Ex-OFW gets career kick as ‘Barista Mama’
ILOILO CITY, Iloilo, Philippines — Asiel Floner Fernandez, 32, began her life’s passion as a barista while working as a bartender in Dubai in 2016, crafting mocktails due to the city’s strict alcohol regulations.
She began to take a keen interest in making coffee for customers who wanted to get their caffeine fix. Later, she realized that being a barista in Dubai paid twice as much as being a bartender.
Upon returning home to Iloilo province in 2019 to renew her passport, the former overseas Filipino worker (OFW) enrolled in a barista training course at Iloilo Coffee House (ICH), intending to return to Dubai after getting her certification.
But fate had other plans. Fernandez, who is married to a seafarer, stayed indefinitely in Iloilo when they had a child in 2020.
She was hired as a barista in ICH, which is known for its specialty coffees, and while honing her skills, she started saving money.
Fernandez said she wanted to put up her own coffee shop right in her home so she could attend to her son, who grew up diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
The house at Parc Regency Subdivision in Pavia town actually belonged to her in-laws, who allowed her to convert the garage into a charming little coffee shop which she called Barista Mama, opening the place in April 2022.
“Running a business is challenging on its own. But running a business and caring for a child with autism is a whole different challenge,” Fernandez said.
“My son needs extra love and attention, and I can’t simply ask him to ‘wait,’ or ‘stop, don’t do that.’ But, I am slowly learning and loving the responsibility given to me. I know I can make it work,” she added.
To promote her coffee shop, Fernandez took part in events and bazaars where she started to get noticed by coffee lovers.
She sourced most of her beans from La Roasteria Molo, a roastery here in Iloilo province which gets its supply from farmers in the towns of Igbaras, Lambunao, Leon, Janiuay, and Calinog.
Some beans are sourced internationally by local coffee shops that already sell them here.
Barista Mama also sells brownies and cakes which are outsourced from small entrepreneurs.
But Fernandez’s original coffee blends are what attract customers even if her establishment is about 10 kilometers away from the city proper.
Her first concoction was purple mud latte — a sweet blend of taro, the root vegetable, and coffee.
Red Sand is another specialty, which she named after the sands of Dubai. It has Thai tea, full-cream milk, and a shot of espresso.
Her bestseller is Mama’s Blend, which is a mixture of Arabica and Robusta coffee together with milk and sweet cream.
Encouraged by friends, Fernandez joined the First Iloilo Brewdown on Aug. 28, 2022, where she found herself pitted against seasoned industry experts.
To the surprise of many, she emerged as the champion.
As her coffee shop became more popular, she realized that it could not stay inside a subdivision.
After initially hesitating to make the big move because of her son’s special needs, “I decided to venture into the city and establish my coffee shop because I felt that it’s the next step in my journey,” Fernandez said.
Searching for an ideal location, she explored places with high foot traffic but could not find an available spot.
Eventually, she settled for a small place in Cubix Park in Iloilo City’s Mandurriao District, launching her establishment on July 1.
In setting up her new café, she borrowed money from her brother and used her income generated from her coffee shop at home and from participating in events.
Eventually, she closed her first coffee shop but still took orders from neighbors.
With her new location, Fernandez would follow a certain routine, taking care of her son in the morning before bringing him to her mother-in-law in the afternoon. She also hired someone to help her in the Cubix establishment.
Fernandez said she has big plans for Barista Mama.
“My dream also includes having a mini playhouse alongside my café. I want to cater to mothers who have kids, especially those who find it challenging to dine or relax outside while ensuring their children’s safety. They can watch their kids play and, at the same time, take some time for self-care,” she said.
Her advice to aspiring parent-entrepreneurs: “Passion helps us push through amid hardships. Success is not achieved overnight. If you want something, you need to do everything in your power to make it happen.”