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How pop-ups help Boracay restaurants battered by shutdowns reach new customers in Manila

By Tanya Lara Published Mar 23, 2021 6:03 pm

It was one of Boracay’s best-kept secrets, but not for very long. When this café first opened in the summer of 2014, it gained an immediate cult following for its all-day breakfast fare.

The Sunny Side Café’s first location was at the far end of White Beach beside Sands Hotel at Station 3, where you could sit at the tables outside and watch the paraws parked on the water.

The first time I tried their food was some years ago when I was staying next door and accidentally had breakfast there because I thought it was the hotel’s. I loved their Angus beef tapa, their grilled three-cheese sandwich, pancakes and eggs Florentine. Since that first bite, I would go a couple more times even when I was staying at Station 1 on the opposite end of the beach.

Sunny Side Group’s Odette Potenciano, who runs the company with her husband Nowie Potenciano, tells PhilSTAR L!fe that when the island was first closed in 2018, they were all in shock, especially the independent restaurateurs. The pandemic hit in 2020 just when they were recovering from the previous shutdown.

The Sunny Side Cafe’s kitayama beef tapsilog. Photos courtesy of The Sunny Side Group
Mango cream cheese pancake

Then the third punch in the gut was delivered last Sunday, March 21, when Malacañang announced a leisure travel ban for two weeks to keep people home over the Holy Week. It’s a week that Boracay expected to have at least more than 800 visitors a day compared to 6,000 daily pre-pandemic. (All Boracay visitors are required to have a negative PCR test result.)

The Sunny Side Group reopened last week Supermagic Burgers and Sunny Side Café at Station X, that hipster complex that houses Little Wave Café, Coco Mama and Hue Hotel among others.

Odette shared on Facebook after the IATF resolution was announced, “It’s just been a week since we reopened The Sunny Side Café and Supermagic Burgers, and three days since we reopened Spicebird in Boracay. The capital required to reopen three restaurants, which have been closed for a year with practically no stocks, is no laughing matter. Especially if you have had no income for a year.”

Supermagic Burgers at Station X Boracay.
Apart from classic burgers, they have soft-shell crab burgers!

She added, “We have been very frugal in reopening—only buying the bare minimum stocks, streamlining the menu, and operating with the minimum number of staff.

“We were looking forward to Holy Week as the hotels said their occupancy is high(-er) for that period in this pandemic. Then, bam! Metro Manila and some other provinces are back to what is basically a lockdown with a new name. We are back deep in the nightmare which we never left, one year after.”

Pop-ups in Manila, Singapore

The Sunny Side Group’s Odette and Nowie Potenciano

But like her café, Odette has that sunny side to her personality. After all, she practically reinvented herself and took on a second career in the F&B industry.

A former Rustan’s brand manager for Chanel, Odette (with husband Nowie) first opened Sunny Side in 2014; then Spicebird Piri-Piri Grill at D’Mall and Super MagicBurgers in 2015; Coco Mama, which serves gluten- and lactose-free ice cream and desserts, in 2016; and Little Wave Cafe.

These are small spaces with only a couple of tables—but each one has a unique menu and all have delicious food that gives you sepanx once you’re back in Manila…if not for the pop-ups.

Pop-up restaurants, being temporary in nature, help entrepreneurs like Odette introduce their food to a wider audience in Manila without having to invest in a space.

Roesti or poached eggs and sour cream on fired potato fritters with chorizo.

A pop-up can be as short as one night or as long as four months, and helps tide them over through the island closures.

Odette says that in 2018 their pop-ups allowed them to keep their staff employed for at least three months “during the long six months Boracay was shut down.”

Sunny Side had pop-ups at Westgate Alabang and Hole In The Wall Food Hall. Coco Mama had tremendous success at the popular Flotsam & Jetsam Hostel in San Juan, La Union for four months that it became permanent there and also opened at the Great Northwest Philippines Travel Stop & Viewing Deck.

Mango, coconut, and gluten- and dairy-free ice cream by Coco Mama.
Chicken and pork adobo by The Sunny Side Cafe

Spicebird had a pop-up at EDSA Specialty Beverages for just one night. “It was a fun night with us grilling outside the door, EDSA serving drinks, and guests dining and mingling. It was the perfect way to introduce Spicebird, which had just then opened in Boracay.”

After the Boracay closure of 2018, Odette says, “we felt that we had to work extra hard to get people to return to the island. One way we thought we could do that was to do pop-ups abroad.”

A first for a Boracay restaurant, they brought Spicebird and Sunny Side in November 2019 to Singapore—two days at The Gathering Room, and Chye Seng Huat Hardware, a popular coffee hangout.

In 2020, “after realizing that the pandemic was going to last longer than we expected, we started thinking of ways to keep our staff employed. We opened a permanent shop for Spicebird at The Grid in Power Plant Mall in September 2020, and some of the staff there are our displaced employees from Boracay.”

Two months later, they opened a pop-up of Sunny Side also at The Grid where they were supposed to stay only for two months but that’s now extended until April 30.

“We are fortunate enough to now have outdoor seating for both Spicebird and The Sunny Side Café in Power Plant Mall’s al fresco area along Lopez Drive,” Odette says.

It’s not just that pop-ups bring in new customers, they also help the restaurants keep in touch with loyal foodies. “In our Manila and Singapore pop-ups, people told us they first tasted our food in Boracay and were so excited to have it again. They really sought us out. I guess it brought back happy memories of the island we all love.”

Sunny Side’s champorado with mango and ice cream.