If you’ve stepped inside Oriental Mart, odds are you’ve met Leila Rosas, the charming cook and personality behind one of Pike Place Market’s most beloved restaurants for almost 50 years. Leila’s recipes for Filipino staples like pork adobo, dinuguan, and pancit have rightfully earned Oriental Mart an award from the James Beard Foundation.
Get to know Leila in this week’s Q&A as she discusses her fast food guilty pleasure, her love for the Pike Place Market community, and why you’ll have a unique experience when you #SpendLikeItMatters at Oriental Mart.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What’s something your customers may not know about you or your business?
They may not know that I eat at fast food places [she laughs]. I mean, I cook this stuff all day long, so when I get off work, I go to McDonald’s and fast food places that’s easier to eat. [Also], I didn’t go to school for [cooking], it all started when I was young. I came here from the Philippines. We had maids over there and we didn’t have one here so somebody had to cook, and that was me because I’m the oldest daughter. As I got older, I started loving it. It’s like my passion. I love cooking, I love feeding it to people, I love to see them happy. Another thing is [people] think my mom taught me how to cook, but she did not. My dad taught me some, but most of it I learned by doing it by myself. I asked grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles — anybody who talked about food. They shared their secrets, then I put it together and make it my own.
What’s your favorite part about being in Pike Place Market and why?
[Pike Place Market] is family-oriented. My neighbors are great — they bring me produce without me going over there, the fish guys bring me fish without me going over there. Whoever delivers, they get a free breakfast [she laughs]. A lot of the people in the market come over here, and this is where they eat and chit chat. We talk about how business is, if it’s slow or if it’s busy. It’s a close-knit family. Everybody gets along here, everybody supports each other. If you take care of them, they take care of you.
Why is it important to you and your business that people #SpendLikeItMatters?
Here, you get good food, good service, and you get to talk to me. There aren’t many restaurants that you can come in and eat and the cook, server, and dishwasher talks to you — that’s all me in one. I run this kitchen but even when I get super busy, I talk to all my customers. By the time they’re done with their meal, I know what they do for a living, I know where they’re from, and I ask them how they found this restaurant. I get information from them, and they get information from me. It’s all unity. You’ll never have that experience until you come to Oriental Mart.