Café of R ’ S Recycled, Repurposed, Reinvented

Advocafe - blending indigenous peoples coffee - with a passion for service

MANILA, Philippines - I finally visited Advocafé, a social enterprise started by Ben Abadiano, who called me many years ago about coffee but we never got to meet until he became our chair at the Peace and Equity Foundation (PEF). Last year he personally manned the Coffee Origins booth in Davao City and we got to talk a little bit about his work with Indigenous Peoples (IPs) like the Mandaya tribe in Davao’s Mt. Apo range.

Fast forward to last week, when he called to say he is opening yet another café – this time in busy Mendiola street in the heart of Manila, at the College of the Holy Spirit campus to be exact. This time I made sure I would go.

This man impressed me as a no nonsense entrepreneur who is out to help our IPs become self-reliant whilst being educated in business.

Because we came early for the ribbon cutting, my companions – Princess Lalah of Sulu and Michael Alar, a friend of Ben’s – and I had time to look around the café and showroom. While waiting for coffee we explored and found a small outdoor garden for herbs, a huge back kitchen and an array of interesting eclectic furniture – a mix and match of chairs, tables and shelves for bread, cookies and other food items you may want to bring home.

Ben has been at it for about nine years now, starting with a small Advocafé in Malate, near the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation office and across the Landbank building. (This was featured in STARweek, “The café with a heart,” on April 7, 2013. – Ed.)

Then he opened a small one in Davao to be closer to the Mandaya tribe and to be able to serve the Arabicas from Mt. Apo. All these while educating the IPs in his IPLED or Indigenous People’s Leadership and Enterprise Development Academy.

“I had to think long and hard about this offer of Holy Spirit,” Ben tells us. But when the sisters said it came with a rent of only one peso a year, he went on to think of a better way to put up and furnish a full café approximately 100 square meters in size. Normally, cafés this size would need about P3 million to P5 million in capital. Ben did it with just P800,000, all from the positive financial performance of his other existing café operations. “The money just went to buying a chiller, an air con and some other equipment the sisters did not have in their warehouse, “ he says. The rest of the furniture he rummaged from the CHS bodega.

Proudly he shows off drawers of card catalogs that he made into wall shelves. There are mismatched chairs and tables which he just retiled the tops of so they would look new. He found book shelves and armoires with genuine original brass pulls that would make an antique dealer salivate. He found glass panes framed in wood which he put together to become a divider between the boutique and the café.

Ben beams as he relates how he found odds and ends that finally, when put together, created this café that radiates with love and positive energy.

To add color and texture to the social enterprise, you are served by any of his IP beneficiaries: a Kankana-ey woman from Benguet, a Mangyan from Naujan Mindoro, a Mandaya from Davao’s Mt Apo. These IPs learned how to cook, serve coffee, prepare and bake breads after finishing as scholars of Ben’s IPLED program. As you eat and enjoy the café’s ambience, you feel the energy brought about by empowerment and real social inclusion.

“They have a lot of pride in service,” Princess observes the staff as they engage us in conversation.

Ben even managed to put together some crafts to sell like native bags and woven textiles, tea and coffee products, fruit juices made in Tugdaan, an FDA-certified food processing laboratory in faraway Mindoro. The boutique occupies some space in front of the store while baked goods like bread and cookies are on open shelves that entice you to get some and take them home.

Ben is a true blue social entrepreneur who is creative and, of course, enterprising. He remains humble through these successes and proudly whispers to me: “I never put in any more money after the first café was built. This café is the fruit of our organic growth from the previous cafes.”

If you wish to duplicate Advocafé’s success the formula is easy: Have an advocacy. Work at it while serving better coffee and good food at student prices. Roll the profits (not into your pocket) but towards the next store. And take his advice: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. And may I add, Repurpose.

Truly this newest café is a testament that when you do good, the profits will follow. Remain true to your mission as Ben has. Someone up there will surely take care of you and your coffee.

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