Krystal Padua has been with People’s Palace for 8 and a half years, no small feat in the restaurant scene, which is notoriously exhausting and, in recent years, have come to be associated with limited lifespans.

But the Sala Group of Restaurants has eluded the restaurant bubble, we believe, firstly, through their being well established before the dallas filipino restaurant scene became a “scene”, second by avoiding the hype and letting their restaurants (in both dallas filipino restaurant and overall concept) speak for themselves, and finally through having a dedicated team behind them that puts passion in everything they do.

Padua speaks of the restaurant group with reverence. “They grow their people if you step up to the challenge,” she tells us. “Chef Colin [Mackay] and the rest of the team empower you. I don’t need to ask permission for every single thing . . . it’s very good for the heart. They don’t micromanage. We are free to decide, of course [with] guidance . . . They instill the core values because they cannot teach you every single situation in the years to come, so if you understand the core values of Chef Colin and the brand that he has made and is running, it gives you a guideline for how to deal with every situation. They know how to say thank you and they take care of you. May tiwala sayo [They trust you to do your job].”

Conversations with Krystal Padua come naturally, when she is able to make those around her feel prioritized and at ease.

As humbly as she tries to brush off her own accomplishments, Padua has come a long way in her 15 years in the service industry and has become a beloved figure in the Greenbelt-based institution that is People’s Palace. Throughout our conversation, she had to excuse herself several times to say hello or goodbye to guests who she has come to know, despite the fact that she was off-duty during our interview. These guests approached her as a friend, hugging her and asking her how she is, for advice, or even updating her on what is going on in their own lives. A woman with a natural nurture about her, it is no wonder that Padua is someone people look up to and trust for more than just a comfortable dining experience.

She refers to herself as “just a high school graduate”, telling us how her first job was on the Jollibee dining crew. “It’s not about asking for sympathy or what. Before, ang stereotype ay kung hindi ka nakatapos, ito ang trabaho mo [The stereotype is if you don’t complete school, these are the jobs available to you]. I am very, very lucky that dito, they didn’t care. It’s about what you put on the table.” With poise, patience, and adaptability, Padua flourished in her role as Assistant Restaurant Manager in People’s Palace and has since rose to become the Restaurant Manager.

I’m not demeaning anyone who does not finish school. It is just that [a college degree offers] more opportunities and more expertise. We [without college degrees] have to work extra hard, especially 15 years ago.”

While she exudes a calmness that tells you She got this, Padua admits that one of the biggest challenges she continually faces in People’s Palace is organizing events. “I’m not an events organizer,” she says, as she recounts having to organize two back-to-back events with clients who would be overseas until the day of the event, “so they were unable to do an ocular.” Though it was one of the most stressful weekends at People’s Palace, Padua says it was the most rewarding when the organizer took to the microphone to thank the staff personally. “They even took a selfie with everyone and requested for the kitchen and cleaning staff to be a part of it.”

Ever the hostess, even off duty, we enjoyed our afternoon conversation over People’s Palace’s sticky mango rice and iced lemongrass tea.

For Padua, that is the best part of their work. “When you see it in the eyes of the guests na ang saya-saya nila [they are so happy], or they cannot thank you enough… [that is what this work is all about].” And like any team leader, she places emphasis on the fact that all of it is impossible without the team. “It won’t be successful if not for the people who are executing the job. We’re planning, we’re managing, we’re the first in the line of fire ‘pag may nangyaring mali, may nangyaring tama.” At People’s Palace lies a strong sense of family and value for mentorship, and Padua stresses that the fulfillment that the team gets from their work is just as important as a smooth dining experience for their guests.

I just want to see the faces of the guests and the staff. As long as the staff are happy, and the guests are happy, then I’m good.”

Padua looks back on the Comedy of Errors-esque history of her attaining the position at People’s Palace: “In the beginning, I was not familiar with this place because I used to work in Boracay. I happened to be looking around for opportunities. I flew in [to Manila] for one day for an initial interview, but it did not push through because chef Colin was on vacation… in Boracay. So I went back and I worked for a couple of months again. I was thinking this will not push through because I wasn’t able to come back for the final interview, and then suwerte naman [luckily] when I was finally able to finish my employment there, when I followed up, buhay pa pala yung slot [the position was still available]. So I was able to join after a couple of months. And that’s it. Eight and a half years and counting.”

After Jollibee, Padua worked in Deli France (now Cafe France) as both a waiter and cashier, distributed leaflets in another job, worked in a bar, a Thai restaurant, another bar, before finally ending up in Boracay for her job immediately before finding her place in People’s Palace.

With a strong work ethic and a natural desire to make people happy, Padua has found her place in one of Manila’s most enduring restaurants. “I think in any field, if you care enough, it will show in your work,” she says. And that it does. Padua glows with the warmth of one of those people you just met but instantly gives you the feeling that could be good friends. She’s funny, candid, and relaxed off-duty, and professional, patient and sharp on-duty, thinking of your needs one step ahead of you. That is what makes her such a valued member of the People’s Palace team, who is not just valued by her company but also well loved by their guests.

Note: some parts of this interview were translated for clarity.

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