Creations and London Asia Foods.  Ana’s Sweet Creations started with selling empanadas and is now a store that sells a variety of Filipino snacks.  London Asia Foods started with selling tinapa and is now a restaurant and store selling Filipino food products.

Connie generously shares her own life-lessons and tips on how to start a business.  Her best advice is to “start small and then expand.”  She shared that she would call her “mentees” everyday to check on them and make sure that they were doing okay. 

Connie shares that if a person has a dream, just follow it and do not be disheartened. 

She added to make sure that in pursuing your dream, it is important you have “gaget” (hard work).

Being the only kailiyan who has successfully established a food business in Ontario, Connie is an exemplar i-Benguet immigrant woman whose “semek,”resilience, passion to help others, and diligence is an inspiration worth emulating.  She is the best representation of the full potentials of the Benguet people who have in them the values that makes our province the home of the brave and the free.

 “Madik nga ma-experience ti kakadw tayo ti ma-turn down kasla jay napadasak
 (I don’t want others to experience getting turned down just like I did.) (Photo Credit: Connie Laoyan)

Link to Lovely Pao website/FB Page: https://www.facebook.com/LovelyPaoINC/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lovelypao.inc/?hl=en

Website: https://lovelypao.wixsite.com/lovelypao ; https://lovelypaoinc.ca/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/lovely-pao-inc/?originalSubdomain=ca

Corporation number: https://www.canadacompanyregistry.com/companies/lovely-pao-inc/