Just a few decades ago, Filipino restaurants were a relative rarity in Portland proper — as well as other areas around the country. Within recent years, that has started to change: Filipino chefs have opened more restaurants, food carts, and other food businesses around the city, from star food cart Baon Kainan to lauded chef Carlo Lamagna’s Magna Kusina. But baker Geleen Abenoja — the woman behind Filipino pastry pop-up Shop Halo Halo — wants to diversify and explore the other facets of Pinoy dining and culture she sees as underrepresented.
“There’s a lot of eyes on the fine dining realm in regards to Filipino cuisine, which is amazing, but it feels almost wrong not to loop in [the conversation] that so many of our people don’t actually eat like this,” Abenoja says. “In the countryside, the majority of our population is living day to day, maybe even getting one meal a day. Even in Portland, a lot of Filipinos in the area are working class and recent immigrants.”
This winter, Abenoja will help expand the range of what Filipino food looks like in Portland, transforming her pop-up into a community cafe and bakery with an attached plant shop from Daphne’s Botanicals. Shop Halo Halo will be located in a brand-new building on Southeast Woodstock Boulevard and 50th Avenue — a “warm, living and breathing space” with natural elements and foliage that “pay homage to my family’s ancestral land between the sea and the mountains, in her words. With Shop Halo Halo, she hopes to create a space that centers and uplifts the Filipino community where folks can learn about Filipino culture and history through food. After hours, the space will be made available to the community for events and gatherings.
Halo-halo, a popular cold Filipino dessert, also translates to “mix-mix”—Abenoja chose the name for her business to reflect the mix of traditional desserts and modern pastries she makes. When the bakery opens, customers will enjoy treats like ube cheese pandesal, bibingka, leche flan, and blueberry calamansi cheesecake, in addition to the namesake dessert.
As a child, Abenoja learned how to cook alongside her mother and grandmother, or grandmother. Those formative years helping them prepare for family gatherings led her toward a career in the food industry. When she moved to Portland in 2012, she had trouble finding the Filipino baked goods she grew up with and craved them. “Despite having a fairly large Filipino population here, there aren’t too many places that serve our food, and even fewer who focus on baked goods and desserts,” Abenoja says. So, she started teaching herself how to make traditional Filipino pastries and began making desserts at a pan-Asian restaurant. The restaurant didn’t make it through the pandemic, but Abenoja took that as her cue to scale up Shop Halo Halo, selling weekly dessert boxes and appearing at Portland markets.
In what Abenoja calls a “serendipitous meeting,” she connected with her business partner Daphne Peters of Daphne’s Botanicals while the two were vending side-by-side at the Golden Evening market. Peters was adopted from the Philippines but did not grow up immersed in Filipino culture. The pair bonded as Abenoja introduced her to Filipino cuisine and shared more cultural background. In addition to Peters’ dedicated retail space within the bakery, the dining area will integrate plants that Peters sources from Southeast Asia.
Shop Halo Halo is currently running a GoFundMe campaign with the goal of raising $75,000 for the bakery’s start-up costs, including permits, build out, and kitchen equipment. It will also hold fundraiser pop-ups at local businesses leading up to its opening, with a September event planned at Zuckercreme. Learn more about Shop Halo Halo by following its Instagram.