Food and Leisure

Coffee under the trees: Ito Kish muses on enjoying coffee the old way in new dining concept

Kathleen A. Llemit - Philstar.com
Coffee under the trees: Ito Kish muses on enjoying coffee the old way in new dining concept
Notable furniture designer Ito Kish (left) has also ventured into dining with his own cafe.
Ito Kish via Instagram

MANILA, Philippines — Ito Kish's recollection of enjoying his coffee involves boiling hot water, scooping granules of coffee, bringing his cup of coffee outside the house and drinking it under a tree. No barista, no problem. 

He is his own barista who enjoys his caffeine with very Filipino breads, like a Pan de Coco or Kalihim. Those were simple times when coffee was enjoyed for the simple way it was prepared, and this was his inspiration when he decided to put up a cafe inside his showroom in Makati. 

Unexpected Tiktok fame

While many found fame on TikTok, Ito was already an established furniture designer. He has a steady clientele that is appreciative of his modern, reimagined Filipino design on furniture. 

Kish, after all, is the man behind the popular Gregoria chair, a distinct creation made from wooden balusters with a design that resembles a wooden throne fit for a king. 

But one fine day in December last year, Kish found himself with a "happy problem." 

Kish's secluded cafe became an overnight TikTok sensation. 

A visitor to his modest cafe posted a video of it in the platform. The young, hip and in-the-know coffee enthusiasts and foodies alike instantly felt a liking to his cafe that looks like a quiant little coffee shop with little trees and foliage. It felt and smelled like home. 

Kish, however, said he intended the cafe for his clients who were visiting his showroom in Makati, in itself tucked away with only a red gate that has no signage to welcome visitors to its fold. 

"The cafe opened because of the store. It's a store that sells coffee. There's a bit of misunderstanding that they thought it's a regular cafe, but it was really a cafe to serve our clients who come to shop here with their designers. And after roaming around and trying to select what they're going to buy, we wanted a space where they can sit down and finalize what they wanted to do with what they saw. That was really the objective," Kish told Philstar.com after the launch of his collaboration with Metrobank, which recently relaunched its Metrobank World Mastercard. 

It was an unexpected surprise, admittedly making things a little bit "difficult" for the designer. His cafe originally only has five tables. Two days after it went viral with half a million views, people started filling up the space. 

"That kind of caused a problem for us because if that's the situation, we will not be able to service the regular clients who come and the clients who wanted to come as well because it becomes very crowded. 

"And so that was the reason, after 20 tables, before there were 20 tables where they can sit about 45, it was down to the original five tables only and only be reservation. Because there were times our clients cannot sit," Ito said. 

His menu is basic, in keeping with his brand's DNA — understated and clean. 

It only offers the usual coffee such as espresso, flat white, Americano, Capuccino. There are four coffee specials, each specially named, like San Pablo, Nanay Sisang, Pandin and Mojicap. These are paired with Filipino breads bought from a "panaderia" (bakery).

"The menu is very basic because it was based on how I used to enjoy coffee while I was growing up in my hometown of San Pablo in Laguna. So it's coffee under the trees. 

"Before, to drink coffee, you have to boil hot water, scoop a teaspoon of granule of whatever coffee brand you have, stir it, go outside the house, sit under the tree, drink your coffee with your pan de coco, kalihim from your panaderia. That's how it used to be. That's how I remember it to be," he shared. 

Out with the old, in with the new

Kish acknowledged that the coffee culture in the country is now different, but it is this very landscape that he wished to influence. 

"Now the coffee culture is so different. That's why my objective is how to bring it back to how simple it is to drink coffee. I guess it worked because everybody was here. Also the cafe is nice because if you really drink under the tree inside an enclosed box, which is so unexpected," he explained. 

Kish revealed that he is closing his cafe in his showroom along J.P. Rizal Avenue in Makati. His showroom, though, remains in its place to be left undisturbed. 

He's moving to a bigger space in Salcedo Village. He hopes to open it in early December to coincide with the first year anniversary of his viral cafe. 

"We're closing it soon because we're moving to a bigger place. That's the new cafe concept and we'll be serving real food na, from breakfast, to lunch to dinner to wine. It will offer the four drinks and additional ones. We're serving wines as well, just wine. No cocktails, no beer," he revealed. 

He is not collaborating with a renowned chef, but he is hands-on with his newest dining concept. 

"We opened the cafe here last December so we're hoping to open a year after in the new space. So the cafe here is going to be closed na kasi we really want to give this area back to our clients. How understated and quiet it is. The DNA of Ito Kish has always been understated, clean, and that's what we're going to do again," he said. 

RELATED: Ito Kish and Rajo Laurel reunite in new tablescape

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