A Filipino full circle

Meet the family behind Grand Rapids Asian-Pacific Festival and their new Adobo Boy
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A rice bowl entree at Adobo Boy, located inside Amazing Myanmar, 3740 28th St., SE, in Kentwood. Photo by Alfield Reeves.

When Jackie Canamo and Ace Marasigan first met at a Filipino restaurant in Detroit back in 2005, they never would have imagined that moment would come full circle nearly 20 years later with the opening of their own eatery: Adobo Boy GR.

A lot has happened in between then and now, though.

Ace and Jackie Marasigan at their restaurant, Adobo Boy, in March of 2024. Photo by Alfield Reeves.

First, Some Background
Both Ace and Jackie emigrated to the US from the Philippines with their respective families when they were young, and both ended up settling in Grand Rapids. Ace began working in the banking industry, while deejaying on the side and playing in a band with his brothers. Jackie entered the nursing field. They married in 2006 and had their son, Redd, in 2013. When Redd was born, so was an idea, even if the Marasigans didn’t know it yet.

As Redd grew, Ace and Jackie realized their son needed a way to be himself and see himself in the people around him; to feel he has a place as an Asian American in his community and to embrace the differences between cultures. And, more importantly, to not just fly under the radar and try his best to fit in. That notion became the impetus for the Grand Rapids Asian-Pacific Festival, which was first held in June of 2017.

To get this monumental effort off the ground, Ace had to secure volunteers and buy-in, including funding, from area businesses. He had to take a leap of faith as well—a theme that comes up again and again in the Marasigans’ story. He networked like crazy and tapped into the knowledge of other cultural festival planners in town, and eventually amassed a small team of eight to bring the inaugural Festival into being. The Grand Rapids Asian-Pacific Foundation (GRAPF) was founded by Ace during that time, as well. Many of those founding members are still involved today, including Mai Thao, Events Director and Ace’s right hand.

In those early days, the main goal was to raise awareness about the multitude of cultures and countries that make up Asia. And, to make Grand Rapids, the Foundation says, “A place where Asian people can feel belonging and celebrate their food, traditions, dress, music, dance, and lives with their neighbors.”

In its seventh year, after taking a hiatus in 2020, the Grand Rapids Asian-Pacific Festival will be held June 14-16, 2024.

A Dream Materializes
Today, this initiative has grown to be so much more. Not just in terms of the events GRAPF has organized over the years, but in their vision. “Our mission,” the Foundations says, “Is to shape a vibrant, inclusive, and thriving community where cultural awareness, economic empowerment, individual growth, and community education intersect seamlessly.” That’s a lofty endeavor, and it’s made possible by a force of passionate individuals who serve as advocates, ambassadors, and volunteers. They work tirelessly and they work for free—all because they recognize the importance and the impact of what they do.

The initial Asian-Pacific Festival that was held in June of 2017 was the beginning of much bigger things to come. Subsequent Festivals brought local and national acts, increased numbers of vendors and performers, and, one year, a Sumo Wrestling event, which was enthusiastically received by all who attended.

Working with Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc. (DRGI), Ace and the GRAPF team launched their first Lunar New Year celebration in February of 2018, which included a parade, a dragon dance, fireworks, food, and more. After a few years of hosting the Lunar New Year festivities, DRGI and GRAPF decided to shift their focus, replacing that event with Noodle Fest, which first made the scene as part of World of Winter in March of 2023 with nine participants. It returned in 2024 with 17 vendors slinging $6 noodle bowls and competing for the title of Noodle Fest Champion.

The idea for Noodle Fest was hatched by Ace and supported by DRGI, without their really knowing what it would be. That’s a lot of trust! But Ace and GRAPF have proven themselves year after year, and this was yet another event that just “worked.” (Not without a lot of time and dedication from a lot of people, of course!) Ace knew he wanted it to be a way to highlight small businesses and give them an opportunity to market themselves—and make some money at the same time. With attendance in the thousands, it has done just that.

Harnessing the Mighty Grand
Since the inception of the team that eventually became GRAPF, there was talk of incorporating the Grand River into their plans. Years later, that became Global Water Fest, a two-day event held at Canal Park. The main attraction is the dragon boat race, which, in 2024, will be held Saturday, July 27. Ongoing will be authentic Asian cuisine, entertainment, and local art. On Sunday, the 28th, free rides on the dragon boats will be offered.

The goal for Saturday’s race is to get 25 teams to sign up. Each boat requires 14 rowers and one drummer, and has a $500 participation fee (if you do the math, that’s just 33 bucks per person). The winners take home a $500 prize, as well as $500 toward a charity of their choice. Their fee to participate the following year will also be waived. That’s a lot of incentive to sign up!

Jackie’s Time to Shine
Though much of this story centers on Ace, he’d rather not take all the credit. He acknowledges how all of this has been a team endeavor, and that includes Jackie and Redd giving a lot of their free time and energy. So much of the inspiration for GRAPF’s activities has centered around Asian cuisine, particularly Ace and Jackie’s connection to the food they grew up with. And, that’s how Adobo Boy GR came to be.

They seized an opportunity to occupy space in Amazing Myanmar’s restaurant, which meant Jackie leaving her job as a nurse, which she’d been doing for 25 years. It was a risk much like the one Ace took when he left a 20-year banking career to become a real estate agent—a move needed to keep the family afloat during the pandemic. “Sometimes, you just have to go for it,” Ace says.

The restaurant opened in December of 2023, with Jackie heading up the kitchen. Despite being a lot of work, it’s been a source of joy and calm and fulfillment for her—to craft traditional Filipino food and to see customers enjoying her creations made from traditional family recipes. “That’s the ultimate happiness as a husband, seeing her light up because she’s doing what she loves,” Ace says.

At the restaurant, Ace serves as support to Jackie, whether it’s marketing, accounting, dishwashing, or waiting tables. Jackie often comes out to greet guests, too. “We make this as a family, exactly how it would feel to visit us at home,” Ace says.

With the restaurant, with the Foundation, and with the many events that put the spotlight on Asian culture, the Marasigans have achieved what they set out to create for their son, for themselves, and for the community. “I would love for people to read this article and be inspired,” Ace says. “To say, ‘I think I can do this. This is a crazy idea but I think I can do it.’”

Learn more at grapf.org and adoboboygr.com.

 

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