Sometimes the best business ideas just simply pop up. That’s the case with Aplaya Kitchen + Tiki Bar, the new seasonal restaurant on Chatham’s Main Street.
The eatery opened in mid-June, just as the busy summer season was getting underway, but it was a long time in the making and began life as a pop-up venue inside another Chatham restaurant, called Mom & Pops Burgers, located farther up Main Street.
Both venues are owned by Chatham residents Pelinda and Tom Deegan. They opened Mom & Pops Burgers seven years ago and soon developed a loyal following of customers who enjoyed not only their burgers but also hot dogs, fresh fish sandwiches, salads and other items.
The menu also featured a delicacy one might not expect to find in downtown Chatham: Mom’s Homemade Lumpia, a Filipino specialty.
Looking similar to a spring roll or egg roll, lumpia is a hand-rolled crepe with a savory pork filling, and it was a big hit, thanks to the traditional ingredients and cooking methods used by Pelinda Deegan, who is of Filipino descent.
With the growing popularity of lumpia among customers, the Deegans launched a weekly pop-up venue inside their burger restaurant in the fall of 2022, serving up additional Filipino specialty dishes each Wednesday. The pop-up attracted locals as well as customers from farther afield who are of Filipino heritage.
“The Cape has a small Filipino community, but they are here and we all know each other, and many of them came to the pop-up every week,” says Pelinda Deegan.
The pop-up was held through last winter, and by spring the Deegans realized they were looking at an exciting new business opportunity – a venue dedicated to Filipino cuisine.
They found a location for the venture at 483 Main Street, in a space that formerly housed the Blue Coral restaurant. The eatery is tucked away in a nook just off the main road and has only outdoor seating, meaning the business is confined to the summer season.
News of the opening of Aplaya Kitchen + Tiki Bar spread quickly.
“We’ve had families from Cambridge and Somerville come to Aplaya,” Pelinda Deegan says, as well as many local residents and summer tourists. The Phillipines-born co-owner has social connections with a Filipino organization in Boston, and friends from that group came down to the Cape to celebrate the restaurant’s opening week.
Pelinda Deegan says that her love for her native Filipino cuisine is the secret to the success the business has seen so far.
“I treated the pop-up as a kind of test kitchen. I started cooking using traditional Filipino ingredients that I bought at a Filipino food store in Quincy, and I developed a menu that is true to my culture but has a Cape Cod twist,” she says.
For Pelinda Deegan, it isn’t just business, it’s personal.
“When my family moved to the United States I was a young child and spoke no English. My mother would pack my lunch everyday with traditional foods, and the other kids would make fun of what was in my lunchbox. But now, that cuisine is being celebrated,” she says.
“Not a lot of people are familiar with Filipino food. We have Spanish influences, Chinese influences, and American influences,” she adds.
Along with lumpia, other Filipino-inspired dishes at Aplaya include Mom’s Chicken Adobo, which is a glazed chicken leg and thigh topped with fried garlic and served with jasmine rice and papaya slaw. Then there’s Bistek, which is steak and onions, Filipino-style. It’s a sliced short rib marinated and braised in soy and lime, and topped with charred onions and cilantro.
The venue’s Tiki Bar tempts diners with drinks such as Aplaya Jungle Bird, with Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Campari, pineapple juice, lime juice, and coconut milk. Or perhaps a Gin Pom is in order. It’s made from Ford’s Gin, pomelo juice, fresh lime juice, yuzu honey, cucumber, and a splash of Avec pomelo soda.
The Tiki Bar and an adjacent lounge/sitting area are protected by an overhead tent, so inclement weather doesn’t stop customers from sampling the cocktails. The dining area is not covered, and is more affected by rainy days, although Pelinda Deegan says the showery weather that was stubbornly present on the Cape in the early part of the summer did not dampen the spirits of most customers.
“They’re tourists, they’re walking around and shopping on Main Street, they stop in for something to eat. The weather doesn’t seem to bother them,” she says.
Tom Deegan, a former corporate executive, runs the day-to-day operations of both restaurants with assistance from the staff and chef. While she is very involved in the businesses, Pelinda Deegan also works for the Eastham-based Community Development Partnership as a housing advocate for Chatham and Harwich. She holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and is a former case manager with Cape Abilities.
Going forward through summer, Aplaya Kitchen + Tiki Bar, which seats 68, is open daily from 11 a.m. to midnight. The Deegans are contemplating future plans for the venue, and don’t yet know the date when the restaurant will close after the season ends.
The couple also is in the process of deciding whether to resume the off-season Filipino pop-up kitchen at Mom & Pops Burgers, which is a year-round business at 1603 Main Street.
Even if they don’t bring back the pop-up, the burger restaurant always has lumpia on its menu, for those who want their authentic Filipino food fix.
Aplaya Kitchen + Tiki Bar
483 Main St., Chatham
Hours: Daily 11 a.m.- midnight (last seating at 9 p.m.)