MSMEs in the Philippines

Humble Beginnings: How this QC café formed a meaningful community

Juno Reyes

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Humble Beginnings: How this QC café formed a meaningful community
While Humble Beginnings is known on social media for its aesthetically pleasing interiors, it's the experience that gets people to stay

MANILA, Philippines – When Humble Beginnings Café and Giftshop was first established in October 2022, it took nearly a year for it to start getting people through its doors. But Joel, one of its owners, had a habit of buying chairs for the place whenever he could, even though they didn’t actually have the customers to occupy the ever-growing number of seats yet. 

Humble Beginnings: How this QC café formed a meaningful community

“Bakit ka ba bili nang bili ng upuan? Ang gawin mo, hanapin mo ‘yung mga uupo (Why do you keep buying chairs? What you should do is find people to sit on them),” his wife and co-owner Lexine would tell him. 

Joel, however, continued to buy more chairs, reassuring his wife that he was just preparing for the day they would witness their café filled with people. Close to a year later, this dream scenario had finally become a regular sight for the couple. 

HOLE IN THE WALL. The literal hole in the wall that leads to the bigger seating area at the café. Juno Reyes/Rappler
LIVELY CHATTER. A mix of working and relaxing customers fill up the back area of Humble Beginnings. Juno Reyes/Rappler

In the present, Humble Beginnings is now known on social media for its cozy and Instagrammable interiors. While this is what initially draws many of its new customers in, what truly makes Humble Beginnings special is its unique ability to make you feel like you’re at home. And, no, it isn’t just a cliché. 

The café’s humble beginnings  

Humble Beginnings had really just started out as a personal project for Joel, who wanted to try running a café for at least a month. Little did he know, however, that one month would eventually turn into more than a year and counting. Now, the café has turned into an outlet for meaningful advocacies to be championed. 

Humble Beginnings’ current location was a production site for Love Hope Faith Group, a watch business Joel established to help raise funds for a family member’s cancer treatment. 

LOVE HOPE FAITH GROUP. Fifty percent of the proceeds from Love Hope Faith Group’s watches go toward cancer patients’ treatment. Juno Reyes/Rappler

“One cancer patient lang siya before and then ngayon more than 2,000 cancer patients na ang natulungan namin. From a small idea, nag-grow na siya nang ganyan. And I think doon ko na rin nakuha ‘yung confidence na mag-open ng business kasi naging successful [‘yung Love Hope Faith Group],” Joel shared. 

(It was just one cancer patient before and now the number of patients we’ve helped has grown to more than 2,000. From a small idea, it grew this big. And I think that’s where I got my confidence to open this business, because [Love Hope Faith Group] became successful.) 

Love Hope Faith Group’s products are now displayed in the café’s gift shop area, along with the couple’s other businesses that were born out of partnerships with individuals who have causes they hold close to their hearts, like environmental conservation, mental health awareness, and financial freedom, among others. 

CHAMPIONING ADVOCACIES. Humble Beginnings’ gift shop area that houses several brands with advocacies of their own. Juno Reyes/Rappler

Humble Beginnings’ people-centric ways are also evident in their menu. A quick browse through the café’s menu will show you that many of its dishes are attributed to real-life people. Take Lucille’s Homemade Pork Siomai, for example. It was one of the highlights of Lexine’s childhood, which she thought to share with the customers of Humble Beginnings. The steamed siomai comes with a pile of crunchy garlic on the side, perfectly complementing the saltiness of the dipping soy sauce. 

A CHILDHOOD STAPLE. Lucille’s Homemade Pork Siomai, a dish usually enjoyed by Lexine and her family during her childhood. Juno Reyes/Rappler

Even the key ingredient in all of the café’s beverages was a staple from Lexine’s childhood: pamana sugar. Made from tubo, the sugar spans generations across Lexine’s family, so it only felt right to use it as the main sweetener in Humble Beginnings’ drinks – from the Pamana Latte to the Matcha Latte. The sweet yet almost earthy taste of the sugar does its job of balancing out the bitter taste of coffee. 

REFRESHING. An iced Pamana Latte. Juno Reyes/Rappler

Humble Beginnings also partners up with individuals who have a knack for whipping up delicious home-cooked meals to put on their menu. For instance, Bai – the person behind Bai’s Lumpiang Shanghai – is Joel’s uncle, who just needed a platform to start sharing his delicious recipes, and Humble Beginnings happened to be just that. 

