The country’s coffee “capital”

Kapetolyo by SGD, a pet project of Mayor Isko Moreno himself, which serves some of the country’s best homegrown coffee, including the famed SGD from Sagada and Bukidnon’s Mirabueno.

Alex Y. Vergara
November 10, 2020

True to his campaign promise to make Manila a cleaner, greener metropolis when he was running for the city’s top post in 2019, Mayor Isko Moreno, together with his team at Manila City Hall, has proceeded apace to clean, decongest and gentrify the nation’s capital in hopes of one day restoring it to its former glory.

A pet project of Mayor Isko Moreno, Kapetolyo and its surrounding outdoor attractions are drawing people within and beyond the city of Manila. PHOTO BY ELIZABETH LAUS

And nowhere is this effort more evident than in pockets of green that have sprung up in what were once dingy, smelly and sometimes trash-laden open spaces all over the city, including the Kartilya Park along Padre Burgos Avenue.

Located behind the Bonificio Shrine and a stone’s throw away from SM Manila and the Manila City Hall itself, the prime piece of public land had gone to seed for the longest time until Moreno, or “Yorme” to most of his constituents, worked on turning it into a people’s park over the last several months.

The Kartilya ng Katipunan faces the open space of what is now called Kartily Park. PHOTO BY ELIZABETH LAUS
Monuments to freedom pay tribute to victims of martial law (above) and those who died crossing the Berlin Wall (below). PHOTO BY ELIZABETH LAUS

From dark to inviting

From a dark, uninviting area conducive for society’s rogue elements to engage in various forms of shady deals, the once-forgotten park, after being cleared of trash and various overgrowth, now features weather-resistant wooden benches and concrete walkways. Pocket gardens are lined with decades-old trees festooned with lights encased in capiz lanterns that illuminate the place and give it a festive holiday glow once darkness sets in.

The park, which got its name from the Kartilya or Primer of the Katipunan that’s written on a huge slab of concrete facing the open space, even has a well-lit and air-conditioned his and hers restrooms reportedly funded by the Ayala Corp. Like the entire park, entrance to the restrooms is free.

But the Kartilya Park’s real attraction, apart from a chunk of the Berlin Wall, which was reportedly donated by the mayor of Berlin to the city of Manila, is a one-story, high-ceilinged and minimalist structure primarily made of glass, steel and concrete that now houses a coffee shop aptly named Kapetolyo.

Designed by city architect Ali Bahoy, the nearly see-through structure, from its concept down to its name, is the brainchild of Moreno himself, says Kapetolyo owner Margaret Watanabe.

SGD coffee with a number of Kapetolyo’s scrumptious treats such as the Ube Cheese Cake, New York Cheese Cake and biscotti. PHOTO BY ELIZABETH LAUS

Coffee heritage project

She and husband Rich Watanabe, a coffee lover who’s into business development, are behind the “coffee heritage project,” which seeks to support, develop and promote the country’s best home-grown coffee varieties to Filipinos. SGD is short for Sagada, a remote municipality in the Mountain Province and one of the business’ original sources of heritage coffee.

Other coffee varieties served at Kapetolyo are Mirabueno from Bukidnon, Calle Mon from Batangas and Nayong Kalikasan from Cavite. A typical eight-oz. cup costs P150 for the top of the line Mirabueno, P120 for SGD and P100 for Calle Mon and Nayong Kalikasan. The place also serves cold drinks such as iced tea and fresh lemonade.

“Owing to the limited supply we get, we only serve one to two coffee varieties per day,” says Margaret. On the day we visit, for instance, the menu is limited to Mirabueno and SGD.

As part of their advocacy, the couple entered both SGD and Mirabueno in separate editions of the Paris-based Gourmet Coffee Competition a few years ago. In both instances, the two indigenous coffee varieties won in their respective categories.

“That was our promise to our very first coffee partner, a farmer in Sagada: to make Sagada coffee famous here and eventually all over the world. That promise came to life in 2017,”

she says. As opposed to most other coffee-related contests, the one they joined in Paris recognizes the coffee producer and not the barista or the coffee shop he or she works for.

Cookies and cakes

A range of cookies, biscotti and cakes complement its coffee offerings. Except for the cakes, everything is baked in house. Before the year ends, Margaret plans to expand Kapetolyo’s offerings by serving Pinoy rice meals, sandwiches and other hot dishes.

“Everything depends on the availability of a fully functional kitchen. We’re planning to allocate a portion of our current space to an open kitchen separated by glass panels,” says Margaret, while pointing to the area of their future kitchen.

Margaret Watanabe, one-half of the husband-and-wife team who owns and manages Kapetolyo by SGD Coffee. PHOTO BY ELIZABETH LAUS
The author and Margaret Watanabe. PHOTO BY ELIZABETH LAUS

Prior to Kapetolyo’s soft opening last Oct 1st, the couple and a number of business partners operated several SGD coffee shops in Sagada, Greenhills in San Juan and Teacher’s Village in Quezon City. Because of the pandemic, they had to temporarily close all their shops except for their QC branch, which still caters to delivery and takeout orders. It also doubles as SGD’s roasting area and commissary.

To put their stamp on the Kapetolyo name, the couple added SGD to it. Thus, from the original Kapetolyo, the place is now known as Kapetolyo by SGD.

“It was part of the mayor’s vision for this park to have its own coffee place,” says Margaret. “But he didn’t want just any other coffee brand to come in. He wanted one that showcases the country’s best coffee varieties.”

Despite their knowledge and access to the finest local coffees, the couple had to bid and win over other interested parties before they could even move in and begin operations. What’s good about the arrangement, says Margaret, is Moreno’s all-out support in promoting the entire park, including Kapetolyo, in his official Facebook page.

“Majority of our customers come from various districts in the city,” she says. “Some are drawn here because of curiosity after hearing about it from Mayor Isko. Others are walk-ins and park regulars.”

Health protocols

Admittedly, she adds, people have grown weary of being cooped up inside their homes and are now raring to cautiously venture out to exercise, get some sun and touch base with a few close friends and family members. In keeping with standard health protocols, Kapetolyo by SGD does mandatory temperature checks and data gathering of customers either through a QR code or the old-fashioned logbook.

Darkness descends on the city, but not in these corners of Manila. PHOTO BY ELIZABETH LAUS

If not for the pandemic, the venue, which also features a loft, can easily accommodate up to 90 people. Since social distancing has become the norm, it welcomes no more than 50 guests at any given time. Tables, majority of which accommodate a maximum of two companions, come with plexiglass dividers.

As soon as a group of customers leave, staffers lose no time wiping surfaces clean with Rely+On Vikron, a tough disinfectant that instantly kills viruses, including the deadly novel coronavirus, on contact, says Margaret.

“We’re also very strict about mask-wearing both for our staff and our customers,” she says with a laugh. “Unless you’re eating, you have to keep your mask on even when you get up and approach the counter to make additional orders.”

To promote air circulation, Margaret had several electric fans strategically installed in certain sections of the air-conditioned venue. Its front and back entrances are also kept open to allow stale air to escape.

Since certain fixtures such as built-in and ornamental lights as well as air-con units came with the place, all Margaret and Rich had to do was move in and bring with them furniture pieces, including a temporary counter to accommodate two cashiers and a glass cabinet with shelves upon shelves of baked goodies.

“Mayor’s enthusiasm for this project was very infectious,” says Margaret with a chuckle. “We had to move in even though we felt we weren’t that ready yet.” Like a good cup of coffee, it takes a bit of time for a worthwhile endeavor to brew. After more than a month in business, Kapetolyo by SGD is almost ready to take its operation to the next level.


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