When I visited Boracay together with my wife, Odette, for the first time, we both were still tied down to office jobs in Manila.
We fell in love with the fine white sand, blue waters and laid-back energy, and continued visiting the island over the next couple of years.
Moving here was never in the picture, but in 2005 a commercial space became available at D’Mall and we decided to open a small shop selling local premium ice cream.
Odette ended up quitting her job in Manila, and I did the same a few years later.
Building an iconic dining spot
In 2014, while on a trip around Southeast Asia, we noticed that in each destination we visited, there was always the one bakery or breakfast spot that people gravitated to every morning.
Boracay needed a similar kind of establishment, we thought, and so in 2014 we opened The Sunny Side Cafe, where we bake our own bread, reinvent classic breakfast dishes and make specialty coffee.
Banking on Sunny Side’s success, we opened Spicebird in D’Mall nine months later, serving grilled chicken with piri-piri sauce, a style of cooking we discovered in London and Sydney.
We have opened three more restaurants in Boracay since that time.
Boracay goes to rehab
In April 2018, the government closed the island of Boracay to fix extensive environmental damage caused by years of unrestricted tourism. The white sand beaches were cleaned, roads were repaved and a 30m stretch of sand between the shoreline and establishments was restored.
Like most of the businesses on the island, we were caught flat-footed. But we had our employees to worry about, so we organized pop-up events in Manila and used the time to study how our operations could be improved.
Welcome a cleaner Boracay
When Boracay reopened to tourists in October 2018, new measures were implemented to protect the island from irresponsible tourism.
Drinking and smoking on the beach are now banned and businesses have been asked to be more environmentally conscious.
We are proud to say that we have reduced single-use plastics in our kitchens by 40%, transitioned fully to using metal and rice straws, and now source most of our rice directly from Filipino farmers.
Fifteen years since we opened our first shop on Boracay, Odette and I are still here, and we love this island even more.
Boracay in the time of pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic caught everyone in the hospitality business by surprise and we had no choice but to temporarily cease operations. It’s been a challenge, as we were all hoping that a strong summer could help us recover from the island’s six-month closure in 2018.
Thankfully Boracay reopened once again in October 2019, and all domestic tourists are now welcome.
The island is more beautiful than ever, and for those of us who call it home, there is a quiet sense of confidence that, since we’ve gone through so much difficulty before, we can very well get past this too.
We have seen the island change over the years, but it is clear to us that its appeal will always be there.
I start the day with a morning run at Station 1, the north end of Boracay’s famous White Beach, near the formation called Willy’s Rock. There are fewer people here and the sand is more stable for running.
Since Boracay reopened in October 2018 after six months of rehabilitation, establishments are no longer allowed to set up tables by the shore, so I get an unfettered view of this 4km-long stretch of powdery white sand. It looks like paradise.
Little Wave is one of the few cafés on the island that serve specialty coffee. Its beans are sourced from Manila’s best roasters and it sometimes collaborates with its suppliers to make seasonal coffee-based beverages.
Today I’m having the Death Cream, a rich and indulgent espresso and custard drink, which I have with a slice of pumpkin toast.
I take this time to catch up on work. Boracay has a growing number of digital nomads and this shop has become popular for its free WiFi and great grub. Station X, Main Rd
Boracay’s vibe may be easygoing, but when we’re here we try to work as hard as we do in Manila. At Spicebird Piri-Piri Grill, I check out the new additions to our menu with executive chef Natalia Moran.
Two of my new favorites are the piri-piri crab and the merguez sausage board, but today I opt for the piri-piri falafel.
It’s a vegetarian-friendly number that’s packed with flavor, thanks to our signature sauces available on every table. D’Mall Plaza, Station 2, White Beach
The sun is now bearing down with such intensity that I decide to take a breather at one of the new pool clubs on the island. Pool Bar at Station X, at Hue Hotels & Resort along the island’s main road, is the place to see and be seen.