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Filipino maker of HK’s biggest pizza passes away at 39

17 April 2020

By Vir B. Lumicao
Sonsing with his trademark extra-large pizza

A young Hong Kong-raised Filipino entrepreneur who made his mark on the city’s food and restaurant industry by offering the biggest pizza in town has passed away.

Roland Joseph Sonsing, better known among his friends as RJ, died on Apr 11 in his hometown of Taguig City in Metro Manila. He was 39.

RJ is the eldest son of Ollie Sonsing, a musician who came to Hong Kong in the 1970s when Filipino bands and entertainers were in great demand in the city’s nightclub and restaurant circuits.
He was in the Philippines when death overtook him, according to his younger sister Regina. He left a wife and four young children. His remains were buried in the Garden of Memories Memorial Park in Pateros on Apr 14.

Friends who broke the news about his demise said Sonsing suffered a heart attack.

Sonsing was one of four young Filipinos in Hong Kong who were featured in the South China Morning Post nearly three years ago about their struggle to rise above the discrimination and marginalization that ethnic minority children suffer in this city.
The article details how Sonsing had worked in the kitchen of Paisano pizzeria– then known as serving the city’s biggest pizza - until he rose to the position of general manager and executive chef.

Not content to remain an employee, he took a bold move in 2013 and set up his own pizzeria, Checkmate Pizza, in Praya, Kennedy Town. It quickly gained popularity for serving the biggest pizza in Hong Kong and its equally sought-after buffalo chicken wings.

Checkmate takes pride in serving 30-inch pizzas, while Paisano’s biggest measures 24 inches across.
 
Checkmate Pizza's Hung Hom branch opened in 2017

In 2017 Checkmate Pizza opened a branch in Hung Hom, with Sonsing welcoming guests with free pizzas and drinks.

Sonsing and his siblings came to Hong Kong when he was five years old to join their father, who was a musician at a nightclub in Tsimshatsui, and his mother, who was a quality control engineer for a tobacco company.

He and his younger sister Regina went to Delia Memorial School in Mei Foo Sun Chuen, which offers separate Chinese and English curricula for local and ethnic minority children.

After secondary school, he went back to the Philippines to enroll in college, staying with his grandparents in the family compound in Tipas, a lakeside village in Taguig City, and developing his passion for cooking.

He spent a few years in Taguig, got married and had one child, before deciding to return to Hong Kong in 2005 when he realized that finding a job that paid a decent salary in Manila was difficult.

He and his wife had three more children since, but Sonsing decided his family should stay behind in Manila. In the SCMP article, he said he wanted his children to grow up learning Filipino culture, something that he didn't get the chance to do.

Sonsing also said that although he had lived in Hong Kong for more than three decades, he still considered himself a Filipino.


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