Helene Seradilla is well acquainted with the concept of ‘mise en place,’ the French culinary term referring to advance preparation — gathering tools and ingredients so everything is in place when you’re ready to start cooking.
She didn’t realize it at the time, but during three years in Red River College’s Business Administration program, the 1998 grad was gathering the tools she’d need to become an entrepreneur in the restaurant business.
In 2012, Helene (nee Paredes) and her husband, well-known local chef Rod Seradilla, rolled out popular Filipino food truck Pimp My Rice. Last year, they opened full-service Corydon Avenue eatery Bisita (Visitor, or Guest, in Tagalog), a venture that required a solid business plan — something Helene had already taken a dry run at in college.
“That’s what we had to do in our program at Red River,” she says. “Pretend you found a location and you leased it and how much would the lease be, how much square footage … the equipment, the assets, the payroll, how would you work it, and what product would you have.”
A busy mom to two young sons, seven-year-old Ryu and six-year-old Sonny, with a full-time career at Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) in the individual tax and benefits section, as well as the two “mom-and-pop” businesses, Helene has aced multi-tasking.
Fully hands-on with Pimp My Rice, which will be back on the road this summer after a hiatus in 2016, she often heads to Bisita in the evening and on weekends.
“I’m in there as much as I can be — as much as, you know, you can work with someone that you live with,” she laughs.
While she deals with paperwork and handles a multitude of other tasks, the kitchen is strictly Rod’s domain. He’s won fans with fresh twists on classic Filipino fare, including his famous adobe wings, and Helene says he won her over with food during their courtship, too.
“He lured me in with his cooking,” she laughs. “Now it’s just leftovers — if I’m lucky. ‘It’s OK honey, I’ll just order out.’”
While Rod’s destiny has seemed clear from the start — he worked in the local food industry for about 15 years before they launched Pimp My Rice — Helene has struggled to find a personal niche. With no clear career direction, she enrolled at RRC right after graduating from Sturgeon Creek Collegiate.
“I lived right across the street from Red River so that was a no-brainer,” she says, adding she chose Business Administration because it left the door wide open to pursue several options.
“They have so many different avenues. You can go into accounting, you can go into marketing, you can go into entrepreneurship and they have the full foundation.”
While she majored in marketing, her first job out of college was as a technology broker for a firm based in Montreal, where she lived for eight years before transferring to the company’s Winnipeg office. During one visit home, she dropped by the bar where Rod was working and they’ve been a couple ever since. Friends in high school, their families also had a history.
“His parents were [friends] with my parents at one point in the ’60s,” Helene says.
Born in the Philippines, her mom, Dolora, and dad, Efren, were in their early twenties when they came to Canada. Now retired, Efren worked at CN Rail for 30 years and Dolora was a nursing aide. The youngest of three kids, Helene inherited her parents’ work ethic, but when it comes to finances, they have different sensibilities.
While the older generation focused on saving, paying down their mortgage and becoming debt-free, Helene and Rod took a risk to invest in Pimp My Rice, and they doubled down to open Bisita.
“But you know what they say, you only live once,” she says. “He has a dream and I’m betting it all that it comes to fruition. We have the opportunity to do it and I see something really beautiful in him — like that he’s got this, so I trust him.”
So far, so good. Pimp My Rice earned Best Bang for Your Buck honours two years running in Manyfest’s Food Truck Wars, and Helene says having a bricks-and-mortar restaurant will make it easier to keep the truck supplied with food and equipment when it hits the streets and festival circuit again this summer.
Come winter, Helene is considering adding more work to her plate. While she’s enjoyed working at CRA since 2012, she’s thinking of taking night classes at RRC to upgrade her accounting skills, which could open doors to new positions within the government agency.
“When you love your job, you’ll never have to work a day in your life,” she says.
— Profile by Pat St. Germain (Creative Communications, 1989)