Beyond the Coffee Grounds: Stories of Young Coffee Entrepreneurs in San Pablo City

by Francesca Denise R. Lagos and Kyryll Q. Navarro

COFFEE BY THE LAKE. Justine Caputulan and his coffee kiosk-style store, Bro’s Brew Cafe, are located in front of Nanay’s Lomi in Sampaloc Lake in San Pablo City. (Photo by Kyryll Navarro)

More and more young entrepreneurs have been putting up coffee shops in San Pablo City, Laguna. As the province consists of lakes that serve fresh air and calming surroundings became a tourist destination, young coffee shop owners took this chance to offer people the perfect company for their peaceful day by selling good quality coffee. Their efforts to give quality service to their customers are another factor that keeps people from coming back.

From simply being a coffee lover to a coffee owner, Justine Caputulan, a 24-year-old resident of San Pablo City, is one of those young entrepreneurs who managed to put up a coffee business in the town.

In front of Sampaloc Lake is where Bro’s Brew Cafe can be found. It’s a coffee kiosk-style shop that San Pableños go to, giving them a perfect view of the lake and refreshing air while drinking their coffee. A beautiful voice from the owner and the staff also serenades the surroundings, singing some OPM songs not only to their customers but also to some people who walk at the lake every afternoon. Others will even become curious and look at where the voice is coming from, making them go and purchase a coffee.

Justine, together with his friends, John Henry and Eljay Atienza, have long visioned themselves as coffee shop owners. “Whenever we are going to grab a cup of coffee sa ibang lugar, lagi naming na-iimagine na what if soon magkaroon tayo ng ganito? What if magkaroon tayo ng sarili [nating] timpla na pwede natin i-share sa tao?” said Justine.

[Whenever we are going to grab a cup of coffee in other places, we often wonder, “What if we have something like this soon?” What if we could share our blend with others?]

So, they eventually worked on things they needed to make their dream come true. One of which is deciding on what to name their coffee shop.

Bro’s Brew [is the name] kasi mas nagre-reflect siya sa aming mga owners since tatlo kaming lalaki at para naman na kaming magkakapatid,” Justine added as he recalled the reason for choosing Bro’s Brew Cafe as their business name.

[Bro’s Brew is the name because it reflects more of us (the owners) since we are three men, and we are like brothers.]

A PASSION FOR COFFEE. Justine Caputulan and his co-barista while serving iced coffee to their customers at Bro’s Brew Cafe in San Pablo City, Laguna. (Photo by Kyryll Navarro)

Justine and his friends chose to have a kiosk as a start-up because of the cheap rent. It’s also movable, allowing them to go to other places, like setting it up in front of their house.

Meanwhile, as you go down and out of the lake, another coffee shop that provides San Pablo’s residents with high-quality, reasonably-priced coffee and milk tea can be seen. In the comfort of their home, two siblings named Kim Fule and Karelle Fule decided to start one.

HOME OFFERS COFFEE. Karelle and Kim Fule’s 44 Cafe is located at 44 Marasigan St., Lakeside Park, San Pablo City. (Photo by Francesca Denise Lagos)

With the help of her brother Kim, Karelle, a 27-year-old entrepreneur, is also living the dream of owning a coffee shop. “At first, we’re talking about putting up a business, so napag-decide [an] namin na mag-open ng coffee shop, which is dito lang sa area, sa bahay namin,” Karelle mentioned.

[At first, we were talking about putting up a business, so we decided to open a coffee shop, which is just here at our home.]

The pandemic is one of the factors in their plan to establish their business since it gave them a chance to experience working from home, which they prefer doing. More importantly, it saves them from paying rent.

There they named their shop 44 CAFE after their home number address in San Pablo City—44 Marasigan Street. It is adjacent to two schools—City High and Canossa College, becoming students’ go-to-hang out after their classes.

44 CAFE’s customers enjoy their coffee in a cozy and spacious homey vibe place wherein they can take their Insta-worthy images.

The taste of struggles in entering the coffee industry

However, amid the freedom of starting their own coffee shops, entrepreneurs encounter several underlying challenges.

“As a young entrepreneur, pinaka-challenge talaga is money, iyong capital sa pag-uumpisa ng negosyo, and also ‘yong lack of knowledge (limited knowledge) on how to run a business,” Justine said.

