LOOK: Old Baguio Café Opens First Branch In Manila
The cozy café captures Baguio's idyllic atmosphere. Come here for the famous strawberry shortcake, hot chocolate, pinikpikan and iconic Good Shepherd's ube
At the intersection of V. Luna and Kalayaan Avenue in Quezon City stands a brand new building with a lone sign on its second floor that reads, “Old Baguio Café.”
It looks pretty straightforward: just another coffee shop that happens to take Baguio as its inspiration. But as soon as you step inside the store, you realize that this is not just a new café that wants to make noise in the metro. You open that door and you're instantly transported to the City of Pines, as if you stepped inside the magical wardrobe to find Narnia on the other side.
This is the new branch of Old Baguio Café. It’s not just a place to pick up the Baguio goodies you've missed, and it’s definitely more than your usual coffee shop experience. Within its doors is the Baguio experience in all its splendor.
The brewing of a blockbuster business idea
The Old Baguio Café branch that you’ll find in V. Luna is actually a franchise of the original (and for the longest time, only) Old Baguio Café in Baguio City. While there were many kiosks that sold their products, the very first café franchise of the brand is the V. Luna branch, which is a partnership between couple John Palisoc and Wendy Molina.
To tell the story of this blockbuster franchise that put Old Baguio Café in everyone’s radar, we have to go back where it all started. And John says, “It all started with a coffee.”
“That was back in 2004, my cousin and Wendy slept over in our house. Then, when I was eating my breakfast, I saw her looking at me. She looked surprised when I poured my coffee over my rice. It’s something that’s very common in Pangasinenses. We pour our coffee on our rice. ’Yun ’yung tumatak sa kanya,” John recalls.
Ever since then, John and Wendy began talking about opening up a coffee shop together. They were both coffee enthusiasts, and always found that their personalities synced up so well. But as they call it, “life happened,” and their plans had to take a back seat. Wendy flew to Dubai and worked there for almost 13 years, while John started his family here in the Philippines.
When Wendy returned in 2018, their paths crossed again. What started as a catch-up soon turned into courting and then into a full-blown business plan. Since both were enamored with Baguio, they knew that bringing the place they loved the most closer to home was something that they wanted to do.
“I’m originally from Cordillera, but I studied in Baguio. When I was working in Dubai, every time I went back, I would go to Baguio because I felt it was like a second home. It was laid back, pero may city vibes. The smell of the trees was amazing; you can smell nature. And of course, the people,” Wendy shares.
For John, Baguio held his fondest childhood memories. “Every summer break, dinadala ako ng siblings du’n dahil du’n sila nagaral, So napalapit talaga ’yung baguio sa’kin. I like the environment, the culture, and the temperature was my favorite.”
It was a no-brainer for them to merge their love for Baguio with their passion for good coffee. So when they found Old Baguio Café in a franchise trade fair in 2018, they knew they found the perfect venture to launch together.
Launching in pandemic
John and Wendy were all set to launch their Old Baguio Café branch in March. The place and all the staff were ready, the preparations were complete, the marketing plan was in place and ready to roll. And then, Covid-19 happened.
John recalls the first months of the pandemic were really filled with blood, sweat, and tears. They were paying rent, their staff were staying at John’s place (because some of the staff came from Baguio and were stuck in the metro when all the borders closed), and they had a ready-to-open café that they couldn’t open.
Even as the restrictions started to ease up, Wendy and John found themselves lost. They were not prepared to launch a café at a time where people didn’t want to go out. They had a marketing plan that capitalized on pre-pandemic norms. Most of the other tenants in the newly erected building that they were renting in backed out, leaving their building dead and lacking of foot traffic.
“Si John, ayaw na talaga niyang ituloy,” Wendy says. “But I was still optimistic about it. Because I told him, we had a unique concept. We have a place in the market. We’re not just selling coffee. We’re selling the experience, the tradition, and the values of Baguio. I really just wanted to share something that I’ve experienced to people here in Metro Manila.”
John adds, “I really owe it to her. If she gave up when I was down, that would be it. But she made me realize that if we stop, we lose everything. But if we continue, we may still lose a lot of things, but at least we have a fighting chance.”
With John and Wendy in survival mode, they started offering a pick-up service, since food delivery was one of the first ones to take off in the middle of the pandemic. And finally, when restrictions eased out even more, they decided to open the café to dine-in customers. John recalls that for the first 2 weeks of their opening, no one was coming in.
They were barely surviving and fighting for the café of their dreams. There were bills to pay and they didn’t receive as much help as they wanted from the government to stay afloat. They had to think fast; they had to pivot.
And then, Vizco’s happened.
