The road of life isn’t always smooth. It has bumps and bends. Sometimes it takes you to unexpected turns, and most of the time you can’t take shortcuts. Filipino entrepreneur and cycling enthusiast Anthony Herrera knows this for a fact. He experienced the bumps and the bends and the surprise turns himself when he and his wife decided to start a new life in Melbourne, Australia almost eight years ago.
Anthony is an IT professional who hails from Marikina City. He’s an ardent biker—the type who would ride his bicycle to and from work (Marikina to Makati) on a daily basis, and would take a trip to the mountain trails on weekends. He also knows how to repair and build bikes, since his father is also a cycling aficionado and their family happened to live near a bike repair shop.
When Anthony and his wife Tina moved in 2013 to Melbourne, the cycling capital of Australia, he knew he’s up for an adventure of a lifetime. He brought his bike along with him. “Iniisip ko na baka mahal ang bike sa Australia, so I built my own bike in the Philippines and brought it there,” he recalls.
Anthony’s brother-in-law, Harvey, and his wife, Tet, later joined them in Melbourne. Harvey, who also happens to be good with bikes, had initially intended to apply as a bike mechanic in the central business district. But it was a long drive from their place. So to help his brother-in-law, Anthony decided to put up a small bike repair shop in their garage. He called it NLC or New Life Cycles.
After promoting it on social media, the bike repair shop shortly became known in their area. “It was the closest bike repair shop in the vicinity, so I realized it’s got potential.” Everything was well in the world. Anthony continued to work in IT while running the bike repair shop on the side.
But then he encountered a roadblock. Back home in the Philippines, around 2011, he had once suffered from severe gout which restricted him from doing strenuous activities like biking. The symptoms began to resurface in 2015, after he unwittingly tasted the soup of an igado, which had liver in it. “For 7 to 10 days straight hindi ako makalakad,” he recalls to ANCX.
The pain would oftentimes be excruciating that he had to constantly take pain medications. “I can buy it over the counter so that sort of became a habit na whenever I feel pain, I’d take it,” Anthony recalls. His stomach lining ended up having adverse reactions to the meds such that he eventually had to undergo surgery.
Since his IT work was very demanding and he could no longer perform his duties efficiently due to his condition, his employer eventually had to lay him off. Fortunately, while Anthony was recuperating, his wife who initially had to focus on raising two kids, got hired for a job.
When Anthony recovered from the surgery, he wanted to rejoin the workforce. But it was the early part of the year (January to March of 2018) so there were hardly any companies hiring. He prayed for a miracle and fasted for 21 days, not eating from 10AM to 4PM. On the last day, Anthony stepped out to buy some groceries. On his way home, he realized he forgot to buy some drinks, so he dropped by the milk bar, which was two minutes away from their house.
There, he met the owner of the milk bar, a Pakistani, and was stunned to hear what the guy had to say. “He had been trying to reach me for 10 days—going back and forth to our place. He was actually selling the milk bar and wanted to offer it to me first before he published the announcement,” Anthony recalls.
A year before, Anthony remembered seeing a “for sale” sign on the building and told the previous owner, an Aussie-Lebanese, that the location would be perfect for his bike repair shop. “If only I had the money, I’d definitely buy this place,” Anthony remembered saying. Apparently, the Aussie-Lebanese remembered and relayed to the Pakistani.
After that meeting with the milk bar owner, Anthony thought long and hard—it could be the miracle he was waiting for. He discussed the opportunity with his wife. The area of the milk bar has good foot traffic, which makes it a great spot for a convenience store and a bike repair shop. After fervent prayers, the Herreras took the big leap. They found ways to gather funds in order to buy the business and take over the milk bar (they are now renting the place). In May 2018, they reopened the milk bar, Tenterfield Mini Mart, with NLC occupying one portion of the shop.
The birth of Enelssie
Time and again, people, mostly tradesmen, would walk around their area looking for breakfast—something he could not offer previously because a convenience store was technically not allowed to serve cooked meals.
