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Travel and Tourism

Behind emerging restaurants in Boracay is a tight-knit community of small business owners

Euden Valdez - Philstar.com
Behind emerging restaurants in Boracay is a tight-knit community of small business owners
“Another thing that makes Boracay unique is its close community, and small businesses (food and otherwise) are a representation of that,” said Patrick and Shria Florencio of the Nonie's Food Group.
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MANILA, Philippines — Often, the restaurant industry is portrayed to be cut-throat among competitors. But in Boracay in Aklan province, the bustling food scene has proven different. Perhaps it’s the chill vibe of the island that has rubbed unto small business owners. But ultimately, it’s the pandemic that has made them into a tight-knit community.

This very community fostered support when restaurants were closed during earlier lockdowns, as well as provided a safe space for business owners and staff alike.

“There are a number of small businesses that have been here for years and are integral in helping to build Boracay to become the destination like Real Coffee or Dos Mestizos for example. The small food businesses help to create the culture in Boracay, and give tourists a local experience that they cannot get back home,” Patrick and Shria Florencio of the Nonie’s Food Group told Philstar.com.

“Another thing that makes Boracay unique is its close community, and small businesses (food and otherwise) are a representation of that,” the husband and wife and business partners continued.

If there are business owners who exemplify this, it would be no less than the Florencios. In fact, they organized a recent media tour that showcased both the food culture and community in Boracay.

Apart from Little Taj and Muchos, two new restos recently opened under their belt, the couple also introduced emerging food concepts alongside already established or rebranded ones.

“We always love to check out new establishments on the island when we can, and the best way for us to show support is to really visit them, share it on social media as well as introduce friends to the concept,” shared the Florencios.

Having a community as support system

At every dining spot, Patrick and Shria are greeted with warmth and gratitude by their fellow business owners, and often share a story or two until they bid see you.

Arlyn Chan, co-owner of Chan’s, an Asian hawker-inspired dining outlet located at Station X.
Philstar.com/Euden Valdez

One of them is Arlyn Chan, co-owner of Chan’s, an Asian hawker-inspired dining outlet located at Station X, where Nonie’s is also located. Opened only in April of 2022, this new food concept serves a simple but well-thought of menu consisting of kaya toasts, rice bowls, health soups and drinks such as kopi and teh.

As the new kid in the block, Chan immediately received a warm welcome and support from her neighbors at Nonie’s. At times when business was down and she felt giving up, Patrick and Shria pushed her to persevere and continue.

Today, Chan’s remains to be the only place in Boracay where you can get Singaporean kaya toast with the signature runny, soft-boiled eggs, or with a twist featuring Filipino salted yema.

Chan’s remains to be the only place in Boracay where you can get Singaporean kaya toast.
Philstar.com/Euden Valdez

Besides Station X, Patrick and Shria also frequent Angol Beach in Station 3 where they have formed close bonds with fellow restaurant owners — both locals and expats.

Over breakfast at Villa Caemilla, Resort Manager Wesley van der Voort recounted how they banded at the onset of the pandemic to help make sure people on the island would have food on the table. For months, the hotel conducted relief operations where as much as 10,000 food packs with rice, vegetables and other goods were given to the needy.

When non contact sports were allowed, the business owners and resort managers along with their staff also learned how to play Ultimate frisbee, led and coached by Everrich Resort’s owner and manager Wendell Simbulan.

Meanwhile, regular Everrich Resort guests Carlos Lopez and Reggie Dumasig who are frisbee players as well, decided to stay in the island for good. They grabbed the opportunity to have work online and enjoy beach ultimate frisbee at the same time. Wendell collaborated with these two and established Everrich’s own dining outlet, which became the Love Shack Bistro and Cafe.

Wendell also offered DJ lessons. Patrick and Shria were both his former students, and today, they get invited to spin records at other restaurants!

Villa Caemilla Resort Manager Wesley van der Voort recounts their experience on the island during lockdowns at the onset of the pandemcic. 
Philstar.com/Euden Valdez

Overall, Wesley shared that the Frisbee games and DJ lessons gave everyone things to do when there was nothing else to do. “This prevented us from getting sucked into negative emotions and helped us all keep sane,” he recounted.

Both Villa Caemilla and Love Shack are perfect destinations for breakfast and brunch.

Villa Caemilla, an award-winning boutique hotel with a prime beachfront location, is sought for its all-day breakfast menu of international and local dishes. A must try is the Longganisa Tonkatsu with garlic fried rice and eggs of your choice.

The more secluded Love Shack, on the other hand, crafts trendy ube beverages like I Purple You or A.R.M.Y Coffee. It also serves familiar breakfast fare like tapsilog and French toast, as well as healthy options such as Grilled Chicken Salad and Grilled Salmon with Truffle Risotto.

Hearty breakfast options from Villa Caemilla (left) and Love Shack (right).
Philstar.com/Euden Valdez

Introducing innovative and authentic food concepts

But there’s more that Patrick and Shria have gained apart from friends — family even — amid the pandemic: Learnings they can apply as they continue to navigate in these ever-changing times.

“The biggest learning for us was being agile and adaptable in an ever-changing landscape while staying true to our core values, and developing and investing in building a strong team,” they said.

Much of this they have learned from Nonie’s, their five-year-old restaurant which has remained operational and open even with limited tourists at Boracay.

Now, they are moving forward with two additional restaurants, which bring variety and authenticity to the island, much to the benefit of returning tourists.

“We feel both concepts brought something a little unique and different to the ever growing Boracay food scene. When we create a concept, we specifically look for something that does not currently exist or if it does, we like to put a twist on classic concepts to make them our own,” the Florencios said.

For Muchos, they decided to focus on a Latin American concept — not just Tex-Mex — combined with a tequila bar.

“We went for more Peruvian flavors and other countries in Latin America that are not commonly highlighted such as Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, etc. and of course we also had to include a range of tacos,” Patrick noted.

Unique to the restaurant are its signature tacos, smaller and made from corn tortilla like the ones found on the streets of Mexico. Choose from Barbacao Taco, Pollo Taco, Pescada Taco, Birria Carnitas or even the vegan Coliflor Taco.

Meanwhile, Little Taj is inspired by Shria’s roots in India. She said, “With Little Taj, we wanted to add our modern twist to a usually very traditional concept and we worked closely with our Indian Chef consultant to achieve this while staying true to the bold flavors of India.”

Shria is also proud that their dishes are made the old-fashion way. “We make everything in house including our paneer, yogurt, pastes etc.”

Must-try dishes that can easily be appreciated by the Filipino palette include appetizers like Cheese Stuffed Paratha,Beef Keema Samosas and Fish Tikka Tandoori, as well as mains like Chicken Hyderabadi Biryani, Palak Paneer, Chicken Tikka Masala and Lamb Rogan Josh.

These are complemented by craft Indian cocktails and a very vibrant interior design.

OG Nonie’s is not to be outdone. Since it opened in 2017, it has transformed Filipino cuisine to be more healthy, sustainable and inclusive. It’s perhaps the restaurant in the island with the most vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and even keto options — all in modern Filipino-inspired dishes.

Favorites include Vegan Sisig with Lavosh, Adlai Arroz Caldo, Tempeh Kare Kare with Black Rice (vegan) and Bistek Tagalog with Kamote Mash, among others. Appetizers and desserts are equally healthy and yummy.

In welcoming 2023, the couple is hopeful for Boracay’s recovery as they continue to grow their team and company.

“We hope to continue to build and grow as a team and we are just very grateful to have a busy island again after so long and we plan to really enjoy this time and soak it in,” Patrick and Shria said.

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