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Throughout our lives, we would always hear people say “love knows no limits” and that it goes beyond religion, age, gender, race, distance, belief, and so on. These days, everyone basically has her/his own personal understanding and version of what love is. Love is a universal language, a language deeply understood by couple James Diapen and Darren Watson.
James and Darren first met online in 2017. James was working in Abu Dhabi while Darren was working in Dubai. The next day after they met, when Darren got off work, he decided to pay James a visit in Abu Dhabi. They had lunch together and that’s where they started to get to know each other and the day after that, Darren proposed, in less than 24 hours.
The couple went on a vacation and after a month, decided to move in together. They got an apartment in Abu Dhabi and stayed there for three months. It wasn’t easy in the beginning. Every single day, Darren had to drive for an hour and a half to go to his work in Dubai so James asked his employer if he could be transferred to Dubai. When it was granted, they both moved there.
On April 2018, the couple decided to leave Dubai and get married in Denmark. They got married in a small island called Aero. According to James, it’s like an old fisherman village with a very simple life.
“Everybody was so welcoming,” Darren said.
Their original plan was to get married in Copenhagen, Denmark but their wedding planner suggested that they should do it instead in Aero since it was more romantic compared to Copenhagen. Indeed it was that they immediately fell in love with the place.
“What was really really nice about Denmark is how they accept all [races], all gender, [and if you ever] got married there, it doesn’t matter if you’re white, black, gay [or] lesbian. There’s no sense of discrimination. You just show up, there’s no question, they’ll just congratulate you,” James said.
James and Darren spent a couple of days in Denmark before flying to Nepal. It was Darren’s second home and he really loved that place. As a husband, James was trying to support him and he always wanted to visit Nepal as well, so they decided they wanted to stay there throughout their honeymoon phase to figure out what they were going to do in life as a married couple.
After a month in Nepal, the couple decided to go to the Philippines to see if they could start a new life. They went to Davao and stayed there for a week. There they brainstormed about opening a business while waiting for a year. “The only agenda was, we got married, let’s not jump into corporate life again and then just get lost,” Darren said.
The couple realized that they have to do something. To be able to survive, they had to keep their brains functioning.
Initially, James wanted a restaurant since he is passionate about cooking and he wanted to put it to practice. Meanwhile, Darren wanted to live by his grandma’s legacy of opening up a “grandma” type concept for a restaurant with a family environment, and he just woke up one day and decided that it was going to be a barbecue place. It was when Hen House was born.
The reason they chose Palawan is because they were trying to capture the tourists. “We were once travelers, so we know how it feels to travel,” James said.
The couple went to the tourist haven with no expectation. They just wanted to start a new life and start a business together. They left half of their suitcases in Davao and flew to Palawan with just one luggage each.
“I’m surprised by how the local community has supported our restaurant by word-of-mouth, we don’t have any advertising, we just rely on making sure the [customers] have good experience and they talk to people through social media,” James said.
Most people, especially in the Philippines, are not used to seeing gay couples working together, and that was something they wanted to change at Hen House. According to James, they’ve had customers who they heard were homophobic but surprisingly, him and Darren are an exception to them. “What makes us proud is we were able to change the minds of some people. It’s hard to change the whole world, but for me, changing one or two people matters. Changing their perception,” James said. “Because we are okay with what we are, so people would see it and they would do it. We [would] always tell the kids, “be who you are”, be respectful of yourself, carry yourself with pride,” he added.
For James, it is one of his greatest contributions in the world as a gay person. “I don’t need to run in congress, I don’t need to be like the president to change the world, [I’m] just making an impact to different people,” he said.
The couple were still in their honeymoon phase when they opened up the restaurant and they weren’t planning on staying in Palawan for the long run, at some point they’re going to have to leave and February this year, their restaurant became #1 in Trip Advisor.
“Our first question was ‘what are we gonna do now with the business?’ because it’s also our baby,” James said. They wanted their legacy to continue within the restaurant, and they wanted to find the right person who is willing to do that.
“We turned down offers because we didn’t think it would continue the way it should continue. You need someone that is passionate about it,” said Darren. “If we didn’t find the right person, we were just gonna close down completely,” he added.
Throughout their whole journey as restaurant owners in the Philippines, the couple gained so many friends, and they realized that those people are not just friends anymore, they’re family.
“Looking back, from the first day we’ve opened up until now, we’ve come full circle and we’ve come a long way with our family and friends,” James said. “That’s why we’re not really scared to go on with our life, leaving anything behind, because for us, life is always a constant learning,” he added.