Then he saw shops around the area grilling sausages at the parking lot. So he thought, why not sell barbecue skewers? So he started grilling, too, at their storefront every Fridays and Saturdays. In December of 2018, he upped the ante and started selling lechon. “Bibili ako ng isang buong lechon tapos tatadtarin ko at ibebenta ko ng per kilo,” Anthony recalls: “Patok sya alongside my barbecue.”
That was when he started entertaining the idea of opening a café. He inquired with the health and environment officer if it was possible for him to serve bacon and eggs, and some sandwiches. The officer wasn’t convinced he was going to be able to stop himself from selling other items so suggested instead that the Filipino build a commercial kitchen and submit an application for their store to become a full-blown restaurant.
It took him four months to build a kitchen. “Akala ko madali lang mag-build ng kitchen—maglalagay lang ako ng stove, ng canopy and that’s it,” he recalls with a chuckle. “Hindi ko alam na sobrang mahal pala ng mga kitchen equipment. I had to sell some of my bikes to raise funds para talaga mabuo yung kitchen.” On Easter Monday of 2019, they opened Enelssie —from NLC—café and grill.
Background in cooking
Anthony grew up around good food, because his dad was a good cook. “Sa amin, hindi enough yung isang putahe lang sa hapag-kainan. Every meal was special,” he recalls. He remembered his dad manning the kitchen especially when they had family reunions.
His Home Economics class also helped. His teacher once gave him a thumbs-up for his pininyahang manok. But it was when a former employer assigned him to Europe that he was able to really put his cooking skills to practice. “What happened then was binibigyan na lang ako ng mga kasama kong Pinoy ng budget, tapos ako na mamamalengke. Sagot ko na ang lunch namin for the whole week,” he recalled.
Enelssie obviously benefited from those cooking experiences. The café currently serves a menu of Filipino fare that Pinoy tastebuds are very much familiar with. He has pork bagnet, beef tapa, and chicken inasal. He also has his own versions of Ineng’s barbecue, Max’s fried chicken (he calls it SuperMaxx fried chicken), Razon’s sizzling bulalo, and a sisig that he says is a fusion of all the best sisigs in his book—Gilligan’s, Dencio’s and Gerry’s Grill. Anthony is happy to note that the Filipino community there said Enelssie’s sisig is the best in Melbourne. Now, they also serve different types of kare-kare—seafood, beef or bagnet.
Their patrons are 80 percent Pinoy, but they have Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Indian and American customers coming over to try their offerings. “They got curious. Then, later on, naging regular customers na din namin sila,” says Anthony.
The café can comfortably sit up to 100 to 120 pax, and on Fridays and Saturdays, it gets packed. Life’s almost back to normal in Australia since many cities had already reported zero cases this month, says Anthony. “You still need to wear a face mask and observe social distancing on public transport. Sa restaurants, meron pa rin 1.5-meter physical distancing,” he shares.
They also had to shut down Enelssie when the Covid restrictions were imposed last year. The state of Victoria was on lockdown from March to November 2020. At that time, it was the bike repair shop that helped sustain their finances. “Everyone wants to ride their bikes kasi yun lang yung allowed kung lalabas ka for exercise. So dahil kami lang ang nag-iisang bike shop dito sa area, itong buong café, halos wala ng mapaglagyan ng bikes. Ang daming nagpapa-repair ng mga bikes na matagal na nilang hindi nagagamit.”
There was a point when he got really busy with the restaurant and thought of closing the bike shop. But there turned out to be a good reason for the bike shop’s existence. “Nung nagkaroon ng Covid, I am thankful na nandyan ang bike shop para sumalo. At the same time, it gave me a time to think na okey sya na i-keep parehas. Dun ko in-embrace yung concept na it’s a bike café,” he says.
Anthony admits there were times when the road was rough and bumpy. But he never thought of giving up. “Kasi alam ko talaga at lagi kong pinanghahawakan na binigay ito ng Lord sa akin at kailangan ko lang talaga mag-remain faithful, mag-pray, at mag-work hard,” he says.
Photos courtesy of Anthony Herrera