I find it both impressive and gratifying that many food establishments nowadays—restaurants, pop-ups, or online stores–aren’t all about profits. They’re devoting portions of what they earn, or in exceptional cases, ALL that they earn, to support various advocacies of their choosing. By doing so, they’re also helping the industry move forward by enhancing the definition of “success.”
It’s far from easy to do, but establishments like these are forging ahead and doing it anyway—which makes them worthy of a closer look.
In this article, I focus on four such establishments and the good folks behind them, and delve into how exactly these people support their causes of choice (and also reveal which of their offerings I liked the most).
What: Online ramen-focused establishment selling ramen kits and organizing popups
Advocacies supported: Farmers’ rights; food self-sufficiency
Must-try: Black garlic tonkotsu and tantanmen kits
When your tantanmen kit arrives, open the box and view the separately-packaged pork mince, soup mix tinted orange by chili, uncooked wheat noodles, bok choy leaf, ajitama or marinated soft-boiled egg, and spring onions. Are you ready? This one’s going to be quick.
The brainchild of multimedia artist and home cook Dwight Galang, the eponymously named Dwight Ramen “opened shop” online in 2020. Galang’s passion for noodles honed by his boyhood in Bicol, as well as his fascination with and respect for classical ramen techniques, pushed him to learn to make ramen noodles for himself. Friends who tried his ramen were so impressed with it that they convinced him to start selling it.
Since its inception, Dwight Ramen has had a range of offerings, including: classic shoyu, umami-rich thanks to slow-simmered chintan (clear chicken) broth; nibo shoyu, noodles in chintan broth combined with kombu dashi (vegetarian stock) and topped with niboshi (dried anchovy) oil; tsukemen, dry ramen noodles dipped in tonkotsu-gyokai (pork-bone and fish) broth and drizzled with lemon oil; tantanmen, noodles in a savory and spicy broth showcasing homemade chili oil and minced pork; and black garlic tonkotsu, which combines the flavors of creamy bone broth and sweet and smoky black garlic. (I sampled the latter two and found them lip-smackingly noteworthy.) They’re sold online as easy- and fun-to-prepare home kits, and fresh, hot, and ready to be devoured at Galang’s pop-ups.
Galang is unrelenting about the quality of his wares, strictly limiting production so he can hand-produce the noodles the day before shipping them out. Given that he produces infrequently and in low volumes to boot, he’s had no choice but to up his prices, albeit incrementally, since the start of the pandemic.
Heat the pork mince until it sizzles and the soup until it boils, then immediately place in a bowl. In a separate pot, cook the noodles for just two minutes (be watchful!) in briskly boiling water, and blanch the bok choy for no more than 10 seconds.
But Dwight Ramen isn’t just about lip-smacking ramen. During the height of the ongoing pandemic, Dwight Ramen linked up with activists and food security advocate networks. Doing so, Galang said, “… has reoriented how the business… should be cognizant of food and food production as a terrain for struggle.”
Tracing the ongoing food crisis and crippling basic-commodity price hikes to farmer landlessness and ensuing dependency on imported crops including rice, Galang is passionate about farmers’ rights, helping ensure that they are supported and their concerns heard and elevated to the level of policy, and about improving the country’s food security as well. He is also a proud member of Artista ng Rebolusyong Pangkultura (ARPAK), an artist organization that promotes land reform, food security, and rural development.
Finish your bowl of tantanmen by adding in the ajitama and spring onions. Dig in. Savor your ramen’s spiciness and creaminess and its contrasting textures: the crunch of the bok choy, the egg’s silky smoothness, the bite of the perfectly cooked noodles.
Galang organizes fundraising pop-ups like the recently organized “Shoyu Support for Filipino Farmers,” held last October in Diliman, Quezon City. He also focuses on organizing noodle-making workshops to help people learn more about dealing with dough and also learn to make noodles themselves; to appreciate and be respectful of the process just as he learned to be; and to help them learn alternative approaches to preparing food, in keeping with Dwight Ramen’s mission.
Dwight Ramen is currently on an informal hiatus—watch out for the occasional surprise ramen drop, though, as well as more fundraising- and training-focused pop-ups.
What: Coffee pop-up offering coffee and snacks
Where: Central Park, Filinvest City (Google Maps). Open on Fridays, 4:00-9:00 pm, Saturdays and Sundays, 7:00-11:00 am and 4:00-9:00 pm
Advocacies supported: Supporting youth in Manila and Mangyan communities in Mindoro; peace and fair trade; coffee culture
Must-try: Iced kape-con (double-shot espresso with condensed milk, over ice) in glass jar; home-made palitaw and suman
South Coffee is a little stall in the center of the food row beside the year-old Central Park, a lush green space intended for leisure, in Filinvest City, Alabang. It’s a few minutes’ brisk walk away from the mammoth Festival Mall.
