Take note, he is well-loved.
by Nathaniel Sisma Villaluna
The place is your typical Irish bar. With its lavish interior, beveled mirrors, stained glass, decorative brass, and a huge picture of the famous Irish satirist, The Flann O’Brien Irish pub is definitely one of those friendly pubs that are best for an intimate chat or for singing and sociable conversation. When a friend of mine told me that we were going to meet up with a Pinoy at The Flann O’Brien, I instantly assumed that he was one of the bartenders working there. I was wrong. He turned out to be the owner of the place. A true blue Pinoy, his name is Rod Estrella.
It all started in 1992. While the spotlight was on the Olympics, Rod, a native of Bulacan came to Barcelona as part of the team from Kentz International to oversee the construction of the Hotel del Arch in Marina. Working as an accountant for this Irish engineering and construction company, he had to stay for four years until the project was finished. But for Rod, though he was enjoying his job, four years in Barcelona were not enough, he realized he wanted to stay.
“I was bitten by the Barcelona bug! I have been to a lot of places because of my job. From Germany, Thailand, Indonesia, England, Singapore to Saudi Arabia, but Barcelona was different. First, of course was my kababayans, I met a lot of nice Filipinos here. Iba rito. And that was really something. Second, Barcelona is acogedor, it gives you the feeling of being welcomed, the feeling that you belong. Alam mo yung feeling na nag –eenjoy ka na sa trabaho mo without knowing na dumadaan na ang taon, hindi mo namamalayan nandito ka pa rin. And third, the people, I am a people’s person. I love being with people.”
But the Catalans are not known to be “open” people compared to the rest of the Spaniards in Spain.
“I am talking about people, not only Catalans. I have a lot of friends, some of them are Catalans and they are really nice. You just have to know them. ”
This is my baby
It was also this time when his British and Irish bosses at Kentz International owned The Flann O’Brien pub located in Gracia, one of Barcelona’s more bohemian district. The pub was said to be the second Irish pub in Barcelona. While still doing his auditing chores for the Hotel de Arch construction, he was also doing some bartending works at the bar. Having won the trust of his bosses, he was practically running the place.
“I was doing the budget, accounting, bartending, inventory, promotions and a lot more.”
Even if he finally quit his accounting job at the construction company and focused on the pub, he would still be asked by the same firm to travel to other countries and train people for three months. This went on for several years. Eight years ago, he bought the place and became the sole owner of The Flann O’Brien where he now dedicates his time managing the pub. Why did he decide to buy a pub, this Irish pub?
“This is my baby. I have been running the pub since day one. “
Several Irish pubs have been mushrooming all over the city, under your command, what sets The Flann O’Brien apart from the rest?
“Personal touch. I am proud to say that my pub can offer the best customer service there is. My staff knows it. When I was just starting, I have been an observant person. I never had any experience in bartending. I observed a lot and took the good things and used them. That is how I run my pub. I always tell our bartenders, the most important rule is to smile. To make our customers feel nice. Actually I don’t consider them clients, I consider them friends.”
True enough, when I was doing the interview, an American couple came in and Rod told me that the guy used to be a main fixture in the pub. They hugged, they laughed together and chatted like good old friends.
How are you as a boss? Strict? Cool? Old school?
“I am a hands-on boss. I come to the pub at 5:30 in the afternoon until closing time. I can be strict and cool. I will teach you how to do things. If you commit mistakes, I will give you three chances to correct it. But after the third time, it’s time for me to tell you to leave.”
Born from a very poor family, Rod described his childhood as both sad yet inspirational. He remembered going to school without shoes and with an empty stomach. His mother died when he was only five years old. The youngest boy in a family of 13, he worked so hard to make ends meet and rise above poverty. And he made it. Before graduating from college, he was a trainee at Manila Bank where he met his wife. Their union was blessed with one daughter who is now based in the US. He later worked for Kentz International and was assigned in Ireland for five years.
“ I always told myself, I will never be poor again. I came from a very very poor family. Pumapasok akong walang laman ang tiyan. However, my being poor was the source of all the strength that kept me going and made me determined to reach where I am now. I did everything in school. Pinagbuti ko ang pag-aaral ko. I experienced the harsh reality of not having money. So I was very motivated to strive hard and give my best.”
You have been here for a long time. Are you active in the Filipino community?
“I used to be very active. But now, it’s time for the new and the young. I had my time before and I will always cherish it. I may not be that active now but I am always here willing to help them anytime they want. They can always count on me. Alam mo naman, Pinoy tayo, nandiyan ang pakikisama. Tutulong ako hangga’t makakaya ko.”
Any advise to our kababayans out there.
“Magaling ang Pilipino. When it comes to work, Pinoys are really hardworking individuals. Hindi patatalo ang Pinoy pagdating sa trabaho. My principle in life is “KKK”. Kayod, Kayod at Kapal ng mukha. My father always told us na ang kapalaran ay hindi hinihintay, ito ay hinahanap. Don’t sit there and do nothing. You have to do something. And whatever you do, be proud of it, hindi ka pakakainin ng hiya mo.
Now on its 16th year of operation, the pub is one of the most visited hang-out places in Barcelona. Most of the clients are Irish, Americans, English and Spanish. Live bands and big screens for football matches are just several of the main attractions of The Flann O’Brien. From time to time, he also taps Pinoy bands to hold gigs in the pub.
Had there been any problems running the place?
“Well, not really. Only small problems actually. Like drunks, but we can’t avoid that. I just tell them to leave the place. There were times when several female clients really got drunk. They would be noisy and start grabbing the bums of my barmen. For obvious reasons, we didn’t ask them to leave! (Laughter)”
An inspiration, an act to follow
Before coming for the interview, I made some rounds asking people what they could say about Rod. Everyone almost gave me exactly the same answers. Later on, sitting face to face with him, I found myself agreeing to everything they told me: unassuming, down to earth and very friendly. Not to mention, his great sense of humor. When asked what does his pub have that others don’t, without batting an eyelash, he gave me a quick nonchalant reply, “ROD!” ; followed by a mischievous laugh.
As the old Irish saying goes: The leprechauns must be near you for luck will spread along your way, Rod must have made friends with a hundred leprechauns or so. Hardwork, perseverance and faith notwithstanding, luck also played a significant role in his way to success. He is now reaping what he had sown. His story is an inspiration to our fellow kababayans. His rags to riches experience is something that we can learn from. In spite of all the blessings that he has right now, his feet remain flat on the ground.
True to the literal meaning of his last name, Rod Estrella is a star in his own right.
Photos by Mr. Rod Estrella