Ex-OFWs set up self-sustaining café in Pangasinan

AGUILAR, Pangasinan – Wake up to a view of the sky and mountain ranges, and sip a cup of brewed coffee, hot or iced, or feast on fresh vegetables and fruits at the Daang Katutubo coffee shop in Sitio Mapita, Barangay Laoag in this town.

The coffee shop, which has become a tourist attraction since it opened to the public in 2021, is owned by a family of former overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from Qatar.

Junely Cortez, the owner of the café and who oversees its operations, said they aim to make the place fully self-sustaining.

“We are targeting that someday in the near future, all of our vegetables, fruits, and even the fish and meat will come from our own farm,” Cortez said.

He said some of the vegetables and fruits they use come from their farm. “We plant vegetables and fruits that are common ingredients in our food. We even started culturing ‘hito’ (catfish) in our pond,” he added.

At first, their coffee was produced solely on the farm. When the demand increased, however, they have to source it from other suppliers from the Mountain Province. Cortez said the idea for the café began during the lockdowns at the height of the pandemic in 2020.

“Due to the lockdowns, we decided to live in the mountains, away from people. While we are on our farm, we seldom go outside. We only buy condiments since we have fruits and vegetables, chickens, and eggs on our farm, and even fish as we have a lake nearby,” he said.

He admitted that giving up his career as a military nurse to be an entrepreneur was at first daunting but it became worthwhile along the way.

“My parents (Francisca and Tito) were former OFWs. My mom had a mild stroke. She was a former nurse and my dad was an architect in Qatar, as well. When they retired here, they asked me to just stay in the country since they are already old,” he said.

Cortez was a military nurse in Qatar for 15 years. He was on vacation when the lockdown was imposed in the country and he was unable to return for seven months. Given his parents’ request, Cortez returned to Qatar only to file his resignation. He  now stays in the country for good with his wife, Norlyn, and their three children.

He said the café was born as a simple hang-out for tourists who visit the view deck of Sitio Mapita where the Daang Katutubo road is situated, as well as the Mapita Falls.

“We just want to offer some area where they could rest after going to the view deck and comfort rooms. But then people were demanding food later on, so we started selling food and coffee as well,” he said.

The café has become a tourist attraction and Cortez and his family further developed the area, seeing its potential. Cortez’s father, Tito, designed the place. They used lumber from the trees they planted on their farm in constructing the cafe.

“Last year, we opened it as Daang Katutubo Coffee Shop, naming it after the Daang Katutubo road, and more people are now coming every day,” he said.

The facility also offers glamping (glamorous camping) to their visitors for as low as P400 to P800 for 12 hours. “We also host  events and pre-nuptial photo shoots. We are also building an infinity pool and spa as added amenities,” he said.

Reynald Zacharias of San Carlos City said he has fallen in love with the place and he keeps returning to it. “I have tried glamping with friends and it was a beautiful experience. I get to see a lot of stars and the sunrise is so beautiful. This is my third time going here. I really like the view and the food is delicious while the staff is very accommodating. It is just so relaxing here,” he added.

Zacharias brought his friend Jessica Galicia on his recent visit to the place. “I think I will return back here again,” Galicia said. (PNA)