Meet JT Balmores: Owner of Jeepney Jaytee That Popularized Filipino Food in Canada

If you are ever in Edmonton, Canada, there is no reason for you to ever miss the comforting flavors of Filipino food—not when Jamie “JT” Balmores, the proud owner of Edmonton’s Best Food Truck Jeepney Jaytee, is around to serve high-quality Pinoy food with his own special twists to fellow kababayans who crave the familiar taste of home and to others who are keen on discovering it for the first time.

JT, who began his food truck business in 2015, has earned nothing short of extraordinary success throughout the years. Other than Jeepney Jaytee becoming the Best Food Truck in Edmonton for five consecutive years, he has also been awarded Best Filipino Restaurant Cuisine by the Reader’s Choice Award in 2021, Best Local Social Media Personality Gold Award in 2021, and Best Filipino Food in Edmonton in 2022. He has been featured in several publications and television shows locally in Canada and in the Philippines, quickly becoming one of the major stakeholders when it comes to promoting Filipino cuisine abroad.

It’s even more amazing to note how far he’s come since his humble beginnings. He was formerly a registered nurse who wanted to pursue a greater passion and found it after selling home-cooked viands at the back of his van during break times. With his laing, kaldereta, and pancit—just to name a few of the food he’d sell—he eventually grew such a huge customer base that it gave him the confidence to actually start his own business.

Now, people, not just Filipinos, would line up for hours just to get a taste of Jeepney Jaytee’s food which includes unique fusion dishes like Sisig Tacos, Sisig Fries, and his Cheesy Bistek Shawarma.

“I don’t like mediocre food. Kasi it’s exciting, ‘di ba? (‘Cause it’s exciting, right?) I like to be different,” he said about his creative menu. He added that he may not be among the cheapest food trucks around, but he promises nothing short of excellent quality with his dishes and that alone makes every dollar spent worth it.

May respeto ako sa pagkain, may respeto ako sa Filipino food, may respeto ako sa recipe (I have respect for food, I have respect for Filipino food, I have respect for the recipe).”

But every success story is not without challenges.

“People think that if you’re successful, lahat maayos (everything is going smoothly). I lost a lot of friends along the way … you will lose [having to attend] christenings, birthdays, Christmas parties, marami (a lot). Ma-sa-sacrifice talaga ‘yung life mo as an individual (You will sacrifice a lot in your life as an individual),” JT shared.

“[If there was anything I would have changed], not on the business side but on the personal side, I [wish] would have taken more time to chill and to relax. I was into my business na parang (that it’s like) I can’t stop and I won’t stop.”

These personal pains, however, never did harden his heart, especially at times when his love for cooking mattered the most. This was evident particularly during the pandemic, which fortunately didn’t negatively affect JT’s business but rather kept it strong, thanks to his kindness and generosity in distributing food packs to the front-liners at the time when there was “a lack of support [for the nurses and patients] from the community.”

According to him, the same love and support returned to him tenfold and kept his food truck alive.

“Word of mouth is powerful,” he expressed. “Nakakatuwa na hindi ako iniwan ng mga kasama kong nurses kasi pinakitaan ko rin sila ng pagmamahal noong kailangan na kailangan nila (It makes me happy that the nurses I worked with before didn’t leave me behind because I showed them compassion when they needed it the most).”

It truly is no wonder why JT’s Jeepney Jaytee is so well-loved. This strong passion for food that he extends to other people has rightfully earned him the trust and loyalty of all his customers, no matter what their nationalities are.

“I think it’s safe to say that I put the Filipino cuisine on the mainstream media in Canada. Kasi ako lang yung nag-iisang personality doon na regularly on TV na nagluluto [ng Filipino food] (It’s because I was the only personality who regularly goes on TV to cook Filipino food),” JT told us.

Maraming nakapila sa akin na mga ibang lahi. Nagulat nga ako na may mga Caucasians na nakapila sa akin tapos ‘yung in-o-order pa nila ay Crispy Dinuguan! (A lot of different nationalities line up at my food truck. I was even surprised one time when Caucasians lined up and wanted to order Crispy Diinuguan!) Tinanong ko talaga, (I really asked them,) ‘Do you know what you’re ordering?’ They would answer, ‘No, we’re just curious, we Googled dinuguan and we like it.’ Pero (But) I have gained their respect and their friendship. Nagustuhan nila ‘yung dinuguan ko (They really liked my dinuguan).”

(ALSO READ: This Modern Filipino Restaurant Becomes the First to Earn a Michelin Star)

JT is aware that after consistently being at the top of his game for years, one move can send him tumbling down. However, this won’t deter him from continuing his work and aiming for bigger things.

“Apart from maintaining the high quality of Filipino food that I make and mga bagong pagkaing lalabas (newer food that I’ll put out) [on my menu], I’m open to a one-on-one mentorship for those people who would like to start a food business or start a food truck,” he said about his future plans.

For fellow Filipino entrepreneurs who are just starting out with their businesses or who are persevering to become as big as Jeepney Jaytee, this is the message that JT would like to impart:

Naniniwala ako na what your mind concieved, mangyayari ‘yon . Don’t doubt yourself. Andaming nagpipigil sa akin noon eh. Noong unang nagtitinda pa ako sa likod ng van ko, sasabihin nilang ‘Hindi ka nahihiya?’ Meron at merong mag-di-dishearten sa iyo. Pero ‘wag kang matakot kung alam mo’t naiisip mo tapos gagawin mo. All you have to do is your first step.”

[“I believe that what your mind conceives, it will come true. Don’t doubt yourself. A lot of people tried to stop me before. Back when I would just sell food at the back of my van, people would tell me, ‘Aren’t you ashamed?’ There will always be people who will dishearten you. But don’t be afraid if you know what you want to do and then do it. All you have to do is your first step.”]

Follow Jeepney Jaytee on Facebook and Instagram.

All photos from Instagram.com/jeepneyjayteefoodtruck


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