Now, Bai’s Lumpiang Shanghai is a mainstay in the café’s menu, proudly sitting alongside the dishes conceptualized by other passionate individuals to give Humble Beginnings’ customers a taste of home. 

A TASTE OF LOVE. Cheesy Shrimp Lumpia, Family’s Favorite Beef Lasagna, Truffle Baked Macaroni, Ham and Cheese Golden Potato Bites, cheesecakes, cookies, and brownies. Juno Reyes/Rappler

Nag-iinvite kami ng people to start (We invite people to start). Kaya nga siya Humble Beginnings e (That’s why it’s called Humble Beginnings)…. Every product, may kaakibat na advocacy (Every product is attached to an advocacy),Lexine explained.  

A second home

Beyond the individuals Humble Beginnings partners with for its café menu and gift shop, the establishment’s owners also make sure that they can give back to their customers in any way they can – like letting them stay for long hours even if they just bought one drink. 

While many cafés tend to frown upon customers who “overstay their welcome,” that isn’t the case at all for Joel and Lexine. The couple actually appreciates and even encourages people coming to Humble Beginnings to do their work. After all, there are more than enough chairs to accommodate the customers entering throughout the day. 

BIG CAPACITY. The back area of the café has more seats for more customers. Juno Reyes/Rappler

Kahit magstay sila diyan the whole day, kahit punong puno, nagwo-work, kahit isa lang kape, sobrang saya ko kasi alam kong kung mga studies nila yan o business nila yan, at least nakakapagbigay ako [in some way]. So parang ‘yun ‘yung giving back namin,” Joel told Rappler. 

(Even if they stay the whole day and the café is full, but they’re working, even if they just have one cup of coffee, I get really happy because I know if they’re studying or working on their business, at least I get to give them something in some way. So that’s kind of like our way of giving back.) 

Interestingly enough, several of the students who would regularly come to study at Humble Beginnings had actually passed the board exams they were studying for. These students would come to the café’s Study Room almost every day just to review for hours on end. 

Hala, nakapagtapos ulit tayo (Wow, we helped some students graduate again),” Lexine said, beaming with pride when she saw the “special mention” the café got when the students announced passing their board exams on social media. 

For Joel and Lexine, having Humble Beginnings stand as a second home for these customers is the least they could do to repay the support they’ve been receiving ever since their café began going viral on social media in late 2023. 

‘Pag may nakita kaming customer, madalas sabihin na dapat maramdaman nila na grateful tayo sa kanila kasi hindi talaga namin akalain na magiging something big ‘yung café,” Joel shared. 

(When we see a customer, we always say that they should feel how grateful we are to them because we really didn’t think our café would turn into something big.) 

What’s next for Humble Beginnings?  

As the café-slash-gift shop continues to foster a vibrant community within its four walls, Joel and Lexine also hope to expand the Humble Beginnings experience to other places across the country. Kamias Road – where the café is situated – wasn’t as lively as other famed Quezon City streets like Maginhawa, so Joel and Lexine hope to bring a sense of community to more places in the future just as it did with its original location. 

COFFEE, FOOD, AND GIFTS. The outside of Humble Beginnings along Kamias Road in Quezon City. Juno Reyes/Rappler

Because when people walk through the doors of the café, it isn’t really the aesthetics people will remember as they go along their way; it’s the experience. 

‘Yun ‘yung hindi ko makakalimutan. ‘Yung design ng café, makakalimutan ko ‘yun, pero ‘yung kindness [na pinakita sa’yo], madadala mo ‘yan sa ibang lugar,” Joel said, emphasizing the value they put into ensuring their customers know how grateful the café is to them. 

(That’s what I won’t forget. The design of the café, I’ll forget that eventually, but the kindness you were shown, you can bring that with you to other places.) 

Sure enough, people often come to Humble Beginnings for the beautifully designed interiors, but they end up staying because of the meaningful experience they get during their visit. –

Humble Beginnings Café and Giftshop is located on the Ground Level of Topaz Building along Kamias Road in Quezon City, Metro Manila. It is open daily from 10 am to 10 pm.

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Juno Reyes

Juno Reyes is a Life & Style and Entertainment multimedia reporter covering local music and art.