Cafea Haus

FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas - The Philippine Star

It’s the talk of the town, i.e., of Gingoog City. And it’s where connoisseurs and just plain food lovers go for a different dining experience. The town (laid-back with a 135,000 population) has a couple of “nice” places and carinderias to eat or take visiting friends or relatives to, but now the road leads to Cafea Haus on Guanzon street.

Cafea Haus opened only six months ago, but its popularity has spread by word of mouth. That’s because of the uniquely-prepared dishes, done “with love and passion” by a Jamaican-American named Glenn Jackson. Added to that is the winsome personality of his partner, the former Anne Mie Bollozos, a Gingoognon through and through.

Let me tell you about the braised New Zealand lamb shank my hubby and I had there one starry night. The shank was the juiciest and most tender, it melted in the mouth, the best we ever tasted. Over Santana red wine, a plate of fresh garden salad, cappuccino and brewed Arabica coffee, chocolate cheesecake and conversation with Glen and Anne Mie, the night was just the beginning of what will be our constant journey to Cafea Haus.

The restaurant has a regular menu of pastas, appetizers and sandwiches and main courses, and a weekly expensive special menu, but both are served with the same amount of special care. Every week, a special menu is prepared. When we had dinner there, the special lunch and dinner menu included the braised New Zealand lamb shank, grilled wild Atlantic salmon (Caféa’s most ordered dish), chicken parmigiana, surf and turf (a combination of seafood and meat), homemade Wagyu beef burger, grilled pork tenderloin and seafood trio (a combination of shrimp, calamari and salmon tossed with garlic basil, white wine and olive oil with linguine pasta).

Glen and Anne Mei decided against opening a coffee shop and opted for a restaurant but named it Cafea Haus, a combination of Romanian and German terms for coffee house. Glen said, “We wanted to introduce something that nobody offered here. Not just pork and chicken that people here are used to. Our food is a fusion of Mexican, Italian and North American. We use a lot of spices from the Caribbean, and a special spice called Jerk that is specifically from Jamaica and which we have a stock of.” In other words, Glen’s special dishes are his own innovations.

If you didn’t know, Jamaica is the third largest of the Caribbean Islands, about 145 kilometers south of Cuba. It won its independence from British colonial rule in 1965, but the internet tells us the Queen has remained the island’s head of state. Its capital is Kingston, it has a population of 2.9 million; one of its famous residents is the famous singer Harry Belafonte (“Coconut Woman,” “Matilda”).

Glen, dark and tall and 54 years old on Dec. 6, has many years of experience in the food business. As a young lad at St. Mary, Jamaica, while his brothers were in school, he stayed home and helped his mother cook – a task he totally enjoyed. It came as no surprise that when he was of college age, he chose to take up a culinary course at Adam College, two years of which were devoted to theoretical training, and the third year consisted of actual on-the-job training at hotels and restaurants. He then worked at different locations, among them Ariel Sands Resort which is owned by actor Michael Douglas in Bermuda. “It took me roughly ten years to become an executive chef.” He was at this top position at Royal Reef Resort when he was introduced to Anne Mie, a Filipina who was visiting there with a friend.

Anne Mie had finished the Business Management course at Christ the King College in Gingoog when a friend convinced her to work in the Carribean. She passed online interviews with an American lady who owned several restaurants in Cayman, Jamaica, and for six years, she was a barista, making coffee at the Perk Up coffee shop. She started from the lowest position as server, wiping tables, taking care that the shop was neat and tidy. “I did everything at work. And I was always curious about what was being served. I’d ask the cooks, what is this, why are you doing this, when I drop by the kitchen. You know Filipinos, we go an extra mile, that’s why foreign employers like to hire Filipino workers.” In time, she was promoted to supervisor, then manager.

Glen and Anne Mie exchanged vows in 2008, and would come to Gingoog almost every year to visit Anne Mie’s mother. Mrs. Bollozos convinced the two to open a restaurant. The couple renovated the two-story Bollozos house, had the ground floor converted to spaces for a restaurant, a conference room and kitchen, and the second floor for their personal quarters. They were so concerned about making things right, personally supervising the painting of the floors and walls, as well as eating at restaurants in Cagayan de Oro and Butuan city, and Gingoog. They do not do catering, but will deliver orders. They interviewed and trained for two weeks their staff of nine – waiters and the janitor and the gardener.

They are a perfect match. Glen says Anne Mie “takes care of the front, I take care of the back.” Glen does the cooking, preparing the menu (“I have to keep thinking of what to present, I can’t afford to be complacent, yes, I watch gourmets cooking on television programs, but I always do my own recipes.”) He lets the kitchen assistants do the chopping and mincing of ingredients, but he puts things together. “We want to serve everything hot. We use only organically grown vegetables, we don’t use MSG. Everything must be fresh, the vegetables and herbs. We buy the meat in bulk and some fish in the local market, but for the special meats, we drive over to Cagayan de Oro to get them.” (CDO is a little over two hours west of Gingoog.)

Anne Mie takes care that her “kingdom,” or the front line, is working well, the place clean, the servers observing protocol, serving plates and glasses that are sparkling clean. She checks on the times the food is served, and the waiters are friendly. She also checks on ornamental plants around the place, and in the front yard where tables sprout at night for guests who want to eat outside and breathe fresh air (but wearing masks as is the city’s requirement). But she admits that customers keep returning to the restaurant not only for the food, but also because “I love talking with the customers. I love my work, I love the people coming here to eat, and they love me.” And, she adds, “we always listen to what the customers say. If they tell us they are allergic to certain foods, we listen and make suggestions, we’re flexible.”

“I’m a food junkie,” says Glenn. “I’m not happy with costings, that’s Anne Mie’s job. I want to prepare meals.”

What does he love to eat? Vegetables and fish, and mostly fruits. Of Filipino dishes, he likes chicken adobo, but he has not thought of improving on the recipe to make it taste Jamaican.

Anne Mie says, “Our prices are high, we agree, but that’s because we serve good food, the quality of our food and service is good, we love our customers and yes, we offer them ambience.” The customers include the city’s top executives and rising millionaires, visitors from Manila, business people from CDO and Butuan, families and plain folks like us, who are grateful that Cafea Haus has come to town.

For the special Christmas menu, Anne Mie looks at Glen and, with eyes tinkling, says there could be lobsters cooked Glen’s way.

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