For the past four years, we have packed up our coffee gear and moved to four different locations in Los Banos. Like flowing water, we have taken the shape and size of each of the streams and rivers that welcomed our arrival. The adventure started in Grove with three young soul-searching entreps making noise with a unique coffee shop concept with affordable food, hand-me-down board games, used books, espresso shots and latte art. Success for the café was apparent and surprisingly quick. But only after two years of cooking up one fresh idea after the other (and after the opening of two new coffee shops in the area), we found ourselves fleeing the small 37 square-meter space we were renting and landed in the notoriously dark “gimik” garden called LB Square. What followed was a long season with Elbi’s independent music scene where we got to know most of our friends today. It was also during our stay in LB Square where we got to train and compete in barista competitions and meet new barista friends. After a year and a half of our fast-paced and sleepless rock n’ roll lifestyle we eventually moved away from our student clientele and decided to finally settle down (and tone down!) in a small compound along the highway beside the popular local diner, Arla. It should have been a move to end all moves but little did we know that God wanted us to move just a wee bit more…to the right. It turned out to be the biggest move of all.
The Year 2012 has brought about a maturing process for the café and its new crew of seven employees and currently eight on-the-job trainees from the University of Perpetual Help-Calamba. Personally, it was a major transition for me because it would be my first time to oversee and be a part of an operation this big. We have become a "family restaurant" and no longer just a student café serving sandwiches and coffee. The Year 2012 brought in new key players to our operation that are worth acknowledging.
First is our new barista Elmer Umali. He was part of the last half of the LB Square era but his assignment was limited inside the kitchen. When we moved beside Arla, I trained Elmer from scratch and he eventually took on barista duties together with Wats Bonita (she is now preparing to get married in the US with her fiancé, Brandon. Enjoy!).
Second is one of our coffee roasters, Elena Tence of 18 Days Coffee Roaster. She was my seatmate in a coffee workshop I attended back in 2011 thanks to the help of our friend, May Juan and Espresso World for bringing the Specialty Coffee Association of America instructors here in the Philippines. A trip to her shop together with our baristas eventually ended up in a partnership that I am very thankful for. She’s the one responsible for giving us the three coffee blends that we are using right now for our espresso and espresso-based beverages.
Third is roaster JC Martinez of Luca & Tosh Coffee Lab. I’ve known JC back in LB Square when he attended a cupping session conducted by our barista friend and mentor, Lanz Mirondo. And just after a few years, he has a coffee shop and roastery of his own in Subic. JC’s the one responsible for providing us all the single origin specialty coffees sitting on top of our shelves. He was also the one who lent us his Baratza Encore grinder we affectionately nicknamed, Little Boy (I’m using Little Boy right now for my brewed coffee, a bag of Rwanda Peaberry and Colombia Huila Guadalupe Suaza also from JC).
Fourth and probably most important of all is the dynamic duo of Chefs PJ and Jeff Aquino. They’re the ones who changed the game for us! I remember when we were just hanging out in the couch at the café sharing stories of entrepreneurial victories and tragedies and our personal lives in general. It was very comforting for me to have another group of entreps close by to talk to and get encouragement from, like having a new big brother and sister. But little did we know that what would happen mid-year would change our lives! The Aquino family decided to migrate to Australia with PJ starting a career as a chef in a hotel. PJ left in October while Jeff and their kids followed last December 24. PJ wanted to keep her business “alive” and keep her employees employed so that’s why after one negotiation after the other and some pixie dust magic here and there, Café Antonio finally “absorbed” Arla Diner—it’s menu and employees. So that’s why we’re here today.
And finally, there are now two people who are helping me manage the business. The company welcomes the services of Marisse Bonita (a civil engineer) as general manager and chef; and my sister, Joyce Fellizar (a veterinarian) as operations manager and HR to relieve me of my bouts with eczema that have been stressing me out for the past few years. Today, I am fully healed and as healthy as a horse thanks to them. Now I can focus fully on my coffee.
Aside from being blessed with a new team to work with in 2012, we were able to come up with some projects. The first one is our pourover coffee brew rail. What started out as a recycled wooden box and a couple of modified funnels miraculously transformed into our primary coffee brewing instrument and centerpiece for the bar. After much experimenting, watching YouTube videos, and reading articles about pourover coffee we ventured into a pourover coffee catering service called Coffee Unplugged. And that’s project number two. The team consists of volunteers which include my sister Grace Osio, her husband Herbert and son, Jethy; our friend Jason Obrero from UPLB; and almost anyone who is available to help us in our gigs. Our friend Jorge Milano keeps our brochures and business cards well-stocked every gig while newly opened Craft Coffee Workshop supplies us with our Hario drippers and paper filters. So far we have catered in locations such as Villa San Miguel, The Blue Leaf, Ayala Westgrove Heights, Chateau Hestia, UPLB, UPOU, IRRI and a three-day coffee workshop at the Philippine Women’s University-Calamba.
The challenges we have faced in 2012 are unique and most of them are good problems that we are happy to have (like not having enough tables an chairs). And what’s interesting here is I didn’t imagine that this would be happening to us a year ago. Everything is different. Everything has changed—the food we cook, the coffee that we use, the grown-up crowd, the bigger place. And yet I still come to work everyday mopping the floor, pulling espresso shots, and counting coins just like four years ago. I think it’s a simple reminder of who I am and where I came from. It’s a constant reminder that I’m just part of a cast in one amazing story written by one awesome Author who always knows what's best for us.
Happy New Year! God bless!