RED MILL — When Emma Dizon was a child, she and her family pushed a metal shopping cart, loaded with food her father prepared in their Queens home, down the New York City sidewalks to a nearby Filipino grocery store where the owner marketed it to his customers.
Dizon is bringing that same work ethic and love of food to her new Red Mill Commons restaurant, Only at Renee’s, which is expected to have a soft opening in early April.
“I love food, I love being around people, and I love creating new dishes,” Dizon said.
Dizon moved with her parents, Ernesto and Renee Dizon, and her three brothers to Queens from Pampanga, a rural province in the Philippines, when she was 10. Ernesto Dizon worked as a delivery driver for Xerox, but he soon hatched the idea to prepare and market food to nearby Filipino residents.
Ernesto Dizon’s parents owned a restaurant in Pampanga, known as the culinary capital of the Philippines, and he thinks that the urge to cook for others is “in my blood,” he said.
“I learned from watching my mother,” Ernesto Dizon said.
The family’s food proved to be such a hot item in Queens that they decided to open their own restaurant. That first restaurant only seated 12 people, Emma Dizon said, but within three years, they opened a larger restaurant, called Renee’s Kitchenette & Grill, after Renee Dizon.
Emma Dizon noticed that many of the restaurant’s customers travelled to Virginia Beach frequently to visit family or friends, and she began to wonder if this city – with its large Filipino population – would be a prime location for her to launch her own business.
The response so far, she said, has been overwhelming.
“Already I’ve had people calling me about the restaurant, calling to try to make reservations or to ask when we would be open,” Dizon said.
She created some of her menu items, and she particularly loves coming up with new ideas for desserts. Other items are traditional Filipino dishes, but she has tweaked them and added her own special ingredients, she said.
“That is why I call it ‘Only at Renee’s,” she said, “because some of these foods you can only get here.”
Menu items include oxtail in peanut sauce with tropical vegetables, barbecues, spring rolls, chicken adobo and tocino. Her personal favorites, Dizon said, include sisig, a minced pork relish eaten with rice.
Dizon and her customers also love biko, a sweet, sticky rice made with coconut milk.
“I make it different,” Dizon said. “I put my own twist into it, and the customers all love it.”
Opening her own restaurant is a challenge, Emma Dizon said, but her family, including her father, will work with her for awhile until she gets established. She also has the support of employee Michael Stoney, who will serve as her “right hand,” he said.
“Whatever she needs, I’ll do,” Stoney said. “Her family has such a well-oiled machine in New York, and her father loves to cook so much that wherever he comes, he takes over the kitchen. His daughter is just like him.”
Only at Renee’s is located at 2181 Upton Drive, Suite 410, in the Red Mill Commons Shopping Center. Updates about the new spot have been posted to the Facebook page of Renee’s Kitchenette & Grill. Call (747) 427-1222
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