Nowie and Odette Potenciano, the husband-and-wife team behind The Sunny Side Café Group, have had a difficult couple of years.
First, there was the Boracay closure in 2018, which forced them to shutter their restaurants The Sunny Side Café, Spice Bird, Supermagic Burgers and Ice Cream, Popo Teahouse and Coco Mama.
Then, in 2020, the pandemic hit. “The past six months have been terribly difficult for us,” Nowie told Lifestyle. “It was only a year and a half after we reopened after the Boracay closure that we had to close again for the pandemic. We had not yet fully recovered, and now we’re in another crisis.”
What’s remarkable is, despite the hardship they were facing, the Potencianos got busy helping others. “Like many other people, we were spurred to help in whatever way we could, simply because we knew we had the capability to do so.”
They worked with local contacts so they could provide personal protective equipment for clinics in Boracay and other places in Aklan.
They used ingredients that were supposed to be for their restaurants to feed the hungry, through several feeding programs.
They used their reach to spread word about relief efforts. “We converted our social media pages into venues where we could promote various initiatives for donations because the opportunity was there.”
The couple thought they could “buckle down and ride this out,” but with no end to the pandemic in sight, they realized they had to move. “We’re forced to use our remaining resources to do something in Manila. We needed to be proactive and do something to save our business.”
Beach in the city
That something is Spicebird, their piri-piri restaurant that was a Boracay favorite when it opened five years ago. “We felt that the market context had changed since people are now looking for slices of the beach and their past trips to Boracay. We felt that Spicebird would be able to evoke those feelings.”
They opened Spicebird at The Grid at the Power Plant Mall.
“It was perfect for what we were looking for in a Manila shop. We feel that our brands appeal more to a discerning market, those who are always on the lookout for something delicious and unique.”
Spicebird opened Sept. 16 and the Potencianos have been flooded with orders, with the food even selling out on two days. “We’ve only been open a few days and yet we’ve been swamped with orders every day. We’ve been exhausted but it’s been a happy kind of tired.”
Spicebird Boracay favorites are now in Manila—like the Piri-Piri Chicken, Piri-Piri Pork Belly Boards and, of course, Spicebird’s popular signature sauces.
For those who’ve never tried their food, Nowie explains, “Piri-piri is characterized by bold flavors on grilled meats. It’s a great option compared to the usual fastfood. Because most of our dishes are grilled, they can be a healthier choice without missing out on flavor.”
Try the Piri-Piri Chicken Boards. “They come with spice rice, honey vinaigrette salad, veggie chips, milky roll, and our signature sauce. It’s a tasty and satisfying meal. Oh, and don’t forget the Piri-Piri Chicken Skin which is so popular, it probably already has fanfic written about it!”
Nowie’s personal favorite is the Piri-Piri Pork Belly. “We slow-cook our pork belly until it’s so tender that it practically melts when we grill it,” he says.
For vegans, vegetarians, too
Vegans and vegetarians have dishes they can enjoy, too, like the Piri-Piri Falafel and Eggplant and Squash Boards. “These are so yummy, even avowed meat-eaters order them.”
On keto? Spicebird offers Keto Boards. “They consist of our Piri-Piri Grilled Chicken or Pork plus a healthy serving of our salad (with the option to remove the honey vinaigrette), and signature sauces.”
Of Spicebird’s signature sauces, our favorite is Sexy Sauce No. 5. “We made sure that they’re also available in jars at The Grid. Budding home cooks can use them as both marinades and dipping sauces. Trust me when I say they’re great on everything. We’ve heard people use them on all sorts of dishes, from lumpia to pasta!” says Nowie.
Save room for dessert, because, “One dish that I feel deserves more attention is our Double Happiness Sundae,” Nowie adds. “It has two scoops of dark chocolate ice cream, drizzled with fragrant bergamot-infused olive oil, sea salt and Risa chocolate. People who’ve tried this dream of going back to Boracay just for this sundae!”
To help staff who haven’t been working since the restaurants closed, they brought some of them to Manila to work at Spicebird. “We feel it’s worth the expense because we get to take care of our Boracay staff, if only just a handful of them.”
Nowie adds, “Since the beach is our home, we’ve tried very hard to minimize plastics in our take-away packaging. Those who get Spicebird to go will see that most of our packaging is sustainable, down to our cutlery.”
Those who love Coco Mama can enjoy their favorite lactose-free, vegan-friendly coconut ice cream—you can get it delivered, just use the order form links on the Coco Mama social media pages.
Nowie and Odette will also be reviving their brand Mochiko mochi ice cream via direct delivery.
As for The Sunny Side Group’s other restaurants, Nowie says, “We don’t have any plans to bring over our other Boracay shops just yet, but who knows? We’re taking things one step at a time.”
Spicebird at The Grid is open every day 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., tel. 0917-7077459, 0917-7022534; follow @thegridfoodmarket on Facebook or Instagram.