[As a young entrepreneur, the most challenging part was money, securing capital to start a business, and lack of knowledge on how to run a business.]

Health is also Justine’s concern about having a kiosk-style shop. “‘Yong pagod sa paghahakot. Tinatambak [kasi] namin ‘yong mga gamit namin sa bahay. Then, kapag pupuwesto [na] kami rito, kailangan namin ng sasakyan para iangkat pa siya papunta rito [sa Sampaloc lake]. So, bago ka pa makapag-umpisa talaga ay nandoon na ‘yong pagod,” Justine said as he narrated the daily process of opening Bro’s Brew Cafe.

[Transporting our things to the Lake is already tiring since we are piling them up at home. When we get settled here, we’ll need a vehicle to bring them here [to Sampaloc Lake]. So you’re exhausted before you’ve even begun.]

As for 44 CAFE, since they started their business during the pandemic, the restrictions on going outside caused the shop to be unsteady and have a few customers.

Aside from that, the growing number of coffee shops in San Pablo challenges them more. “Mahirap [magtayo] kasi maraming coffee shops d’yan na kilala na, established na, tapos mayroon pang branch sa iba,” Justine mentioned. Along the street towards the Sampaloc Lake and even in the city’s public market, one can see that the coffee shops in town are almost next to each other. There are also movable coffee shops out there. Thus, they find it hard to attract customers.

[Establishing a coffee shop is difficult since there are numerous well-known and well-established coffee shops out there, with branches in other cities.]

In a crowdsourced survey, some young individuals expressed interest in buying coffee from those branded coffee shops with several branches in other provinces. Still, it doesn’t matter to others whether a coffee shop is famous or not as long as it tastes good.

Brewing the right blend

Problems are indeed inevitable, especially for young entrepreneurs. Still, there’s no such thing as giving up when you put much effort into your dream. These young entrepreneurs managed to address the struggles they encountered in their businesses and to entice more customers.

The Bro’s Brew Cafe set up a karaoke bar alongside their coffee shop, drawing people’s attention to endorse their shop. Along with giving a good coffee, they ensure to offer a good quality service in which people will remember them while having an affordable drink is 44 CAFE’s strategy since their target customers are students.

STUDENT-FRIENDLY DRINK. Kim and Karelle Fule’s very own Taro milk tea and 44 iced coffee sell at a student-friendly price, ranging from Php 54 to Php 70. (Photo by Francesca Denise Lagos)

Regardless of the young coffee shop owners’ strategies, the government should also support and guide small businesses, particularly those owned by young individuals.

“If [the] government supports you, ma-pu-push ka to grow your business,” Kim Fule of 44 CAFE said.

[If the government supports you, you are motivated to grow your business.]

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) launched the Youth Entrepreneurship Program (YEP), which is an act to empower the youth in entrepreneurship and assist them in starting their own businesses.

Further, it aims to promote locality to consumers and encourage the youth to learn more about business. Through this, they will be exposed to different learning opportunities and enhance their skills.

YEP also seeks to enhance its curriculum and reach out to vulnerable communities through partner organizations to make the entrepreneurship program accessible to Filipino youth.

A Blend Full of Hope

More than ever, since coffee shops are mostly filled with youths, they may contribute to the success of their peers who run local coffee shops. They have the power to boost various content on social media. Thus, their engagement is a social factor in the growth of local businesses.

Global Coffee Report, an online magazine that features trends in the coffee industry has proved that social media helps build a company’s brand, product, and service. This is why every like, share, and post of content on social media help these coffee shops to be known in their community.

According to Missy Godala, a college student from UPLB, “Businesses generally become consistent and stable due to the customers. Youth, especially the “Gen Z” can effectively disseminate reviews and recommendations.”

The same goes for Jezelle Hertez, an undergraduate development communication student from Batangas State University. “I believe that youth could help local coffee shops considering that nowadays, this generation loves to post something aesthetically pleasing on social media, leading to free product promotion,” she shared.

As the coffee marketing trends continuously circulate on social media, it depicts how coffee is already a culturally significant element among Filipinos, specifically youth. It even inspires them to establish their shops at a young age, despite the presence of known coffee businesses. With this, it is essential to support young entrepreneurs who seek to shed light on the potential of the coffee industry in a community.