The small stall does decent business; in its nearly three years of existence, it’s become a go-to coffee destination of many a cyclist, jogger, family, and fur parent who frequents the area.
It’s easy to see why. Their coffee, sourced from Mindoro—and manually ground and also lever-pressed, a relatively time-consuming rarity nowadays—is exceptionally delicious and great value for money as well, especially when compared to many competitors’ pricier yet comparatively run-of-the-mill offerings.
The kape-con is particularly tasty—a heady combination of flavorful, sweet, and strong espresso and condensed milk flavors—and you’re encouraged to take home the glass jar it’s served in. (Plus, they go out of their way to get people interested in their products and advocacy. Ask nicely and the barista on duty might even let you try pressing an espresso out yourself.)
They also offer a range of snacks, all of which are made in-house and many of which use the products of the Mangyan communities they serve as ingredients.
It’s interesting to learn that South Coffee didn’t start out as a coffee shop. As its main mover Danielle “Dani” Cabarles explained to me, they started out as an NGO called the Christian Health Center—a group of idealistic young people with a dream to support struggling Mangyan communities in Mindoro by helping them take advantage of their fertile soil and develop and sell local products like organic vegetables and fruits. (The current baristas are all volunteers of the NGO.)
But the advocacy pivoted when they discovered that the same communities could develop other products to sell, including woven goods–and that in the same community plots also grew Liberica coffee cherries that, when made into coffee, were sweeter than most ordinary Barako coffees usually are.
In the ensuing years, the advocacy evolved and matured further in lockstep with the community members’ skills and capabilities. Cabarles and the team tried setting up other pop-ups (the first one was in Muntinlupa and the second in BGC). They now also conduct training sessions for community members, focusing on such crucial topics as quality processing and barista and marketing training. Additionally, a stall a few doors down in the food row, run by the NGO, offers other products from the community.
Cabarles openly admits that at the outset, the team knew next to nothing about coffee making, let alone selling it—or even running a food-centric business, marketing food, or handling money. These are things that the team had to learn by doing them, and by developing linkages with others who could teach and train them. And it’s been their laser focus on their advocacies that has helped them push through their many challenges since the outset.
2023 will be a big year for South Coffee. Alongside its ongoing activities, Cabarles and team are also looking at deepening their advocacy to help more beneficiaries; growing their product portfolio to include products like cacao; investing in a roastery to give them more control over their coffee’s quality; and expanding to other locations, including to Mindoro itself.
The Cooking Dad (TCD) Bake & Brew
What: Restaurant offering coffee, meals, and snacks
Where: Tamsui Avenue, Imus, 4013 Cavite (Google Maps). Open from 9:00am-12:00mn Mondays to Saturdays; closed on Sundays
Advocacies supported: Children’s rights (support for Save the Children Philippines); coffee culture
Must-try: Siphon-brewed coffee; rice meals
To local coffee aficionados, The Cooking Dad Bake & Brew, TCD for short, might need little introduction.
Put up online by coffee industry veteran John Eric Enopia and his family in May 2020, and then run out of the family car in select locations in Cavite where the family hails from, TCD has come a long way from its simple beginnings.
TCD now enjoys a loyal customer base and has set up shop in a permanent location in Imus. It’s been feted constantly by the press and on social media, including by the likes of Aga Muhlach. And just last October, Enopia added yet another feather in his cap by besting 19 other competitors to bag the Brewer’s Cup championship at the Coffee Expo Manila, held at Alabang Town Center in Muntinlupa.
However far Enopia and TCD have come, they’ve always remained true to their values and to the reason they were founded upon, which was to support children’s rights and ensure their continuing education—specifically, the children’s rights organization Save the Children Philippines and its Project ARAL initiative. Thanks to the generosity of Enopia and other donors, Project ARAL has helped many of the poorest children in the Philippines to continue to learn despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
TCD has always been quite open and transparent about its advocacy. The Save the Children logo is displayed prominently all over TCD, and even on its cups and some of the shirts Enopia and his family and staff wear.
And Enopia’s family, who has been involved with TCD right from the start, continues to play a key role in it today. Enopia’s wife, Sheng, oversees money matters, while their children, Shayne and Uno, remain deeply involved with the advocacy aspect of the initiative.
I slowly savored a cup of Mt. Apo-sourced, siphon-brewed coffee at TCD (aside from TCD, only a certain international coffee chain brews coffee in this manner here in the Philippines), which Enopia took time out to personally prepare, right in front of me.
As I sipped my delicious coffee, Enopia told me that setting up a physical store—a considerable risk due to the uncertainty wrought by the pandemic—was something they knew they needed to do. A physical store would serve as a means not only to make their business sustainable and appeal to a wider set of would-be customers, but would also help increase the amount of donations they could make to support the cause.
