Since opening Filipino grocery store Fiesta Oriental in 1991, Fred Sunga and his family have done much more than sell food and provide other services to a bevy of loyal customers.
“When you have a Filipino business, your country people, they come to you for information,” he said. “They always call you, if they have a problem they will call you. Even if sometimes their car won’t start they will call and ask if I know a mechanic.”
But next month marks the end of an era, as the 67-year-old Sunga is set to retire on June 30 and close the Arlington Forest staple at 4815 1st Street N. That means that the area’s growing Filipino community must go elsewhere for groceries or to send money and packages to family back in the Philippines.
Sunga moved to the United States in 1978 and started working in a bank before opening Fiesta Oriental. He prides himself on staying true to his Filipino roots, right down to watching television shows from the Philippines in the store and speaking to customers in Tagalog, the country’s official language, or one of its many dialects.
And in addition to Filipinos, who come from as far away as Manassas and Maryland to shop at his store, local schoolchildren will now have to go elsewhere for their after-school snacks.
“When the school bus stops there, the kids are going to come and get their candy and soda,” Sunga said. “Just last week I told them that I’m closing up the store next month, and they said, ‘Why? Why are you doing this to me?'”
For the family, Fiesta Oriental was a major part of growing up in Arlington. Sunga’s three daughters, Audrey, Alyssa and Angelica, all worked there at least part-time from elementary school onwards and helped on Sunday when they would cook and sell homemade Filipino dishes.
The store is open every day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., except Sundays, when it closes at 6 p.m.
Audrey Sunga, who has a 2-year-old son, Emmett, and another baby due in August, said it is a shame that the family business will close before they are old enough to appreciate it.
“We’re going to start buying rice for the first time in our lives,” she joked. “For Emmett and the baby on the way, it’s kind of sad they won’t be able to see this. We grew up with it our whole lives, so it’s sad to see it go.”
Fred Sunga, meanwhile, said he is looking forward to being a “stay-at-home grandpa,” and enjoying more time with his family. Both Audrey and Alyssa work in Arlington and graduated from VCU, while Angelica is still there studying electrical engineering.
While he is excited to start the next chapter of his life, Fred Sunga said it is hard when customers are clearly upset he is leaving.
“I’m going to miss the store that I’m doing every day,” he said. “Especially when my customers, when they come here and I’m telling them I’m retiring next month, I feel so sad when they say, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to miss you.’ Some old people, they cry when I tell them I’m retiring.”