Filipino food goes hand-in-hand with Theresa “Ting” Santos’ fondest memories, she said. Wherever her family gathered to celebrate or just simply be together, food followed.
“It’s always been a passion of mine to feed a lot of people. My grandma in the Philippines had her own little eatery. When I was little, I would go and hang out at the restaurant and constantly be surrounded by people and food. I missed that when I moved away,” said Santos, the owner of Ting’s Filipino Bistro, which opened in Parlor’s Crossroads food hall in January.
A majority of the menu items at Ting’s are passed down to Santos from those who came before: her late grandmother, as well as her late mother and father, she shared.
“It reminds me of home and takes me back to happier times when I was with my mom and my grandma; they are both passed now, so it’s been like a homage to them to open Ting’s,” Santos said, noting that she is particular about how each dish is made in order to maintain the authentic and traditional recipes.
“When I was being taught how to make them, my grandma told me, ‘If you’re not going to make it the same way I’m showing you, you might as well not make it,” Santos recalled. “If I’m going to represent my family, then it has to be perfect.”
Along with preserving such memories, Filipino food allows Santos to connect with her heritage, even from oceans away, she added.
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Santos was born in the Philippines, moving to New York City when she was 9. There she earned a thick skin, she said.
“I know how to fight for the things that I really want and not give up,” she explained. “I think that helped me in pursuing Ting’s, because you hear a whole lot of ‘no’ when you’re trying to get something off the ground. If you’re sensitive, you’ll quit. Every time I heard ‘no,’ I continued to move on.”
Moving to Kansas City in 1995 to advance her career as a restaurant consultant, Santos refined her skills in management and communication, she said. After decades of opening restaurants for other people — she decided to do it herself, taking a page from her late grandmother’s cookbook in the process.
Passion for entrepreneurship
The transition from the corporate world to operating her own business was an exhilarating change for Santos, she said, noting that she now wakes up excited to work.
“It’s so refreshing because now my hard work is for me,” Santos said. “It’s easy to genuinely take care of people because I want to continue sharing my food with them. [Opening Ting’s] is the best thing I’ve ever done. My kids are happier, and I am happier.”
But she doesn’t regret any of her past corporate jobs, she continued.
“Each experience helped me learn the tools that are essential in running a successful business — how to manage a team, how to handle situations that might get sticky,” she noted. “So, it was all timing. It’s all been working really smoothly.”
Santos credits the entire Ting’s team (including supportive family and friends) for her restaurant’s early success.
“You’ve got to have a really good team, and I’ve been blessed with that,” Santos said. “I’ve hired really great people — and lost a couple bad ones, but that’s OK. My head chef went to culinary school at Johnson County Community College, and she fell in love with the food. Now, she’s learning to make Filipino pastries and candies; and her passion trickles down to the rest of the staff. Leadership is key.”
Expanding into Midtown (and beyond?)
Before Santos was invited to bring Ting’s into Parlor’s food hall, she’d been planning her own brick-and-mortar location. The prized spot: West 39th Street.
“I’ve wanted a spot on 39th Street for years,” Santos said. “I love that it’s a mom-and-pop, local business neighborhood. I don’t want to be anywhere where there’s chain restaurants. … And not only that, but it’s a really busy street with the [University of Kansas Medical Center] and apartments nearby. It’s the perfect location.”
Two days after signing her lease with Parlor, Santos received a phone call, informing her that a spot on West 39th Street was available and hers if she wanted it.
“I couldn’t pass it up,” she said, “so I took a chance and went for it. Ting’s second location is going to be ready near the end of April, beginning of May.”
With her second location, Santos is looking forward to expanding her team, offering more traditional Filipino dishes and hosting karaoke nights — a favorite pastime for many within the Filipino community.
The West 39th Street location has been a long-time dream for Santos but opening in Parlor first was the right decision, she said.
“The people who come to Parlor are so adventurous and aren’t scared to try new foods,” Santos praised. “They take suggestions and then go on to tell their friends. That has made this space feel so welcoming, and I think that’s the reason why God led me to Parlor first.”
Santos current suggestion: Order the lumpia.
“The lumpia is addictive. Everyone orders that,” she said. “As far as the entrees, the pork adobo is fire — and the pancit, of course. You really can’t go wrong. We just recently changed our menu and added all of the combos, which were originally only served at brunch on Sundays. But everybody was like, ‘please have it every day!’”
Click here to check out the menu at Ting’s Filipino Bistro.
A third location may be in the works, Santos teased, referencing a phone call she had with someone in the vicinity of City Market. But more details are to come, she said.
Standing in front of her shop, Santos feels proud, she shared, and thinks her mother and grandmother would feel the same.
“They are who I pray to,” Santos said, smiling. “I think they would be really happy.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.