It was a leap of faith in many ways. They didn’t know anything about the restaurant business but food was their passion; they signed the lease even before seeing the space; and they quit their high-paying jobs to relocate to Boracay.
Patrick Florencio and his wife Shria were both headhunters for a company in Singapore when they decided to move to Boracay in 2016 and open a restaurant that would put Filipino cuisine in a different, healthier light.
They opened Nonie’s, named after Patrick’s mom, on Feb. 14, 2017.
“We’ve been open technically four years—through two island closures,” Shria said of Boracay’s 2018 rehabilitation and 2020’s COVID-19 shutdown.
They’ve been open for only one full year—2019—and by then Nonie’s was rated the No. 1 restaurant in Boracay by TripAdvisor.
Nonie’s food is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the palate. Their food is beautifully plated—and healthy too. Its philosophy is that “everyone has the right to good, clean and fair food.” They bake their breads daily, make everything from scratch with ingredients sourced from the island and Aklan province.
As part the #eatgoodfeelgood movement, Nonie’s serves Pinoy dishes with healthy substitutions like organic black rice for their Cavite-style chicken and pork adobo, tempeh for kare-kare, baked lavosh for vegan sisig, and banana heart and tofu for bruschetta.
Must-trys at Nonie’s are their famous grain bowls: vegan chorizo, tuna tataki, tempeh bowl, squid sarsiado, BBQ pork, beef and kimchi, and chicken longganisa.
Also their smoothies that combine fruits in new ways: banna and ginger, strawberry and Thai basil, beetroot and strawberry, banana and ginger, papaya and coconut. All of them are topped with chia seeds.
The restaurant is vegetarian and vegan friendly, and what surprised the couple is that their menu is being enjoyed by all ages (not just the hipster crowd that they expected) and people with different food preferences.
Around the world
Shria was born in South Africa and her family moved to New Zealand, while Patrick was born and raised in British Columbia, Canada by his Filipino parents from Marikina.
Their worlds converged when the company they were both working for transferred them to Singapore (Shria from Melbourne, Australia and Patrick from Vancouver, Canada).
“We were in executive recruitment, headhunting for the same company,” Patrick says. “After a few years in Singapore, we just wanted a change from our corporate life.”
When Patrick’s parents retired, they bought a two-bedroom condo in Boracay where they spent the Canadian winters. “When we were in Singapore and they were in Boracay, we’d come to visit. We did that a couple of times so that’s where the connection to the island started.”
Shria says, “We love to eat and would always do brunch in Singapore, so our idea was to do a café…and then it grew into a full-service restaurant.”
She adds with a laugh, “We’re not chefs—we just know how to hire people because we’re in HR.”
A few years ago, when they were in Krabi, Thailand for a vacation, they talked about starting their own business. Shria at that point had never been to Boracay, “Pat was like like, oh, you should really see the Philippines and its beautiful beaches. So when his mom and dad moved here, we came to Boracay—during peak season when the island was bursting—and I loved it. I remember walking on the beach, it was just so great and vibrant.”
Patrick says that at the time they knew nothing of the island—just White Beach, really. “I guess our initial observation was that we didn't really find Filipino food highlighted in ways we thought it could be showcased.
Leap of faith
They got married in Singapore in June 2016, quit their jobs in August, and moved to Boracay in September.
Patrick admits with a laugh that in the beginning they were very naïve. They thought they could just walk on White Beach and find a place to rent. “Obviously that wasn’t not possible especially for newcomers. So, we went back to Singapore, then my dad saw this place being constructed. He sent us a video. And then we emailed the lease.”
Shria adds, “It made a lot more sense to open a business here because it’s Patrick’s culture, he knows the language. So, really, we just took all our experiences in Australia and New Zealand, Canada and the Philippines.”
Station X, where Nonie’s is located, is a different kind of enclave in Boracay. It has a very young feel with its vibe and design—something Patrick and Shria were so thankful for because it fit their design aesthetic. Within Station X is Hue Hotel, restaurants that offer some of the best food on the island, a food hall with different concessionaires, a bar area, a working area, and a large swimming pool in the middle.
Before the COVID shutdown, Station X felt, looked and was populated like Makati’s Poblacion—island style, that is.
With the help of their family, the couple invested P8 million to build and furnish Nonie’s, hire a food consultant, chef Ramon Antonio, to do the menu, and train the staff. Patrick’s brother Roberto and his wife Fernanda took a year-long sabbatical to help them open Nonie’s.
Two closures, one unlike the other
On April 26, 2018, Boracay was shut down for rehabilitation with only a few weeks’ notice. Business owners, vacationers, foreign travelers were left scrambling to make adjustments.
There were rumors swirling on the island for months and the Florencios thought, “Surely this is not happening.” But it did.
“So, what do we do now?” Shria and Patrick asked themselves. Fortunately, Nonie’s had gained a strong following from Boracay’s visitors and some of them turned out to be business owners in Manila.
“We had never lived in Manila, we didn’t know anyone from the media, we had no connections, but fortunately we had made friends who invited us to do a six-week pop-up in their establishment,” Shria says. And so Nonie’s brought its healthy, sustainable menu to the speakeasy ABV (Alcohol by Volume) and introduced it to new diners.
When Boracay reopened in October 2018, “it was just like turning the tap back on,” Patrick says of people’s excitement to visit the island again.
Nonie’s had become even more famous when they were featured on Korean TV and tourists would order exactly the same thing (their kimchi soup is the bomb!)
“It was our busiest year, 2019. People just came back, which was crazy. Last year’s closure, caused by the pandemic, is not so easy to recover from. It’s more unpedictable,” he says.
The couple has had to abandon plans to open in El Nido (they were already in construction) and cut their losses.
But they’re staying positive about Nonie’s and Boracay. Shria says, “Prior to the pandmeic, so many people had stopped coming to Boracay, saying it was too crowded and commercial. At least now, the island can breathe, it’s quieter. So it seems that more people are starting to fall in love again with the island.”
Banner photo: Patrick and Shria Florencio; Nonie’s grain bowls