Ask Ligaya Binuya, owner of Happy Hut in Albanvale, how she came up with the name of her Filipino store and she'll flash you a signature smile.
"Because of my name. My name, Ligaya, means happy," she says.
Formerly a fish and chip shop, the nondescript brick building on an intersection 19 kilometres west of Melbourne city has shelves stocked with imported Filipino products and serves traditional dishes from bain-maries.
Binuya says, "I used to work in a retail shop in Manila and in the evening I would go to the market and prepare, and in the morning I would cook, but that was basic cooking.
"When I came to Australia, I had to learn. I taught myself and every time I'm doing cooking for my kids, I used to text message my friends and say, 'I've got extra', and then they'd come and I'd put in takeaway containers."
binuya grew up about five hours' drive from Manila, and moved to Australia in 1995. She worked at a supermarket before taking over the shop in 2013, slowly turning it into Happy Hut. She continued to work 20 hours a week in her other job, catering on weekends and in her spare time, while her husband would knock off from full-time work and help after hours.
"The thing about Happy Hut is I love the people."
Now they're both full time at Happy Hut. "The thing about Happy Hut is I love the people," says Binuya. "I have 22 staff now… I don't treat them different to my kids. In the evening, I book three tables and I'm cooking for them," she says.
Eighty per cent of Happy Hut's business is catering, but Binuya's best sellers are kare kare (peanut stew with tripe and vegetables), sisig (sizzling chopped pork and chicken liver with onion) and caldereta (beef and vegetable stew).
Other dishes include pancit fried noodles, lumpiang (oversized spring rolls made with fresh egg crepes), halo halo (a crushed-ice dessert with sweetened beans and ube purple yam) and more.
Before Binuya turned vegetarian, her favourite dish was dinuguan, pork offal stew in thick gravy the colour of melted dark chocolate made from garlic, chilli, vinegar and pig's blood. She makes an exception for pork rinds, which she sells in packets at the grocer. "I walk past and I can't help myself, I just love it," she says.
Although Happy Hut is closed Monday, you'll still find Binuya there, catering for senior citizens in Footscray.
She's also been known to give away food to those who can't afford to eat.
During the week, Filipino customers come from as far as Bendigo to pick up what they consider the best taste of home in the state. The shop keeps her busy, which can be a strain on her personal life during popular periods.
Last Christmas, she added another combi oven with an extra 20 trays to deal with demand. "When I first started I didn't have two Christmases, and my kids were crying because every birthday that they had, they had the whole Binuya family, five of us, and as soon as I entered Happy Hut that all that stopped.
"They were crying, 'I don’t like this life, Ma', and I said, 'do you want me to sell the business? and they said, 'no it's your dream'.
“A lot of people asking me if I open another shop,” says Binuya. "I don't know if I'm scared, I don't know if I'm going to have time.
"I love it but like I said to my husband, it's hard work having this kind of business, but as long as I can put a smile on my face in the evening that's what matters."
85-87 Oakwood Road, Albanvale VIC