FOOD can be good not only by the way it tastes but also when it is served for the good of others. This is true at Coffee & Saints (C&S) Café where everything that is ordered on the menu goes on to help disadvantaged youths better their lives.
C&S is a livelihood project by the Don Bosco Pugad Center, in partnership with Chevron Philippines Inc., which employs boys who had previously been rescued from child labor, abuse, poverty and vagrancy.
Called migrant youths, they live under the care of the center while learning restaurant and hospitality skills by working at the café. Both the center and café are run by the St. John Bosco Parish in Makati City.
“Coffee & Saints is a livelihood project for poor and needy migrant youths,” Pugad Center director, Father David Buenaventura, SBD, said in an interview with The Sunday Times Magazine. “It aims to develop the service and management skills of boys inclined towards culinary arts.”
Fr. Buenaventura added that the café is also one of the means for Pugad Center to sustain its daily needs, along with other livelihood projects that include a bakery, a mobile automotive repair center, a water-refilling station, and an aircondition repair center.
Training the youth
Pugad’s main goal is to empower former migrant youths to become dignified and productive persons. Through healing, caring and teaching, they become confident, brave and hopeful in life once again.
This is why more than income generation, C&S focuses on training these young men in the field of food preparation, culinary business and restaurant operations, and therefore expanding their employable skills.
As to how C&S chooses the boys who will work for them, Fr. Buenaventura explained, “Preference is given to those who have expressed their desire to take up culinary arts. All the migrant youths are assigned to serve at the shop to develop their social and communication skills by dealing with people, as well as build their self-esteem and confidence.”
But improving the lives of the boys do not end at C&S. “We also asked the services of Kenny Rogers, Goldilocks and Jollibee for special sessions on service crewing, costing and kitchen management for those who will later on take up culinary arts full time.”
C&S currently employs and trains 11 Pugad boys with ages ranging from 17 to 23, and hailing from provinces as far as Pangasinan in Luzon and Negros Oriental in Visayas.
Many of these boys are studying at the same time at the Don Bosco Technical School.
Bryan Rabino from Romblon is the current head cook. He is a graduate of Maya Culinary School in Makati City.
Besides continuously developing the skills of the C&S boys, the café itself is also undergoing constant renovations and expansions. The café was first renovated in 2012 to exude a more contemporary look to attract diners. Success again required another renovation in 2013 to expand the kitchen, add a roof deck, as well as reinforce the menu offerings. Chevron provided financial grants for these.
Since opening in 2006, 40 former migrant youths have graduated at C&S and 95 percent of them are now fully employed.
Fr. Buenaventura proudly enumerated, “One is now a regular chef at InterContinental Hotel in Makati City. Another is working in Dubai also as a chef, and yet another one is employed as a baker at Taal Vista Hotel in Tagaytay City.”
These notable graduates that the priest mentioned are Erwin Mortel, InterCon chef; Alvino Cavalleda, a chef in Bahrain; and Rolando Velasquez, Taal Vista baker.
After completing their three-month training in C&S, all three pursued formal culinary arts and studied as Pugad scholars. Not forgetting their roots, they occasionally visit the café to share culinary tips and new recipes.
According to Father Buenaventura, C&S aims to serve the St. John Bosco parishioners with simple but quality food.
“We asked what regular customers wanted. And from what we gathered, they preferred Filipino dishes. To provide this, we asked the services of the experienced chefs that also guides our migrant youths,” he related.
Father Buenaventura is referring to culinary masters Nancy Reyes-Lumen from the clan that gave birth to the Mama Sita and The Aristocrat brands; and Bing Arenas, chef and son of Pangasinan Governor Baby Arenas who helped conceptualize C&S’s bigger and better menu.
Reyes-Lumen and Arenas further guide and train the C&S youth besides helping with the menu. Reyes-Lumen even volunteered to audit the performance of the boys of Coffee and Saints to them to become more efficient and professional.
Today, the café’s clientele—comprised not only of parishioners but also families and employees within the area—keep going back for the Bicol Express, tinola, kare-kare, lechon paksiw, and crispy dinuguan, among others. Among these many home-cooked inspired dishes, it turns out that the simple tortang talong remains to be everyone’s favorite.
To offer variety, C&S runs a “menu for the day” from Mondays to Saturdays. Come Sunday, the complete menu is made available. Each dish automatically comes with a serving of rice and prices are more or less P100.
Fr. Buenaventura also noted that the diners often ask for healthy drinks. In response, C&S came up with iced malunggay citrus drink. Called Green Lantern, this drink has a red tea counterpart dubbed Iron Man.
Besides the Filipino fares, C&S also serves the famous breakfast silog meals from tapsilog to bangsilog, as well as snacks like the Colle de Don Bosco, a French toast sandwich with ham and cheese, and the fried banana suman glazed with honey.
Diners can further enjoy the taste of Christmas throughout the year as C&S serves bibingka and puto bumbong. Perfect pairings for this are the tsokolat-e and brewed coffee made from beans harvested fresh from a Don Bosco livelihood farm in Batangas.
As to how the name Coffee and Saints came about, the priest replied that while enjoying their food, diners can actually read up about saints’ lives with books displayed all over the café.
And of course, there is that part of being a Good Samaritan just by eating.