Many people who see the ubiquitous Lechon Manok ni Sr. Pedro sign all over the country assume it is the eponymously named entrepreneur who formulated its unique winning taste.
But it wasn’t now Misamis Oriental Governor Peter M. Unabia who concocted the winning formula, but rather his older brother Antonietto who stumbled across it after a series of ventures which all seemed doomed to fail. Antonietto Mamawag Unabia, is the second eldest sibling of Daciano Unabia, a rice farmer from Carcar, Cebu, and Teresa, a housewife. He was graduated with a B.S. Commerce degree from San Isidro College in what is now Bukidnon’s capital city. When he retired from the Philippine National Bank (PNB) as a credit investigator after 12 years of service, Nieto as he is known to friends, took his lump sum retirement pension and decided to go into business. During 1991-1992, he went into various small business ventures taking the Bachelor Bus around Mindanao. At one time or another he was a comprador of fish from Surigao, dressed chicken from Cebu, office supplies from Cagayan de Oro, veterinary supplies, and even put up a pool hall and mahjong parlor in his residence. All failed. Down but not out, Nieto rented half of a 32 square meter lot next to the PNB-Malaybalay branch and started selling snacks to his former colleagues. Later, he also began providing breakfast and eventually full meals to much the same clients. Named “Middle Chamber”, Nieto functioned as an all-around factotum for his wife Bienvenida (Nida), helping prepare the food, run errands and the like. It was during these dire times that the idea to sell “Lechon Manok” came to him as he noted how their litsonero Fredo became idle after 9:00 AM since he had already finished broiling the morning’s menu. With broilers sourced from nearby backyard poultries, Nieto started experimenting with formulations until he hit the right one which suited his taste. Lechon manok became his obsession as a 4th year high school student after he listened with rapt attention to a classmate who often talked to him about their family’s pork lechon business. Still unbranded, Nieto’s “litson manok’ started selling a whole chicken at P90 although he also sold it as cut-ups like wings, legs and chest. As usual, it was his faithful band of PNB colleagues who started bringing whole litson manoks home to share it with their family instead of simply dining in at the Middle Chamber. “When we started, I was thinking that with only 30 lechon manok sold daily, I would have already approximated my salary at PNB,” he recalls. Soon, the Malaybalay store was selling 200 litson manok a day. Nieto recalls the time when former president Gloria M. Arroyo was still a senator, her husband Mike Arroyo polished off two whole chickens in one sitting. “Kalami jud” (It’s so delicious) was a comment he would begin hearing from his customers as sales continued to soar. It was during this time that his younger brother Peter, took notice of his brother’s success and decided to open a branch in Cagayan de Oro. A B. S. Agriculture major in Animal Husbandry from Xavier University (Ateneo de Cagayan), Peter had just retired from his job as detailman from Unilab and began looking for other businesses to augment the family income from his first business delivering basic commodities on order from house-to-house using a motorized tricycle (motorela) he drove himself. “Our first ever branch outlet was at the corner of Hayes and Corrales Ave fronting Xavier University (Ateneo de Cagayan) under the brand name “Lechon Manok ni Sr. Pedro” from the popular RMN radio drama “Ang Manok ni San Pedro”. The first branch was a partnership between the two brothers which sourced its dressed chicken from Vitarich. “Sales in our first branch were so-so but we had a hit with our second branch in Ozamiz where we priced down our Lechon Manok ni Sr. Pedro to only P90 vs. the P120 offered by competitors,” Nieto recalls. By the time the third outlet opened in Iligan, the fledgling business had already attained sufficient volume to warrant a service truck. Besides its wholesome taste, Nieto also identified their consistent use of aluminum foil to wrap their lechon manok as another reason why people continued to flock to their outlets in Cagayan de Oro , Iligan and Ozamiz. “We were pioneers in the use of aluminum foil instead of banana leaves to wrap our litson manok,” Nieto said. “It’s a little more expensive but taste keeps better, and hygiene is important.” Today, Lechon Manok ni Sr. Pedro has over 500 branches nationwide. The usual stall is only manned by one person who doubles as “litsonero” and cashier. There’s no franchise system to speak off, and the usual takers are relatives and friends. From its humble beginnings with the “Middle Chamber” in Malaybalay City, Lechon Manok ni Sr. Pedro now boasts of vertically and horizontally integrated operations which include a feed mill, ice plant, dressing plant, grower operations (commercial large scale and livelihood backyard through Anak Tering Foundation, dressed chicken (Manok Pinoy) and Fido Prito fried chicken in Manila, Cebu and Davao, all under the holding company Anakciano Inc. named in honor of their late father Daciano while Tering is named in honor of the family’s late mother Teresa.
Lechon Manok ni Sr. Pedro has indeed come a long way from its humble beginnings in a backyard lot in Malaybalay and from the way things are going, it’s going to travel further still.