“More benta [sales], more donations!” Enopia exclaims.
And not only that, Enopia reveals that TCD has also become a venue for others to funnel their donations to Save the Children Philippines. Enopia also gives back to his community. He maintains what he calls the “Cavite coffee community,” composed of fellow coffee shop owners, baristas, roasters, coffee enthusiasts—a venue for fellow coffee professionals and lovers to help one another, interact, and share knowledge. The community also came together and helped raise funds for members who were impacted by the typhoon that hit Cavite late in 2022.
Enopia’s generosity of spirit extends to his five staff as well. TCD is known for being closed on Sundays even though customers flock to coffee shops on those days. Why? Enopia wants to make sure that his staff and family have a day off to spend with their loved ones, on their own pursuits, or just to relax and take a well-deserved break.
“Nag-eexist po kami dahil sa advocacy namin… Maging blessing dapat tayo sa iba [We exist because of our advocacy… We should be a blessing to others],” smiles Enopia.
Look for TCD to build on its success in 2023 by continuing to support children’s education, broadening its range of offerings, and expanding to one or two more locations—still in the south, but Enopia may consider venturing further afield in the future.
What: Restaurant offering coffee, meals, snacks, and indigenous products, in-store and online
Where: G/F Ramon Magsaysay Commercial Complex, Dr. F. Quintos St., Malate, Metro Manila (Google Maps). Open from 6:00 am-10:00 pm daily.
Advocacy supported: Indigenous peoples’ livelihood and empowerment
Must-try: Barako coffee; cakes and pastries
AdvoCafe is renowned in the Philippines and even abroad, and little wonder why. Since 2010, AdvoCafe has been offering quality products, including coffee from the Cordillera mountains, Bukidnon, and Oriental Mindoro; Tugdaan calamansi concentrate sweetened with honey; an array of rice meals, pastries, and desserts like cakes; and indigenous and artisanal products made by various Indigenous Peoples (IPs) across the Philippines. AdvoCafe has been featured by the likes of CNN, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Philippine Star, and ANC News Channel.
But as AdvoCafe declares, it doesn’t just sell coffee and indigenous products. It’s a social enterprise with a powerful mission: to combine high-quality business with a strong sense of social responsibility. One hundred percent of its net proceeds go to initiatives that support the education of IPs and their livelihood, help protect the environment, and also help forge and strengthen partnerships between indigenous people’s organizations.
To this end, AdvoCafe serves as a “marketing center” where the products of the IPs can be displayed and marketed to buyers, as well as a sit-down restaurant where coffee and food can be enjoyed. (The deliciously strong barako coffee is noteworthy, especially when enjoyed with a dessert like a slice of blueberry cheesecake.) Additionally, this place is intended as a space for conversation on the promotion of IP culture and opportunity creation to improve their livelihood.
AdvoCafe was originally envisioned as a marketing center alone, but the founders added the coffee shop later on to help make it more sustainable. They used to operate branches in Baguio, Davao, and Mendiola in Manila as well, but had to shutter them in response to the pandemic.
As AdvoCafe’s celebrated founder Ben Abadiano explained to me, the establishment’s story starts with its name: it’s a shortened version of “Advocacy Cafe.” It was established in 2010 by Abadiano and his fellow Trustees of the Pamulaan Center for IPs’ Education and was founded on the fundamental principles of fair trade, organic food, cultural integrity, and environmental sustainability.
AdvoCafe aimed to further Abadiano’s aim to help IPs—even though he had no business background, and even lacked capital at the outset—a challenge he overcame by withdrawing money from his life savings to inject into the enterprise. There were many other challenges that the initiative had faced over its 13 years in existence.
“I made a lot of mistakes,” Abadiano admits. But his grit and determination to help the IP communities saw himself and AdvoCafe through. Currently, AdvoCafe trains 24 community enterprises that specialize in a wide range of food and non-food items, including coffee, fruit juices, fruit preserves, textiles, handicrafts, beadwork, and so on. Inspired by what they’ve learned to date, AdvoCafe also works with a school owned by Abadiano to teach IPs how to run their own enterprises by running courses, such as social entrepreneurship.
AdvoCafe also mentors entrepreneurs on leadership and governance, financial and economic sustainability, environmental responsibility, and cultural wisdom and values, to help them develop systems to help them run their enterprises better. The shop often serves as a venue for the IPs’ training sessions.
In 2023, expect AdvoCafe to increase its online presence and make further inroads into online sales and digital marketing. Abadiano and his team will also be looking at broadening and deepening their product base to offer products like candles and soap, ready-to-drink juices, mainstream products utilizing beadwork and textiles, and the like.
Disclaimer: This piece is not a paid post.