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Baguio’s Star Café closes on July 8

After learning about the impending closure of the 74-year-old Star Café on Session Road in Baguio City, longtime customers and residents have been packing the restaurant for the last two weeks.

They want to convince owner Donna Rufino to rethink her decision to close the restaurant and to experience what has been part of the summer capital’s history.

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STAR CAFÉ owner Donna Rufino says the 74-year-old restaurant has been helping fulfill that distinctly Baguio experience. The Rufinos and their restaurant were among the Builders of Baguio awardees in 2009. RICHARD BALONGLONG

But Rufino, who has been managing the café by her lonesome after her husband, Joey, died last year, says her decision is final. On July 8, the restaurant’s doors will be locked.

Star Café’s closure ends a memory-filled experience for residents, balikbayan and tourists. That experience may be rushing at 3 p.m. before the last batch of pandesal, cinnamon rolls, and other pies and bread run out because the café bakes only what is consumed for the day.

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Rufino, 69, says she no longer has the energy to keep the business running. Her children, on the other hand, are abroad practicing their professions. She says none of her husband’s six siblings could attend to the business because everyone is living in Canada.

Star Café was established in 1940 by the Rufino patriarch, Goo Chin. The first outlet was on Calderon Street, where a fast-food restaurant now stands. In 1955, it transferred to Session Road, near the corner of Mabini Street. In 1991, it moved to its present location, also on Session.

Star Café’s location and accessibility are its pluses, particularly for its regular patrons and out-of-town guests.

Rich and famous

It has been helping fulfill that “distinctly Baguio experience,” Rufino says.  “Some clients would tell us that they have not visited Baguio if they have not eaten here.”

During special occasions and peak tourist seasons like Christmas, Easter or during electoral campaigns, Star Café’s customers would include the rich and the famous.

Many Philippine presidents like the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos and the late Corazon Aquino, and Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and incumbent President Aquino and their families have dined at Star Café.

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Customers also included noted opinion-makers, journalists, commentators and authors like the late Teodoro “Ka Doroy” Valencia, Maximo Soliven, Joe Quirino and Nick Joaquin.

This is not surprising because Rufino’s husband, Joey, was in advertising before he and his wife took over the business from Goo Chin.

But one of the café’s charms is that even ordinary folk would feel at home here, served by uniformed waiters in their vests. The restaurant has more than 20 staff members, many of them having served for 30 years.

Despite the stiff competition in the food business in recent years, Star Café has managed to survive, capitalizing on the distinct experience and living tradition it has been offering over the years. But Rufino admits that earnings have not been good lately.

“If one of these days I can reopen, I don’t know. I leave it up to the Lord,” she says.

For those who have made Star Café a part of their lives, the closure is like losing and missing a part of themselves as the landscape and skyline of the heart of Baguio continue to be altered.

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