Baking has always been a passion for Sharon De Leon, but her career in making Filipino breads and pastries started almost by accident. For years that had always been her side job where she filled orders from home whenever she found time outside of her job as a professional chef. But now she’s made baking her full-time commitment with the opening of the Filipino bakery and cafe in Bedford, Tinápe. “We’re the first established bakery and cafe with a Filipino twist here in Halifax,” says De Leon, sitting next to her husband and co-owner Sundy Gernale. “We are delighted to offer what we can as part of our profession as a chef. ”
For more than 20 years, the duo have found their way into the food industry. Gernale studied hospitality management at university, finishing as a chef and consultant for several hotels and restaurants while De Leon started working in gourmet restaurants in the Philippines. The couple met while working together at a resort in Turks and Caicos, got married in the Caribbean, and eventually moved to Halifax.
The two started as chefs at Darrell’s restaurant in South Halifax, but De Leon continued to prepare orders for the local Filipino community. At the time, she mostly focused on personalized cakes rather than traditional Filipino breads such as pandesal, a chewy breakfast, and ensaymada, a sweet bun topped with butter, sugar and grated cheese.
“I love ensaymada,” says De Leon. “It’s one of my favorites; I miss eating it in the Philippines. So, I told him (Gernale), what if I try to make ensaymada here and develop the recipe? I made a lot of recipes. For him, it was not so good.
Gernale says he had become his wife’s “number one food critic” and that through trial and error the couple finally found a recipe they found satisfactory. De Leon brought some of these reels to one of Gernale’s Filipino basketball tournaments, and the general consensus was strong: his ensaymada reminded his friends of their life in the Philippines.
At this point, De Leon saw a rapid increase in demand for his baked goods from his fellow Filipinos. She continued to bake various breads and pastries to fill custom orders and even started selling at three local Filipino stores: Silong Express, Allano’s Catering, and Kabayan Food Mart. This was only the start of Tinápe, but demand grew to such an extent that De Leon could no longer keep up in his small family kitchen.
On October 31, the duo opened their Tinápe storefront at 72 Gary Martin Drive in Bedford. Its name has two origins, according to De Leon. It’s a general term used in the Philippine province of Pampanga – where Gernale grew up – meaning “bread”. It is also a coat rack of the Filipino words “tinapay”, which also means bread, and “kape”, which means coffee.
The bakery and cafe specializes in traditional Filipino breads such as pandesal and ensaymada. It also offers other baked goods such as monggo bread, a bread filled with sweet red bean paste; Ube cake, which uses the flavor of purple yam; and without rival, a cake that incorporates layers of cashew meringue and French buttercream. On top of that, Tinápe offers a Filipino frozen dessert called iskrambol, various classic sandwiches served on pandesal, and several espresso-based drinks.
“Our own beans that we serve here in Tinápe are custom made by Java Blend,” Gernale explains. “We chose the flavor notes of the Philippines like dark chocolate, caramel and nutty flavors.
“We call him Barako. Barako is one of the most common coffee beans in the Philippines, which is why we take this name in our store.
Of all of Tinápe’s baked goods, De Leon and Gernale want to focus on sharing what is probably the most common Filipino bread, pandesal. Its slightly sweet flavor is counterbalanced by other subtle flavors, a taste that De Leon says is new, but well received by customers new to Filipino cuisine. “We want to bring Filipino pandesal to the market so they can think, ‘Oh, this is from the Philippines,’” says Gernale. “The French have the croissant, the Indians have the paratha. If we think of pandesal, ‘Oh, that came from a Filipino baker.’ ”
Despite their new opening, the duo have big dreams for their future. Since bread is their most demanded product, they hope to expand further and build a larger kitchen in order to increase production and supply businesses such as large grocery chains. “This is our long-term goal,” says De Leon. “It depends on the support of the community.
So far, Gernale says the support from the Filipino community has been overwhelming, even though it had already established support before opening a storefront – and that support continues to be strong from other communities. “For other people, Canadians, different nationalities, it’s very touching,” he says, adding that the rapidly growing community of Bedford has been welcoming. “It’s just ‘Wow.’ When they come here and say, ‘Your food looks amazing,’ it means something to us. ‘