It could have been just another business night for two close friends—except for what occurred a few minutes after they parted ways that Wednesday last April. An unidentified gunman shot one of them on the spot where the two friends had built their dream business together.
Later that evening, Giorgio “Gio” Visitacion, 23, received a call from his brother, reporting the news that his business partner and best friend John Michael Hermoso, 28, and their employee Kis Katy Ramos, 21, was shot dead inside their coffee shop, The Good Cup Coffee Company, on Ramos Street in Cebu City just before midnight. Two more workers, Jerome Amada and Sherwin Rivera, were wounded but survived the attack.
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“I was in absolute state of shock and devastation,” recalls Gio of that moment. “Arriving at the hospital and seeing the crime scene were a lot for me to absorb, and I was truly shaken up.”
The two of them had just wrapped up dinner before the tragedy took place. Gio would go home, and John returned to the coffee shop where he would be shot. The incident shocked all of Cebu—but no more than it did Gio. “But I managed to keep a clear state of mind, to be strong and to help my team and the victim's families,” he says now, four months after. “Our main drive was to do everything that we can to help the survivors who were in critical condition.”
Gio and John
After working as baristas together, both Gio and John Michael decided to open TGCCC in December 2018. The latter has caused ripples in the coffee scene. Last March, he was declared Philippine Brewer’s Cup champ, and he was already set to represent the country to the 2019 World Coffee Championships in Massachusetts the month he was shot. Gio, on the other hand, was a fast-rising party disc jockey in Cebu when he discovered the full potential of the coffee business.
The day after the incident, Gio decided to close the The Good Cup and opened it weeks after, in May. “The decision to reopen was based on the readiness of the team,” he says. “We met all our staff and checked with them if they are ready to open as we all needed to rest after what happened. There were two options: to relocate or to stay. The motivation of the team helped us decide to still stay at the same spot.”
Gio now begins his day at the shop at 7 a.m. to supervise daily operations, and leaves for home at 10 p.m. The decision to continue, he says, was partly to honor the memory of John and Katy “and the emotional war against depression from losing a team member and losing a close friend who felt like a brother to me already.” It wasn’t easy, he adds. “Financially, we spent a great deal for all the victims’ expense and the down time of the business being closed. We lost two very dedicated workers in our team who had dreams for coffee and dreams for the business to excel.”
The shop is as John Michael has left it. The interior layout and decors have not been changed: industrial elements merged with homey features. The main counter is still on the ground floor, next to a roasting machine that has just arrived from Germany. The Café Academy Roastery where Gio teaches brewing, roasting, and serving, remains at the second level.
But there is a difference. John Michael is no longer around. “I miss him. It’s hard operating without him,” says Gio. “We shared the same vision, the same heart and the same drive for the company. We spent 90 percent of our lives working in the shop and working for the shop. There are times we would sleep in the café because we had to finish roasting for a client or we had to practice roasting.”
Rising from the ashes
When The Good Cup resumed operation, Gio didn’t have high expectations. “I expected our operations would be slow and everyone would be demotivated from what happened. I saw a different scenario; everyone improved a lot from skills, attitude and efficiency from work,” says Gio. “We are moved by the support of the loyal patrons and we also observed that the patrons who visit the shop don’t talk about what happened anymore. They rather remember the fond memories of how fun John was, and how amazing Katy was. There are still people who are anxious visiting the place because of what happened, and we totally understand them. We had the placed blessed before we reopened and it was attended by the team including the family of both Katy and John.”
Gio says he and his staff have indeed been trying to pick up the pieces. After the dark period, the former DJ seems to have gained some hope for the future of the business, trying to get plans off the ground. “We’re launching this campaign called Roasted in Cebu, since we saw that there is an increasing number of people buying our roasted coffee beans,” he reports proudly while on a break from his duties at the coffee shop. “We now ship them outside Cebu City or outside of the country even. These coffees are all handpicked coming from some of the best farms all over the world, and it is roasted in Cebu. We are also currently in the planning stage of working with a local farmer from Mindanao with the goal of showcasing their coffee.”
The café is also exploring the possibility of adding to their food selections and extending store hours so more customers can experience their offerings. “We also offer coffee classes and trainings to the public and to our wholesale accounts.”
Gio says Cebu is a playground for new businesses and the growth of people looking for high quality coffee is increasing. Continuing on with the business is his way of honoring the vision John Michael shared with him: to place Cebu in the global map through showcasing the quality of their roasted coffee.
“If we lose people we love, the only thing that will help us to feel better is love,” says Gio. “We felt that from the support system around us.”
Photographs by Winray Anthony