Artlet in business: A hometown cafe in Isabela


Photo courtesy of Clarice Bernardo

NEARLY all businesses have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The ongoing health crisis caused mass lay-offs and closures, putting nations in economic shock. However, this did not stop small business owners from finding ways to survive and thrive.

Artlet alumna Clarice Bernardo, the founder and co-owner of Karruba Cafe, is an exemplar of this. Karruba Cafe is a booming home and coffee shop located in Isabela province. Bernardo bravely took the risk of starting her own business despite the odds stacked against her.

Karruba is the Ilocano word for neighbor or neighborhood. It serves as the foundation of what Karruba Cafe aims to offer: extending their home cafe within an arm’s reach in their community, despite the strict health protocols.

After its launch in June 2021, Bernardo was pleasantly surprised to learn that most of their orders came from outside her province.

“Given the pandemic situation, we initially expected that our market would only be our literal karrubas. We’re so grateful that we’re getting orders from outside towns. Even with the absence of a physical cafe where people can conveniently wait, our customers are very willing to walk in to grab our beverages,” Bernardo told The Flame.

It never occurred to Bernardo, who has a full-time job as an audit associate, that she could start a home cafe business.

In fact, she admitted that she was not very fond of coffee due to her possible lactose intolerance. Being the ‘stubborn’ and ‘experimental’ person that she is, this did not prevent her from taking on the challenge.

Liberal arts as a foundation in business

Bernardo, who finished her political science degree in 2016, said her stay in the UST Faculty of Arts and Letters equipped her with the skills and qualities that allowed her to enter a new venture.

“Life in AB really prepared me for this venture. Aside from it has taught me to be well-versed both in English and Filipino languages, it also taught me to communicate intelligently – always be guided by facts, experiences, and rigorous study. This [helped] me build relationships with our customers; because aside from serving them beverages, we aim to foster a community rooted in our shared interest in coffee,” she said.

Photo courtesy of Clarice Bernardo

“I don’t think having a liberal arts degree is a limitation to starting a business. It’s even an advantage. So many skills and qualities were honed during my stay in AB – communication, time and people management, and fortitude, among others,” she explained.

Bernardo believes that having a liberal arts degree is not an obstacle in the field of business. Although the two fields may seem completely different, it is still possible for a liberal arts graduate to thrive as a business owner.

“Whatever they put their mind [to] is possible. Doing the hard work is what makes it attainable. Considering this pandemic, do things bravely but with calculated risks,” Bernardo said.

Influenced by community

Hailing from the province of Isabela, Bernardo grew up in a close-knit neighborhood where she can always hang around whether for food, leisure activities, or engaging in conversations.

“With this loving community that I was accustomed to, I was inspired to start a home cafe [that] will make people feel that anything good they need, they can find in the neighborhood,” she said.

Photo courtesy of Clarice Bernardo

Aside from taking inspiration from her neighborhood, Bernardo watched many lifestyle videos online and developed a desire to support local coffee farmers. These inspired her to start Karruba Cafe.

“My family’s business is farming, so I want to produce a rice drink which we can take pride [as] uniquely ours – from planting to harvesting. I can’t wait to share it very soon,” said Bernardo.

Direct from the highlands

Karruba Cafe prides itself in its delicious beverages that are sourced directly from the highlands of Benguet and Sagada by another coffee business named MS Mountain Coffee.

The cafe also offers coffee care packages such as boxes full of coffee grounds and coffee bags. People living in areas as far as Pangasinan and Metro Manila can have a taste of these caffeinated delights.

Photo courtesy of Clarice Bernardo

As of writing, Karruba Cafe’s menu includes iced coffee classic, cold brew series, matcha series, caramel series, and travel series.

“At the moment, we only have Spanish latte in our travel series but we’re currently developing a new flavor which will be inspired by our province Isabela being ‘The Land of Golden Grains’,” Bernardo said.

Karruba Cafe hopes to create an impact on the lives of their customers, may it be their Karruba or not. F – M. L. Alforte


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