Baking has always been a passion for Sharon De Leon, but her career in preparing Filipino breads and pastries began almost accidentally. For years, it had always been her side gig where she’d fulfill orders at home whenever she found the time outside of working as a professional chef. But now, she’s made baking her full-time commitment with the opening of Bedford’s Filipino bakery and cafe, Tinápe. “We’re the first—established one—bakery and cafe with a Filipino twist—here in Halifax,” says De Leon, sitting beside her husband and co-owner Sundy Gernale. “We’re excited to offer what we can as part of our profession being chefs.”
For more than 20 years, the duo has been carving their paths in the food industry. Gernale studied hospitality management in university, ending up as a chef and consultant for several hotels and restaurants while De Leon started working in fine dining restaurants in the Philippines. The couple met while working at a resort together in Turks and Caicos, got married in the Caribbean and eventually moved to Halifax.
The two of them started as chefs at Darrell’s Restaurant in Halifax’s south end, but De Leon continued baking orders for the local Filipino community on the side. Back then, she was mostly focusing on custom cakes rather than traditional Filipino breads such as pandesal, a soft breakfast roll, and ensaymada, a sweet roll topped with butter, sugar and grated cheese.
“I love ensaymada,” De Leon says. “It’s one of my favourites; I miss eating it in the Philippines. So, I told him (Gernale), What if I tried making ensaymada here and developed the recipe? I made a lot of recipes. For him, it was not that good.”
Gernale says he had become his wife’s “number one food critic,” and through trial and error, the couple eventually came up with a recipe they believed was satisfactory. De Leon brought some of those rolls to one of Gernale’s Filipino basketball tournaments, and the general consensus was strong: her ensaymada reminded her friends of their lives back home in the Philippines.
At that point, De Leon saw a rapid increase in demand for her baked goods from her fellow Filipinos. She continued baking various breads and pastries to fill custom orders and even started selling through three local Filipino stores: Silong Express, Allano’s Catering and Kabayan Food Mart. It was just the beginning of Tinápe, but the demand grew to a point where De Leon couldn’t keep up in her tiny home 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 Filipino province of Pampanga—where Gernale grew up—that means “bread.” It’s also a portmanteau 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 flavour of purple yam; and sans rival, a cake that incorporates layers of cashew meringue and French buttercream. On top of that, Tinápe offers a Filipino frozen dessert drink called iskrambol, various classic sandwiches served on pandesal and several espresso-based drinks.
“Our own beans that we serve here in Tinápe is custom-made by Java Blend,” Gernale says. “We picked the flavour notes from the Philippines like dark chocolate, caramel and nutty flavours.
“We call it Barako. Barako is one of the common coffee beans in the Philippines, that’s why we take that name in our shop.”
Out of all the baked goods at Tinápe, De Leon and Gernale want to focus on sharing what’s probably the most common Filipino bread, pandesal. Its slightly sweet flavour is balanced out by other subtle flavours—a taste that De Leon says is new, but well-received, by customers new to Filipino cuisine. “We want to put the Filipino pandesal on the market so they might think, ‘Oh, this is from the Philippines,’” Gernale says. “The French have the croissant, the Indians have the paratha. If we think about pandesal, ‘Oh, that’s from a Filipino baker.’”
Despite being newly-opened, the duo has high dreams for their future. Since bread is their most in-demand product, they hope to grow further and build a larger kitchen so they can increase production and supply businesses such as large grocery chains. “That’s our long-term goal,” De Leon says. “It depends on the support of the community.”
So far, Gernale says support from the Filipino community has been overwhelming, even though they already had established support prior to opening a storefront—and that support continues to be strong from other communities. “For the other folks, Canadians, different nationalities, it’s very touching,” he says, adding that the quickly-growing Bedford community has been welcoming. “It’s just, ‘Wow.’ When they come here and say, ‘Your food looks amazing,’ that means something to us.”