3 tiny cafés off Metro Manila that opened – and is thriving – during Covid-19

Sometimes it takes an extremely difficult challenge to create a dream or make one come true – just ask the owners of Inarawan Café in Marikina, Meet Me Café in Binangonan and Kasa Antigua Café in Cavite

Meet Me Café in Binangonan, Rizal

When you look at a cup, it is said, you either see it as half-empty or half-full. But for these new café owners, their cups are running over despite the challenges brought on by a country on lockdown and a pandemic that shows no signs of abating. Hop on a car or a bicycle and take a road trip to these destinations outside Metro Manila for a much-needed jolt of inspiration.

Meet Me Café (Binangonan)

It was while binge-watching the Netflix Korean drama series Itaewon Class in the early months of the pandemic that Rizza Mae Santos (left, picture above) got the inspiration and guts to open her own café. “This drama helped me remember my goal to put up a coffee shop and pursue it now – or never,” Santos says. The TV series about an ex-con who opens a bar in the famous Korean nightlife district prompted Santos, who was in between jobs at that time, to call her sister in Singapore and pitch the idea of opening her own café.

By March 2021, with her entire family rallying behind her, Santos opened Meet Me Café in a 4.5 square meter space at a spot in their Binangonan house that faces the street. “It’s a to-go café but as many as eight customers can sit outside,” Santos says. Using light paint and natural wood, the Meet Me Café wouldn’t look out of place among hipster roadside cafés in Bangkok or Tokyo.

Having worked as a barista at Starbucks, Santos was able to easily find her way around heavy-duty espresso machines, whipped cream dispensers and a variety of coffee beans and flavoring syrups. These days, she whips up around 30 orders daily from her selection of hot, over-iced and Frapuccino coffee drinks. Santos recommends her personal favorite, V-Volt or Vanilla Volt, which is plain vanilla drink with a jolt of freshly brewed espresso. “It’s guaranteed to keep you awake ‘til sunrise,” she says. Santos also offers coffee pairings with ensaymada, muffins and cookies. “For all those trying to survive during this pandemic, don’t be scared. Everything happens for a reason. Keep on dreaming. As they say, your dream is not big enough if it doesn’t scare you.” 1218 Metropolis Avenue, Municipality of Binangonan, Facebook


Inarawan Cafe Marikina
Inarawan Cafe started as a weekend pop-up but opened as a permanent business in Barangay Concepcion in December 2020.

Inarawan Café (Marikina)

Coffee lovers and life partners Nicolette Gutierrez and Paul Torzar first started Inarawan Café as a weekend pop-up store along Marilaque Highway, a scenic thoroughfare that begins in Marikina City and traverses the provinces of Rizal, Laguna and Quezon.

In December 2020, the 20somethings decided to turn Inarawan Café into a permanent business. A bakery owned by Gutierrez, located along a tree-covered sidewalk in barangay Concepcion Uno in Marikina, was modified to accommodate the café. The couple brought new life to the 40 square meter space by going for rustic black interiors and setting-up rattan coffee tables and egg chairs to sit groups of three.

“Our expectations were not that high because we were not that popular, but we used social media to market our café,” says Torzar, an IT Engineer by profession. Their luck changed in March 2021 after being featured in the TV show Biyaheng Drew.

Nicolette Gutierrez and Paul Torzar
Coffee lovers and life partners Nicolette Gutierrez and Paul Torzar sell about 40 cups of coffee a day at Inarawan Café.

These days, Inarawan Café sells up to 40 cups a day. Their bestsellers are blends with strong Batangas Barako and Benguet Arabica coffee base and their signature strong-and-sweet Inarawan Blend. Operations start early, when bikers drop by for their regular perk in the morning. In the afternoon the brewing picks up again for customers from the neighborhood and passersby who crave for coffee with their baked goodies.

Gutierrez and Torzar are determined to make their young venture work under the new normal and give this advice to those who want to follow their path, “Pandemic is not a hindrance. If you have a dream, pursue it now – no ifs, no buts.” 2 Sampaguita Street, Barangay Concepcion Uno, Marikina City, Facebook

owners of kasa antigua cafe
Ivan Reyes (left) and Darlon Castro in front of Kasa Antigua. (PHOTO: Lakwatserong Caviteno)

Kasa Antigua Cafe (Cavite)

The story behind Kasa Antigua Café reads like a script for a feel-good movie where two friends meet to catch up on their lives and end up creating something beautiful – and lucrative – together. Ivan Reyes and Darlon Castro had both lost their jobs because of the pandemic and started a small business to earn money. Reyes started selling iced banana desserts outside his home in Cavite City, while Castro invested in coffee equipment and offered bottled coffees online. They both realized they could combine what they had to make a business grow. Castor wanted to put up a café but didn’t have a space, so Reyes offered a spot in his parent’s house where a tiny store used to be.

“We didn’t have a concept on how the café would look at first, but because the house is old, we went for a classic and vintage look,” Reyes explains. In April this year, they finally opened Kasa Antigua Café, where they offer drinks using coffee beans sourced from local farmers in Davao, Benguet and Sultan Kidarat, as well as snacks such as banana brulée, blueberry French toast and grilled sandwiches. Kasa Antigua Café turned out to be a hit, patronized by neighbors and out-of-towners who visit to try out the caramel macchiato, Spanish latte, mocha, and s’mores latte.

Smores Latte
S’mores Latte is one of Kasa Antigua’s bestsellers

Reyes and Castro have been selling as many as a hundred cups a day, and barely two months since starting, they had to hire four people to help in the daily grind. “We realized that one really didn’t need a big capital to start a business during the pandemic. One just has to put in the hard work, be resourceful and patient, and show faith in God,” concludes Castor. 1013 Cajigas Street, Barangay Caridad, Cavite City, Facebook

Written by

Dahl Bennett

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