COVID-19 Watch Features Southern Tagalog Spotlight

Bidding goodbyes: Several Elbi estabs close due to the pandemic

With quarantine protocols still in effect, many establishments in Los Baños are forced to shift online, close temporarily, or even close indefinitely.

Los Baños, being a college town, is filled with different establishments, varying from local aesthetic cafés to popular fast-food chains. It is home to bakeries that sell delicious pastries, to carinderias which offer viands at an affordable price, and many more. Most of these establishments consider the student population as their main market, forming rapport among students and owners. Staying in a place away from home is difficult, so the longing to make connections with people in order to adjust to new surroundings is important. 

Since the pandemic hit, a lot of students and faculty members alike miss the weekday lunches in the crowded F.O. Santos or Grove, the mid-day coffee trips to He-brews to finish requirements, or the Friday night get-togethers at Hanbok or Mizuki Niku.

Friday nights used to hit differently in Elbi. The tightly knitted community is enlivened by the weekend anticipation of being temporarily free from school and work. Some may prefer to stay at home but others just can’t resist rewarding themselves with a nice meal. But with the current situation, it will take a long time before the Elbi community sees places like Grove or F.O. Santos sprawling with people again. 

Entablado at Vega Center, posted a photo last September 30 which was taken two years prior to the pandemic, reminiscing the pre-pandemic scenario. Photo courtesy of Entablado 

First opened on October 23, 2014, Entablado served not only as a restaurant but also a venue for artists, photographers, painters, poets writers, dancers, or whatever art form where they can showcase their art.  

Aside from their food, advocacies, and events that provide a unique perspective on art and Elbi culture for customers, they also offer an atmosphere conducive to creative thinking and studying  which according to Caio Cadiz, Entabaldo’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO),  is what attracts their main client base, the students.

In light of the lockdown, they decided to move out of their space in Vega center and shared a space with Chubby Habbis in Ruby St. Umali Subdivision. 

“We moved out of vega center and shared a space with chubby habbis to minimize rent costs. We offered our food online for delivery or pick up, advertised almost on a daily basis online, but still sales were not enough, even for our employees’ salaries,”  Caio shares. 

October is Entablado’s anniversary month and the time when they usually hold events such as performances from different local artists and other activities, but since we’ve been on lock down since March, they were not able to plan any events since planning usually starts a month before. 

Entablado posted a farewell message last October 2  saying “Maraming Salamat, ELBI” with the hashtag “#EntabladoForever” causing a buzz in the comments section asking if they were indeed closing and Cadiz confirmed in an interview that they are  closing the establishment after six years of service. 

“The pandemic made it very difficult for us to sustain the business since our food is best experienced dining in our resto and interacting with other people. Plus the bulk of our clientele are students and faculty of the campus, and without them around or not going out, we lost a huge chunk of our customer base.”

Mizuki Niku’s physical store at FO Santos, Batong Malake, Los Baños, has been closed since the Luzon-wide lockdown last March 16, 2020. Photo from Mac Arboleda 

Mizuki Niku, a relatively young Japanese-inspired restaurant along F.O. Santos Avenue is set to close for good, only more than a year of service. 

The owner and Los Baños native, Emmanuel “Em” Romero, said, “We always wanted a Japanese-Filipino cuisine restaurant in proximity but we fail[ed] to find one so we dreamed of having this restaurant. We love Japanese food and we want to share it with other people so the main reason is to bring delicious Japanese food to Elbi for everyone to enjoy.”

Aside from its unique “Japinoy cuisine” theme, the name of the restaurant also has a personal meaning. The restaurant was conceptualized by Em and his friends so they decided to partially name it after them. 

“Mizuki galing siya sa names nung nag conceptualize nung resto, Mica, Suzzette, and Kym.Tapos meaning niya sa Japanese is lovely or beautiful moon and niku naman is Japanese for meat. So ibig sabihin niya is lovely meat. Gusto sana namin na parang tunog friendly Japanese name kaya Mizuki.”

The pandemic has been a nightmare for small local businesses because students serve as the majority of their customers. 

“We heavily rely on student customers. That’s why when you look at our menu, you will see food that is made for students. Because online classes are the way of education now, we lost our customers in the proximity.”

Mizuki Niku tried adjusting and adapting to the lockdown scenario by partnering with ELBI dispatch and ELBI delivery but more factors weighed in such as rent and after some time, relatively low orders made them concede. 

“It was a click in the beginning when we were placed under GCQ but after 2 months, it got worse. we have no more orders now in a week. Our rent also killed us. We received very little consideration from our landlord. She allow[ed] us to pay in staggered [terms], the months in which we did not operate but it’s still the same amount. So the rent really killed us.”

MIzuki Niku will be closing its doors permanently in October. As a young business, Mizuki Niku still had a long way to go if it weren’t for the pandemic.

Cafe Antonio at Anest tower, Barangay Batong Malake, Los Baños, tried opening for dine-ins last July 7, 2020. Photo courtesy of Cafe Antonio

What started as a group of coffee-loving friends and their heart for entrepreneurship, Cafe Antonio (CAnton) served the Elbi community for 12 years, thriving since April 14, 2008.

“We were fans of Kofiholics Anonymous (KA) back in HS and college (2000-2005) and we wanted to have a place with that vibe for the LB community. Plus we wanted to bring 3rd wave coffee culture and specialty coffee to our hometown” according to co-founder Jabez Flores. 

More than a hip coffee place where people could enjoy a good cup of coffee, enjoy gigs, and celebrate family occasions, Cafe Antonio under the Cafe Antonio Small Town Coffee Brewers Inc. advocates for and supports artists, local business, enterprises, and small-scale backyard farms to create a sustainable and healthy community.

