I was born in Manila but raised in Toronto, where my family migrated when I was five. My parents met in Manila: dad is from Quezon, while mom hails from Iloilo. Manila is a city that holds many memories for me. My sister still lives there, and my last visit was in 2011, to celebrate dad’s 70th birthday and when I found out I was pregnant with my first child.
In Canada, I grew up in Mississauga, a suburb in Toronto, but moved downtown for university. Since then, I’ve settled in this part of the city and I now live in Leslieville with my husband and three children. It’s wonderful to see how this neighborhood has grown and flourished in the last seven years.
When my first son was born, I was a business marketing analyst. But things changed when he began showing signs of food allergy at six months old. I knew nothing about such health conditions so it was a steep learning curve. We eventually discovered he would have adverse reactions to some food items, including peanuts, tree nuts, dairy products, eggs and other common ingredients found in many dishes.
I started reading up on the topic, engaging in food allergy advocacy, creating an online community and support group for parents of children with allergies in Toronto and writing a blog called HypeFoodie.com. That led to me becoming a bi-weekly contributor to the Huffington Post, where I wrote a column called the “Allergy-friendly Recipe Makeover”. This involved offering alternative recipes to popular dishes such as pumpkin pie and shortbread cookies, without common allergens like eggs, wheat, soy, nuts and dairy. Although I don’t have formal restaurant training, I love to cook. For that, I thank my mom, who taught me the essentials of Filipino cuisine.
While learning to test recipes, the priority was to feed my son without compromising his health, but it was important that my food tasted good too. As he got older and it became less appropriate to bring his own food to restaurants, my husband and I recognized the need for a restaurant where people with dietary restrictions can dine. We decided to start our own restaurant that would serve up allergen-free dishes.
We opened Hype Food Co, on the corner of Gerrard Street and Jones Avenue in Leslieville, in May 2018. We didn’t hire a restaurant consultant – instead, I learned from friends in the F&B industry about recipe development and food service, focusing on creating systems that would avoid cross-contamination between ingredients, like ensuring cutting boards and knives are cleaned after every use and placing all ingredients in covered containers with dedicated tongs.
I’m committed to offering great food that is free from gluten, dairy, nuts, soy, sesame, fish and eggs. Everything at Hype Food Co is made in-house. I want to make our space a welcoming place for families: There is a train play table and a Lego table for kids as well as drawing boards and books, and an area to park strollers. Many of our regular customers don’t have any dietary restrictions, but visit us daily because they appreciate tasty homecooked meals.
My weekend begins with my family and I visiting one of our favorite places in the east end, the Evergreen Brick Works. The kids love to play in the outdoor area and the hiking trails are not too challenging. It has several old buildings, and it’s an important part of Toronto’s history as a former factory and quarry in the Don River Valley that was revived as a multi-use space. I love that you can see the decades-old graffiti on the former brick factory walls. 550 Bayview Avenue
Token Gift Shop is a quaint little shop owned by Leslieville couple Nicole Babin and Stefan Powell. I like to pick up unique gifts for all ages here, such as tea towels depicting iconic Toronto landmarks by British artist Julia Gash. The store is committed to sustainability and reducing waste. 777 Queen Street East
A ten-minute walk from Hype Food Co on Greenwood Avenue is Maha’s. It opened in 2014 and has since been expanded to accommodate more diners. This Egyptian brunch place has so many creative dishes like shakshuka (eggs scrambled with tomato), the Cairo Classic (fava beans, eggs, tomato, bread and falafel) and Beleella (slow cooked barley, milk, vanilla, sugar, raisin, walnut and shredded coconut). There’s always a line but it’s worth the wait – especially for its honey-cardamom latte! 226 Greenwood Avenue