Philippines

Potpot in Santa suit: A new take on selling hot pandesal

Potpot in Santa suit: A new take on selling hot pandesal

By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora  

POTPOT IN SANTA SUIT.  Alven Balasabas on his “potpot” bike sells about 600 pandesals every morning to residents of Barangay Greater Lagro in Quezon City.  He also wears two-suit ensemble with a matching tie to attract customers. (PNA photo by Noel Veloso)

MANILA (Philippines News Agency) — When you meet him at the break of dawn, you’d surely mistake him as some ranking executive off to close a business deal in Makati, donning a two-suit ensemble and a matching tie. His first agenda for the day: vend hot pandesal (bread of salt) on a bicycle.

Alven Balasabas or Mayor Alven as the morning risers call him has been an icon in every nook and cranny of Barangay Greater Lagro where he sells hundreds of pandesal daily calling their attention with a horn, a trademark that gave Filipino ambulant bread vendors the onomatopoeic name “potpot” because of the recognizable tooting sound as their bicycles passed by.

In an interview, Alven told the Philippine News Agency that this only started as a temporary gimmick to attract more customers until he grew used to it and his collection expanded.

“Para sa akin iba talaga ang naka-postura kasi malinis tingnan. Nakakatuwa minsan kasi nakakabenta talaga nang mas marami tapos kapag lumalabas ako natatawag pa ako na attorney, minsan naman seaman (For me, it really makes a difference when you’re dressed up because you look neat. It’s rewarding for me because I actually sell fast and sometimes someone would call me attorney or a seaman),” he said.

“Kapag Pasko naman minsan nagdi-disensyo pa ako. Para sa akin maganda kasi nakakapag-bigay ka ng saya sa mga customers mo, ‘pag matuwa sila, matuwa rin ako (When it’s Christmastime, I sometimes design my own clothes. I feel good about it because it gives reason for customers to smile, when they’re happy, I’m elated too).”

‘Spreading smiles’

Cyril Christian Salas, one of his suki or patron, has been buying bread from Alven for at least a year now and even if his pandesal is sized the same with other stores he prefers the suit and tie guy’s rolls more. For him, he finds Alven’s strategy unique and at the same time “inspiring”.

“Malambot ‘yong pandesal niya tapos nakakatuwa pa siyang tingnan dahil nakangiti parati at naka-complete uniform. Ang bansag nga sa kanya mayor kasi naka-suit and tie siya lagi lalo na pag-Christmas (The bread he sells is always soft and he also wears his best smile while in his uniform. We even call him here mayor because he’s always in suit and tie),” he said.

Alven’s customers Dave Dulay and Cyril Salas (PNA photo by Noel Veloso)

Salas said he appreciates Alven more when the Ber months are in since his garb gets more colorful and in tune with the holiday season.

“Naka-Santa hat po siya lagi tapos makulay ang suot niyang coat and tie. Sana ipagpatuloy niya dahil marami siyang nabibigyan ng inspirasyon (When Christmas season comes, he always pulls off a Santa hat in formal attire. I hope that he continues this because there are really some who are inspired by him),” he added.

The same goes for Dave Dulay, whose house is along Alven’s route every morning in Greater Lagro.

“Natutuwa kami kasi mukhang gusto niyang magpasaya. Parang wala siyang problema sa buhay. Kahit sa simpleng pananamit niya napapasaya niya kami (Him being there is good because he seemed sincere in wanting to make someone smile. He’s like someone who doesn’t have a problem in life. His simple way of dressing up really brings joy to some),” he said.

‘Brushing off negativities’

Alven first came to Manila in 2008 to help his family in Masbate by working as a bakery assistant at the store of couple Iris and Florenio Bajande.

“Napakabait na bata, masunurin kasi kung anong sasabihin mo sumusunod siya. Pag natuto na siya ng isang bagay tinatandaan niya, kadalasan ini-improve pa niya (He’s obedient and a good kid. When he learns something he really applies it well and even improves it),” Florenio said.

“Sa taon na pagsu-suot niya niyan, napakita niya na kahit nagtitinda ng pandesal puwedeng naka-barong o naka-amerikana rin, na hindi lang siya para sa mga empleyado na magaganda ang trabaho (In the years he’s wearing those formal clothes when he goes out, he’s proven that dressing up formally is not only meant for employees in the office),” he added.

The first time Alven pedaled his way out of the bakery in formal attire, Bajande said he himself was surprised and found it unconventional. It was also during those first few years that Alven received negative remarks for selling bread in barong or americana, the bakery owner narrated on his behalf.

“Ako nagulat ako noon, siyempre magugulat ka first time mo, may naglalako ng pandesal naka-amerikana. May mga negative at positive comment ang mamimili pero sa katagalan dumami na ang positibo. Sila na mismo ang nagbibigay sa kanya ng damit. Kami naman sinusuportahan namin siya dahil marangal naman ang ginagawa niya (Personally, I was surprised back then, of course, you’ll be shocked because it’s your first time seeing a pandesal vendor in americana suit. There were negative comments but as time passed by he got more positive ones. For us we just support him),” he shared.

A simple way of giving thanks. Alven shares some goodies as he pedals his way in his personal “Santa suit” within Barangay Greater Lagro. (PNA photo by Noel Veloso)

While he’s gotten some toxic comments throughout the years for dressing uncommonly selling bread on the streets, Alven said he just brushed them off and continued his routine with head held high.

“Nasasabihan ako noon, ‘O saan ka ibuburol’ mga ganoon. Mayroon talagang mga ganon, hindi maganda pero ako ayos lang, hindi ko na pinapansin, basta marangal ang trabaho ko (One time I was asked ‘Where’s the funeral wake?’ There are persons like them, it’s not nice to hear but I just let it pass, so long as my job is not harming anyone),” Alven shared.

At 33, Alven dreams to be a future lawyer and someday put on his dozens of suits and ties defending someone inside a court.

“Gusto kong maging abugado, kaso wala na po akong plano mag-aral kasi tumutulong na po ako sa mga magulang ko pero kung magkaroon ng oras at pera iyon ang iniisip ko (I want to be a lawyer. I don’t have the plan to pursue study anymore because I’m helping my parents but if I got time and money that’s what I’ve been wanting),” he said. (PNA)

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