CAnton was part of The Health Walk, a healthy lifestyle network of local businesses. They also support groups such as Nu Wave Farmers in LB in which they get involved with local farms, and partner with local coffee roasters to customize blends for them. They continued to promote local products and music until 2020 and turned the cafe into a community space. 

With the changing economic landscape, their closure has affected their support for local entrepreneurs and farmers but Jabez thinks that this is a good opportunity for those entrepreneurs to get to meet their customers face-to-face and vice versa. Aside from promoting local products, CAnton is also a venue for sharing ideas and initiatives which is essential in building a community of local entrepreneurs. 

Unfortunately, just like the others, Cafe Antonio had to succumb to the changing times. CAnton could no longer hold gigs for their Cafe Antonio Sessions or be used for special gatherings. People are an essential aspect of running a business, especially one that focuses on culture and community building. 

“Fixed expenses are too high. We realized we can’t survive the pandemic with just takeouts. Our main product is the experience of going to the cafe, not just the coffee or the food.”   

Jabez laments that CAnton has played a big role for the Elbi community in its 12-year stint. And if the pandemic had not occurred, CAnton would have revived its Cafe Antonio Sessions. 

Safe Space for Students

Aubrey Semaning, a BS Development Communication student, described how these establishments have been a big help to her emotionally and financially as a student.

“Ako, bilang first time magdorm [o] mawalay sa pamilya, malaking tulong talaga yung mga karinderya, lalo na yung mga afforfable na lutong bahay kasi aside sa makakatipid ka na, matitikman mo pa rin yung mga lutong nakasanayan mo. Sa ibang mga affordable food establishments naman, helpful din sila lalo na kung gipit ka. Makakakain ka pa rin ng masarap na pagkain sa murang halaga.”

Cindy Angeles, a BS Human Ecology ecology student, has been a regular customer of Entablado since high school and says that she will  surely miss the food and the “Elbi vibes” it gives off that truly makes it feel like home. 

“Kaya mamimiss ko talaga ito dahil isa siya sa mga naging comfort places at takbuhan ko kung gusto ko man nang matatambayan mag-isa at mag-acads o makipagkwentuhan sa mga kaibigan.”

Cindy considers Entablado as one of her safe spaces in Elbi where she can go to and enjoy her own company or when she’s feeling emotional. She even recalls one unforgettable instance between her and a staff member during one of her stays in the cafe. 

“Mga 7pm na parang sobrang “broken” ako, wala ako[ng] matambayan tapos entablado lang yung naisip ko na parang comfy or wala mang [ju-judge] kung maluha man ako kaya doon ako pumunta tas sa dulo ako pumupwesto tapos may note [n]a binigay yung barista or staff na may “Cheer up.”

Cafe Antonio, an establishment known not only for its good food and service but also its support for local artists and agricultural producers, has witnessed many momentous occasions from after-exam stress eating sessions to birthdays and family gatherings. 

Lance Miclat, a BS Math and Science Teaching student and Elbi local, has been going to CAnton since 7th grade when their cafe was still in Maahas. 

“Favorite memory ko don ay noong g[rade] 7 pa. We would often “gamble” noon na kung sino pinakamababa [o] mataas sa isang specific na exam manlilibre ng food for the whole tropa. Tapos may times din na kada tapos ng quarterly exams namin, don kami didiretso para mag stress eat. Minsan din nagjajamming din kami sa gazeebo doon sa dati nilang puwesto”

Lance said that he will surely miss the food and the ambiance of the place along with its good service.

“Mamimiss ko don is yung food nila specifically yung pizza at kape pati pala yung ambiance ng place. Sobrang chill lang kasi nung place. As someone na naaanxious [sic] kumausap ng workers sa mga kainan, never ako naanxious [sic] na lumapit sa mga workers nila . Kasi ang approachable ng staff nila. Hindi intimidating ganon.”

Aubrey Nora, a BS Forestry student and also an Elbi local, did not realize that her friend’s birthday party at CAnton would be her last memory of the cafe. 

“Fave memory is doon nag birthday yung friend ko tas [sic] sulit yung meals like isang meal parang kasya na nga sa dalawang tao…nakakagulat na mag close na siya permanently kasi one of the best restaurants den [sic] siya in Elbi saka plan ko talaga mag eat ulet [sic] dun after pandemic,” she shared.

Support local    

Local establishments contribute to community building and eventually, its sustainability. These businesses not only generate revenue for their respective locality, but it also provides jobs for people such as locals and students seeking financial independence. 

Kevin Abalos, a BS Statistics student, had to work a year prior to entering college due to financial reasons. He worked at Paponei’s, a craft and school supplies store, in order to help his family financially because his mom underwent dialysis treatment and his dad suffered from a stroke in 2018. 

He said that working in a local establishment such as Paponei’s comes with its stresses but he says that the salary is enough for him as a student and that they recognize his priorities as a student as well. 

“Actually working environment kahit saan naman siguro may stress talaga specially sa mga work task. Yung sweldo below min [sic] sya pero malaki for a student. Yes, adjustable yung sched namin depende kung saan kami pwede.”

Not limited to providing jobs, these local establishments can create a platform for cultural artists and musicians. Along with product diversity, it helps form a communal identity through innovation and the promotion of local products, fostering connections, and relationships among people. 

It’s important to continuously support our local businesses especially at times like this because it is one of the ways we can recover collectively from the current situation. [P]

Photo by Mac Arboleda

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