MANILA - Like many workers in the restaurant industry, a lot of baristas found their livelihoods squeezed by the lockdowns imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While many lost their jobs, some took the downsizing of the coffee shops that they worked for as an opportunity to strike out on their own.
From Tanay to Tagaytay, roadside coffee shops popped up manned by former baristas as well other enterprising individuals, who saw a market for specialty coffee among urbanite motorists thirsting for a quick caffeine fix amid mountain vistas.
During weekends, scores of cyclists and motorcycle riders usually stop by a short stretch of the Marilaque road, which overlooks the valley of Boso Boso along the foothills of the Sierra Madre.
The spot, which is ideal for quick selfies, gives road trippers their first glimpse of the mountains awaiting them in Tanay, Rizal and all the way to Infanta, Quezon. Prior to the pandemic, this spot in Boso Boso was nothing more than a stopover for those en route to even better scenery.
But after Tanay authorities put up a checkpoint to discourage travel to their town amid worries over COVID-19, this scenic spot became the destination itself for many cyclists and riders from Metro Manila who just wanted a bit of open space and fresh air away from the city.
It was on this road where Kape Sina Una was born, and where Brewders Coffee, Team Coffee, Bru.Ph, and several other mom and pop pop-up coffee shops are seeking to carve out a name for themselves.
John Glenn Opeda, a former barista who is one of the founders of Brewders Coffee, said they’ve quietly built up a business and a loyal customer base among cyclists and riders with their caramel macchiato and café mocha blends.
“Yun yung binabalikan sa amin ng mga regular customers namin (That’s what our regular customers come back for),” said Opeda, who is just 22 years old and is just about to graduate from college.
Opeda said that when the pandemic struck, he and 2 other barista friends had to resign from the coffee shop where they had been working. But the 22-year-old entrepreneur, who hails from Tanay, said he and his friends also saw an opportunity to start a business in Marilaque, which would cater to cyclists, riders and other motorists who religiously make the weekend road trip there.
In the shade of a tall limestone cliff, Opeda set up his scooter as a mobile coffee stall. He said they usually start setting up at around 5:30 a.m. and pack up by 9 or 10 a.m. at the latest. They are also there only from Friday to Sunday.
Despite the limited business days and hours, business is good, Opeda said. Since they started in November, they’ve already recovered their investment and are now even seeking to expand.
On good days, they can make up to P7,000 a day, he said. On regular days, the business makes P10,000 to P11,000 over a 3-day weekend. Not bad for barely a 16-hour work-week.
Opeda said they may even make the business a full-time career.
“Yung plano ko po is after graduating, siguro di muna ako magwo-work. Baka balak ko munang mag-focus dito sa business. Kung papalarin po, mas maganda na ipasok din sya sa franchising."
(My plan is, after graduating, maybe I won’t go to work immediately. Maybe I’ll focus on the business. Maybe we can put the business into a franchising, if fortune allows.)
Opeda follows in the footsteps of millennials Mark Jayvee Macul and Mc-Neil Manaius who founded Kape Sina Una.
The 25-year-old Macul and 30-year-old Manaius said they wanted to have an alternative source of income as millions lost their jobs and livelihoods due to COVID-19 lockdowns.
The two said they came up with the idea of a pop-up coffee shop as Macul is a coffee and travel enthusiast while Manauis has roots from Cordillera, where some of the country’s most popular coffee beans come from.
As business newbies, they expected to have just 25 customers when Kape Sina Una first opened along Marilaque on Oct. 3 last year. But they were surprised by the reception they got.
“We hit about 750 cups sa unang dalawang araw namin (in our first 2 days),” Macul said.
After earning P30,000 during its first 2 days in October last year, the coffee shop business proved to be a viable business. Four months into the business, both Manuis and Macul left their regular jobs to focus on their venture.
“It was overwhelming that most of our fellow Filipinos patronize our objective and concepts. Sobrang happy kami na isa kami sa naging tulay para ipakilala ang ating mga local coffee sa mga kababayan natin at matulungan ang mga local coffee croppers sa bansa," Manauis said.
(We're so happy that we were able to promote our local coffee to the youth and help coffee farmers.)
All their coffees are locally sourced. Kalinga Brew and Batangas coffee or Kapeng Barako are among their most popular beans. They also offer hot and cold chocolate drink using locally sourced cocoa powder.
Today, there are 10 branches of Kape Sina Una, most of them strategically placed near parks and tourist spots originally targeting motorcycle riders, bikers and joggers. They also have non-mobile coffee shops like those in Antipolo, Pangasinan, and DRT-Bulacan.
The popularity of pop-up coffee stalls also caught the eye of Elaiza Torno and her friends who set up Team Coffee & Co as a side-business to support the charitable works of their church.
Torno, who works as a fundraiser for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said they saw the potential of the Boso Boso area for a small business selling coffee and snacks.
“We’re doing this business for just 2-3 hours pero yung flow ng tao tuloy tuloy every weekend,” she said.
In just a month, they already recouped their small investment, and are now just doing the business for fun, she said.
Ann Falloria of Bru.Ph, meanwhile, said that she and her family had been doing weekend road trips to Tanay, but it was only lately that she got the idea to set up a pop-up coffee stall in the area.
“Mahilig kaming pumunta ng Tanay tapos nakikita namin yung mga nagtitinda dito, so sabi ko parang nauuso ngayon ang coffee,” Falloria said.
She also thought of the business as a way to finance the payments for their car, which used to be a ride-sharing vehicle under Grab. Fallora said she believes that the experience she has running a milk tea shop will help her grow her pop-up coffee business.
Kape Sina Una founders also believe that aside from being coffee lovers, Filipinos find comfort in a hot cup of coffee.
“Drinking coffee is one way to relieve [ourselves] from stresses and also a starting switch to face daily routines and challenges,” they said.
Macul and Manuis also shared they plan to pursue this venture even after the pandemic.