Saved by cake and coffee
“Back in September, when we were still training in Baguio, we have a chef friend who asked me if I can bring back a box of Vizco’s strawberry shortcake. So sabi ko, ‘Masarap ba ’yun?’” Wendy recalls. “I didn’t think of it much back then, but when we were talking about how are we going to survive during the pandemic, what can we sell in Baguio that we can bring down here in Manila, I remembered Vizco’s. So we bought 6 cakes and I tried selling in our condo community, Nag-post lang ako du’n, tapos andaming umorder sa’kin! We didn’t know, our franchiser—the owner of the original Old Baguio Café in Baguio—was a very close friend of the Vizco’s owner himself. So we got to meet them, we learned about their story, and started offering different Vizco’s cakes in our menu.”
With just one strawberry shortcake, Old Baguio Café went from zero to an online blockbuster hit. “We’re surprised na dinudumog kami ng tao. We didn’t expect it talaga,” John says. “Vizco’s is really what saved us.”
It was true; Vizco’s really opened their doors to more people. But while people came in for the cakes, what they really stayed for is the coffee, the ambiance, and the overall Baguio experience that the Old Baguio Café offered.
Stepping inside Old Baguio Café was like stepping in Baguio itself. The temperature was spot on, all the décor were sourced from Baguio, Good Shepherd pasalubong goods lined up the shelves, they were carrying all sorts of Baguio brands from House of Yogurt to Sinner and Saints, Baguio-made bamboo mugs and plates were displayed for sale, and even most of the staff came from Abra and Benguet.
John gushes so much about how lovely the people are in Baguio, and how the culture up north really left an impact on him growing up. And it’s nice to see that this same culture and values that they appreciated in Baguio are the very same things that you’ll experience inside Old Baguio Café. The staff are all friendly and knowledgable about their offerings; and don’t just take my word for it. When we visited the café, one customer actually left a message on the table she sat on, thanking the staff for their service.
At the core of the Old Baguio Café, Wendy and John just really wanted to bring Baguio to the metro—and they succeeded.
Check out the gallery below to get a visual tour of the food and ambiance that Old Baguio Café has to offer.
The new Old Baguio Café
The new Old Baguio Café
Baguio-sourced knick knacks
Craftsmanship from the north
The café experience
Vintage café music
Al fresco dining soon
An open kitchen layout
Paying homage to Cordillera's cuisine
Good Shepherd's beloved ube and other products
Baguio brands available
The famous strawberry shortcake
From Baguio's farmers
Cakes and sweets
Single origin arabica
A slice of heaven
A different kind of coffee
A unique batirol
Sustainable coffee beans
Kinuday, the Cordillera version of Iberico
Espresso strawberry yogurt
A social enterprise
What started as a dream venture for the couple has now blown up into something greater. Wendy and John are very grateful to their franchiser that they are able to work directly with coffee farmers in Benguet to bring single origin Arabica coffee beans here in the metro, in a way that directly benefits the farmers who cultivated and grew the beans.
“You can’t franchise something when you don’t know where it came from, so we went on a coffee farm tour in Benguet and they showed us how the coffee beans are made,” John says. “What’s great about it is we are able to talk to the farmers themselves. Because we’re sourcing it from their cooperative, all the proceeds go directly to them.”
For them, the farmers are their partners. And before the pandemic, they were actually planning to start a crowdfunding effort to fund the coffee farmers. While that has taken a backseat due to the demands of the pandemic, they are looking forward to continuing that effort in the near future.
Old Baguio Café is already a success just months into their launch, but Wendy and John are still chin-deep in responsibilities, with so many challenges and to-dos still on their list. But while the couple are making do with 3 to 4 hours of sleep every night to be able to accomplish everything they want to do, for them, it’s all worth it when they see their customers happy.
“Nakakahawa ’yung tuwa nila when they visit the café and say, ‘I miss Baguio so much!’” John says. That’s why he reminds everyone that: “If you want something or miss something from Baguio, let us know so we can find a way to bring it down here”
For Wendy, things are a bit more personal. “My father is such a big coffee drinking, so parang bata pa lang ako nagkakape na talaga ako. He passed away a couple of years ago but our coffee shop reminds me of him.”
During the most trying times of this year, when Wendy and John poured they heart and soul to fight for their business, Wendy realized they wouldn’t have been able to pull through if it was just all about the numbers or the profit. They had their staff, which has become like family to them, who they can’t let down. They had farmer partners in Baguio relying on them. And they had customers here in the Metro who looked forward to the piece of Baguio that they brought amidst the pandemic. So for her, “It’s not just a business anymore. What comes first is our passion for coffee and the happiness that we bring to the people. We want to give back to the community kung saan nagso-source kami ng products. We owe it to them.”
“It’s really about the story and the people behind our products and our coffee. Du’n talaga ako nag-hold on,” Wendy says.
And their booming numbers now on social media, their growing loyal patrons, and their sold out cakes—all of that is the prize for the hard work and passion they poured into what is now their dream come true.