Whether in a big city or just around the corner in your neighborhood, there is always that one place that always feels like home. And in the midst of Berlin’s tourist-laden Hackescher Markt is a little corner shop called Spätkaufs O87 that feels anything but small. In fact, it feels like a whole world inside: a glittering disco ball, ricocheting laser lights, and a cozy tropical-themed lounge area in the back. This hip hub with an elevated sari-sari feel is owned by Jun Rivera, known by his customers as Kuya Jun.
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Spätis, also known as Spätkaufs, are Berlin’s version of a 7-11. These late-night convenience stores, which sell everything from beer to more beer and often double as a DHL center, can be found nearly everywhere in the city. They are also favorite pre-and-after clubbing spots for a cheap bottle and good conversation. These spätis (spaetis) are also unique to Berlin. And Rivera, who established one of the first spätis in 2003 in the prime area of Hackescher Markt, is a key player in the scene. What sets his späti apart in a landscape rife with competition is the owner’s passion for his shop, the care he bestows to his employees, and his interest in each and every person that walks into his shop. In many ways, it’s a big piece of his heart.
Unlike other convenience stores, which are often impersonal and purely functional, Rivera says that the secret to success is “the Filipino charm.” “I keep smiling,” he says. The establishment is now a place that welcomes all and is often recommended by tourists and those working in the hotels and hostels nearby. It’s so beloved that it’s was the setting for a wedding proposal that Rivera helped the aspiring groom to prepare, complete with a red carpet and candles.
And unlike most other convenience stores often known for its often less-than-friendly attendants, Rivera’s späti has a loyal, happy team, most of whom have remained employed there for several years and visit even after their time there. As a boss, Rivera not only makes an effort to keep his customers happy, but also his employees, most of whom are German. In many ways, Rivera’s leadership is also a means to transport and represent aspects of Filipino culture that not many would know about. His philosophy as a boss is simple yet effective: be fair, be nice, and do things correctly. “They will respect you for that,” he says.
Rivera’s Berlin origin story is rife with happenstance. Born and raised in Manila, he moved to Hong Kong in 1991. A former boss, who worked with Mercedes Benz, then asked him if he wanted to work for the International Aviation and Air Space Exhibition in Schönefeld, Berlin. He said yes. Arriving in 1992, the German capital was still fresh from the fall of the Wall three years prior. Rivera experienced the great cultural shift there. “The city was still ruined and still destroyed,” he recalls, adding that everything between the East and the West was still different: “The fashion, the haircuts, the way they spoke.”
Adobo and more
He got the idea of putting up a späti from his friend who already owns three shops. With a degree in marketing and a passion for selling, he underwent training and opened shop soon after. As the only späti on the busy Oranienburger Strasse strip, Spätkaufs O87 (named for its address), the Berlinified sari-sari store is all about its community vibe. Aside from the Boracay-inspired chill lounge—a cozy setup with cozy seating and capiz chimes—Rivera always makes sure to incorporate one critical aspect of Filipino culture in his shop: good food. Particularly renowned for his adobo (which he sometimes cooks at the back) as well as a host of other Filipino food delights, Rivera often has adobong mani on hand for guests to enjoy while drinking their beer on a hot summer night. For guests, they often call this treat—one that is unknown to most here in Germany—“stinky garlic adobo mani.” “But they love it!” he says.
The shop owner says that the späti has also allowed him opportunities to connect with current Pinoy students in Berlin and Potsdam. Rivera has enjoyed continuously meeting people making their way in the city—from someone who works in Doctors Without Borders to a political refugee to a tired academic. “They are fierce, intelligent, and loving people,” he says. “I love being part of their journey and hearing their stories.” He adds that learning from them is like seeing his own culture from different perspectives.
Rivera, who touts patience and positivity as the cornerstone to his success is also looking forward to the next chapter. With the rental rates are steadily increasing in Berlin, particularly in a prime district like Mitte where the shop is located, there is concern that it will come to a point where it will no longer be viable for him to continue. But he remains upbeat: he sees it as a new opportunity to do something with something that he loves—Filipino food. He’s thinking of opening a bistro, turo-turo style spot, or something where he could combine his passions and talent for food and for connecting with people. “My journey is not yet finished," Rivera says.
Spätkaufs O87 is at Oranienburger Str 87, Berlin, Germany. For more information, visit their facebook page.