“There, I finally said (wrote) it. Difficult as it is to break the news, there’s something about writing it down that brings a slight ease,” so wrote Ina Flores Pahati, owner of The Chocolate Kiss Cafe in UP Diliman.
The lady had just announced the closure of the establishment founded by her mother Maline in 1997, which had become a veritable icon in the campus. “The Café has always relied on high volume in sustaining its operations. The losses already incurred since the start of ECQ, and the prospect of not being able to operate at full capacity for an indeterminable period, has led to this difficult decision,” Ina explains on the cafe’s website.
For close to 25 years, the cafe located at the Bahay ng Alumni Building inside the UP premises was a beloved hangout not only to students and professors but to people who live and work near and around the campus area. “We didn’t know our lives would be changed when my family opened The Chocolate Kiss Café,” writes Ina who was still a grade-schooler when the business started. “From going home directly after school (or work, for my elder sister), our family suddenly had this point of convergence, an unplanned extension of our home.”
According to Ina, each member of the family contributed in his or her own way to the business, whether it’s testing new items or designing packaging or helping in the interior decor. “I learned how to work the cash register machine and do cash counts,” says Ina. “Little did I know that I would eventually oversee the Café’s operations full time.”
It all began with her (both UP alums) mom and aunt’s idea of upping their home-based cake business and going into a full-service cafe, intent on providing the campus flock of UP an alternative dining experience to the usual university canteens.
“I recall the first few weeks when we waited in anticipation for each customer to walk into the glass door. When there were none, we’d put on the soundtrack of Sleepless in Seattle on the CD player, and voila! They would soon come trickling in. I wondered if it had anything to do with the album’s second track, ‘A Kiss to Build a Dream On,’ that worked like magic.
We played that CD daily.”
She describes how her mom and aunt dedicated their time to Chocolate Kiss. “My mom and aunt kept a good eye on what came out of the kitchen. They treated the dining room as if they were entertaining guests in their own homes. Their meticulousness worked, I suppose, because customers from all sorts of background visited, and kept coming back.” People enjoyed the various comforting entrees, the Pinoy merienda staples, and the Chicken Kiev, of course, and Hickory Smoked Spareribs. And the bottomless iced tea!
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As the years passed, the cafe would become popular, attracting crowds from outside the area, drawing in various VIPs and celebrities. “It always amused us how a couple all tidied-up for a date would be in the same dining room as folks (who just lived around the corner) dressed in their pambahay and tsinelas,” continues Ina. “People felt comfortable to come as they were, and we loved how it was that way. We will miss how on some hours, the Café can be quiet and feel like a respite; then on other occasions, someone can suddenly sit on the piano and serenade everyone in the room, or members of the UP Singing Ambassadors will just break into a song.”
To hear Ina say it, it had been a magical ride watching over the restaurant. She says she’s going to miss a lot of the UP activities they have come to be part of, and the people who dined come rain or shine. The hardest part is saying goodbye to her staff who she says is a huge reason the business even lasted this long.
“Just as my family’s life was unexpectedly changed for the better when the Café opened 23 years ago, I wait in anticipated breath for the best fruit to come out of this pruning,” she says in ending. “In the meantime, we will go back to our roots of baking cakes...and who knows where that sweet road may lead us.”
The Chocolate Kiss Cafe will be officially closed effective August 24 but they will continue to accept orders of cakes and pastries from its commissary in Fairview.