Life in retail

Life in retail

I peel my eyes open to a mild headache, only after 2 hours of sleep. I put on my day-clothes, kiss my parents goodbye and drive off with instant oatmeal. If I’m lucky, it’s 5:45 A.M.

Immersing myself fully into the dense, oily, cesspool that is entrepeneurship has been the highlight of my year. I left my monthly 14,000 PHP job in Ortigas, San Juan, and moved to another monthly 14,001 PHP job in Ortigas, Pasig, where my very first Kape Komunidad coffee kiosk is situated. I clean it, I mop it, I refill stocks, I carry heavy cases of milk; I burn myself, I spill stuff, and bump my head. The six-square meter space is like my first born child.

Standing behind the counter is actually quite the charm. Customers approach the kiosk with a somewhat serious look, and state their order in the least number of words possible. Such a stately affair can only be reciprocated with a big smile and a hint of excitement.  I’m a bartender, I know, but it’s worth noting that coffee people like myself wouldn’t have entered into food retail if it wasn’t for coffee. We would have stayed with our jobs in IT…academia…music. This is why coffee and its bartenders bring such a fresh perspective into the urban food culture.

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The beast behind the counter. Appia II Compact by Nuova Simonelli.

 

Grind. Tamp. Load. Extract. What happens next depends on the order. Mostly, it’s a silky endowment of frothed milk, perhaps with a homemade sauce, or hot water so the natural characteristics of cafe espresso are showcased.

Aside from the smooth barista moves, the job also requires a subtle giddiness. “Hello sir/miss, what would you like?” and if I asked how they were, they would always open up. But the thing with Philippine retail is that there is always this presumed social uneveness between the retailer and the consumer. At times, it has been quite embarassing, myself being some sort coffee servant for up and coming medical students. But I brush it off. When you’re a human in Manila, making money every waking day is paramount –that’s the unabashed truth.

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The hands of co-barista Veronica, dutifully keeping track of orders.

I actually have a background in Science. I was doing a massive statistical analysis of coral types and cover in my marine-bio thesis. Afterwards, working for a consulting firm, I put my super-skills to good use by working in government-related projects, which excited me. Call it millenial mentality, but I felt that I couldn’t grow and evolve within these fields, or they frustrated me, so I left them. I’m not saying I’m choosy, picky, or maarte, but the things I loved were doing research papers, writing songs, and exploring endless literature on coffee.

But life is not all-good in my little coffee retail. The things that make me anxious are not few, and the stresses are just icings to the cake that is Manila traffic. I’m always asking questions to myself, double-backing on decisions, and feeling personal insecurities rise up like vomit. In small moments, the grass remains evergreen on the other side.

Nevertheless, I consistently remind myself the principles I’ve put forth in starting this endeavor. Creating comfort where there has been none, and catering to these soft and weak spots of peoples. Modern establishments are great, and they belong in main commercial centers. Coffee, on the other hand, oftentimes just needs to be in a simple place where the regular Juan or Juana can ponder on life — or study for an exam.

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Coffee in the canteen. Yep, the canteen.
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