The Chocolate Kiss Café, our family’s 23-year-old restaurant
at the 2nd Floor of the Ang Bahay ng Alumni Building in the UP Diliman Campus, will remain permanently closed even after the community quarantine.
There, I finally said (wrote) it. Difficult as it is to break the news, there’s something about writing it down that brings a slight ease. Maybe it’s how seeing the words on paper makes it more real, as if putting a finality to it, and by doing so, urges one past the denial stage of grief, inching towards acceptance, even if by tiny increments.
We didn’t know our lives would be changed when my family opened The Chocolate Kiss Café. I was a grade-schooler then, and the year was 1997. From going home directly after school (or work, for my elder sister), our family suddenly had this point of convergence, an unplanned extension of our home.
It became a hangout of sorts, though everyone in the family pitched in in ways we could. We taste-tested and critiqued what would be put on the menu (best job yet!) My siblings, who are both from the UP College of Fine Arts, got involved in some design aspects of the business, such as the interiors, product packaging, and posters. I learned how to work the cash register machine and do cash counts. Little did I know that I would eventually oversee the Café’s operations full time.
My mom and aunt, founders of the Café and both UP alumni, decided to take the leap with their home-based cake business with the humble intention of giving the UP community a new dining experience, and an alternative to college canteens.
I recall the first few weeks when we waited in anticipation for each customer to walk into the glass door. When there were none, we’d put on the soundtrack of Sleepless in Seattle on the CD player, and voila! They would soon come trickling in. I wondered if it had anything to do with the album’s second track, “A Kiss to Build a Dream On”, that worked like magic.
We played that CD daily. My mom and aunt kept a good eye on what came out of the kitchen. They treated the dining room as if they were entertaining guests in their own homes. Their meticulousness worked, I suppose, because customers from all sorts of background visited, and kept coming back.
The Café just got busier. It would bustle with activity, holding witness to instructors on their lunch-out, students celebrating milestones, sweaty joggers fresh from a run, workshop and bible study groups, or friends just sipping iced tea all afternoon long. Every now and then we’d spot UP’s popular personalities and VIPs, then later, celebrities, government officials and other public figures.
It always amused us how a couple all tidied-up for a date would be in the same dining room as folks (who just lived around the corner) dressed in their pambahay and tsinelas. People felt comfortable to come as they were, and we loved how it was that way. We will miss how on some hours, the Café can be quiet and feel like a respite; then on other occasions, someone can suddenly sit on the piano and serenade everyone in the room, or members of the UP Singing Ambassadors will just break into a song.
We are deeply grateful for all the customers who have shown their support for The Chocolate Kiss Café for many years. Thank you for trusting us to be part of your lives’ special, as well as everyday moments. Thank you for gifting our cakes to your teacher, best friend, or crush. Thank you for inviting your loved ones over, even if they considered a drive to Quezon City a field trip! You brought our dining room to life. What a blessing indeed to be warmly embraced by the UP community.
We will sorely miss taking part in UP Diliman’s annual activities. From the UP Fair to Lantern Parade festivities, orientation programs and college graduation rites. Our hours were always attuned to the academic calendar, in the same way that our hearts exploded with pride at every win of the UP Pep Squad and MBT.
Our family had so much fun sharing our love for art and music through the Café. Our walls displayed works from local artists and illustrators, which we rotated and which you bought. And when we weren’t playing CDs, we had live music nights with Da Capo and pianist Rudy Cruz, our mainstay musicians who have also been with us since our first year.
“Sharing the good stuff” with customers was only possible because of the talented team behind Chocolate Kiss. They are the ones who prepared the Chicken Kiev and Hickory Smoked Spareribs, who served your slice of cake and refilled your Bottomless Iced Tea. This is truly the hardest part – parting ways with the people whom we’ve shared the most experiences with. Through easy and hard times, our employees had been with us, and it is by their contributions that the restaurant even lasted this long.
The Café has always relied on high volume in sustaining its operations. The losses already incurred since the start of ECQ, and the prospect of not being able to operate at full capacity for an indeterminable period, has led to this difficult decision.
Our kitchen will continue cooking up your favorite meals until Sunday, August 23, for order/pick-up from our Fairview Commissary. After which, the menu will be trimmed down to the desserts, where you can continue to order Devil’s Food Cake and Dayap Chiffon Cake, among our other well-loved cakes.
The world was shook this year by the pandemic. Everyone is forced to face a new normal and navigate uncharted territories. Just as my family’s life was unexpectedly changed for the better when the Café opened 23 years ago, I wait in anticipated breath for the best fruit to come out of this pruning. In the meantime, we will go back to our roots of baking cakes...and who knows where that sweet road may lead us.
Ina Flores Pahati
Owner / Daughter of Maline Flores, co-founder of The Chocolate Kiss Café