Just like the small hand-painted sign promised, the durians at Toto Willy’s were fresh. And they were tree-dropped. And the uncle selling durians there was so nice and good at choosing bitter, wrinkly, satisfying Arancillo.
I didn’t know it, but we had met the oldest durian seller in Magsaysay, and a piece of Davao’s Durian History.
Toto Willy has been selling durian at Magsaysay since 1965.
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Toto Willy’s (Willie’s?) Durian Shop
Toto Willy’s Fresh Durian is just across the street from the more famous Magsaysay Durian Park, built in 1988 by Willy’s sister-in-law, Neneng.
The shop is just next to the Chinatown Arch, tucked between Neneng’s Fruit Products (durian jam and candies) and a small restaurant.
A small table out front is the only seating option, and durians spill down the front of the shop into a large pile, pooling in baskets along the curb and jostling for sidewalk space.
Basically, don’t plan on a romantic durian date here.
It’s crowded, hot, chaotic, and too loud for normal conversation thanks to the roar of Jeepnees traveling down Quezon Blvd.
You have no idea how long I made Richard wait in the sweltering sun so the traffic would clear enough for this picture.
That’s Willy himself out front.
Now 74 years old, he’s at the stall selling durian every day of every week of every year. He says now that the season in Davao is nearly year-round, he doesn’t have to take days off anymore, which makes him happy.
He wades through rivers of durians being ferried off big trucks, tallying the buys with a notebook in hand.
If he gets his way, he’ll be here buying, selling and opening durian every day until he dies.
Magsaysay in 1965
In 1965, when Wilfredo “Willy” Ayolo began opening durians on the corner of Davao City’s China Town, the road along the coastline was dirt. Across the dirt road was a fishing market where colorful boats bobbed against the docks and if the wind blew the wrong way you knew it.
The police station wasn’t there yet. The ground for the Ramon Magsaysay Park had been cleared, the obelisk in place, but there were no trees or buildings.
There was no Magsaysay Durian Park at all.
There wasn’t much to obscure the view.
From the shade of the durian stall, Willy could see all the way across the dirt road to Samal Island, across a narrow strip of sparkling turquoise water.
Davao was a quiet town in 1965, but growing very fast. In the 10 years between 1960 and 1970, Davao’s population tripled — from just 220,000 people to over 660,000 in 10 years (now it’s over 1.6 million) — with people coming to Davao looking for opportunity, just like Toto Willy.
And as they came and Davao grew, so did Toto Willy’s local fame.
Toto Willy’s Story
Wilfredo “Willy” Ayolo was born in Negros Occidental, an island north of Mindanao famous for sugar cane. Life was not the easiest in the sugar fields.
At 20 years old, Toto Willy knew he didn’t have a lot of opportunities. So when an uncle invited him to come and work in Davao, he got on a boat and changed islands.
He spent a year working the docks in the Santa Ana Wharf, but he hated the work and when the wharf burned down in early 1965, well, that was just fine.
He settled into opening durians at his Uncle’s shop on the inside right hand corner of Magsaysay Avenue and Quezon Blvd. His uncle gave him his first taste of durian, and he was hooked. He really liked it.
Back then, all the durian was Native, what we call Kampung in Malaysia or Baan in Thailand. It means each durian was planted from a seed, and each fruit tasted different.
They were unpredictable, and could taste good, or could taste bad. They could be fleshy, or hardly anything to eat.
Toto Willy’s customers realized the young man had an uncanny knack for choosing good durians. And he was honest — unlike other sellers, if he opened a durian infected with insects, rotten, or just not that nice, he wouldn’t sell it.
People began queuing for his durian-selection services. As a child, President Duterte used to come eat durians with his family too.
By 1967, Toto Willy moved across Quezon Blvd to work for another stall. He met his wife at the durian stall in 1969, and soon she left her job at a department store in China Town and began working at the durian stall too.
When the owner decided to retire in 1989, Toto Willy took over the rent and kept the shop.
Now it’s been 52 years.
Durians to eat at Toto Willy’s Magsaysay Durian Shop
Puyat is the most common durian in Davao City, so you’ll find it everywhere. Of course Willy sells it too.
A bad Puyat is stringy, candy sweet and has a orangey-pink color. A good one is deep yellow, with soft wrinkles and a thick skin skin, usually with a bright yellow-pinkish hue.
Ask Willy for tree-dropped, and make sure it’s really fresh, and I think you’ll be surprised how good Puyat can be.
Kob White is one of Toto Willy’s two favorite durians, and one of mine also. It’s not sweet, so get over that expectation. Where Kob White shines is in super milky, super thick, sticky, creamy, cookie-batter bitter department.
If you like D24 in Malaysia, you would likely enjoy Kob White.
Last but not least, definitely, always, 100% request Arancillo when you visit Toto Willy’s. It’s the durian that helped us discover him, and he admits its his favorite too.
Arancillo has white or ivory colored flesh, but don’t let that deter you from succulating its luscious bitter butter folds.
Where to stay near Toto Willy’s
If you wanna be as close as possible to the durian goodness of Toto Willy’s, there are three hotels I can recommend in the area.
I often stayed here with friends back in my first few years coming to Davao. The location is literally around the corner from Toto Willy’s. It’s very central and puts you in easy walking distance of the entire downtown.
It’s also cheap. With rooms starting as low as Php600 ($11.50USD) for a room with Aircon or just Php375 ($7 USD) for a fan room, you won’t find non-sketchy rooms for much cheaper in Davao City. **prices are of October, 2018** It doesn’t seem like they are actively using Agoda or other online booking software, so you may need to call ahead for a reservation.
Sequoia is newer than when I was staying around Magsaysay, and has better reviews than the old Evergreen. It’s on a side road away from the main drag, with a quieter entrance/exit.
A more expensive option at nearly Php3,000, the Pinnacles is a 3-star hotel just a 10 minute walk from the park. Make sure to check Booking.com for flash sales and deals if you want extra money for durian without niggling on the creature comforts.
*** All of these are affiliate links, which means if you click on them to book your hotel you are contributing to Year of the Durian and we thank you very much 🙏
How to find Toto Willy’s
If you find the big red gate to Davao’s China Town, you’re very close to Toto Willy’s. Just look for the long green banner.
Opening hours: 7AM to 12PM
Use the Philippines Durian Hunting Map to look for other durian stalls & stories, or adventure out to the durian farms.