The coffee shop that brought the coffee lifestyle to Davao more than a decade ago is now eyeing to bring Davao City to the world.
BluGre Café, whose name has become synonymous with Davao City for concocting the coffee blend mixed with the pulp of Davao’s icon fruit durian, is finally setting its eyes not only on major cities in the country but also in major cities in Asia, Canada and the US.
“Twenty for 2012,” says BluGre coffee owner Gatchie Gatchalian, referring to the 20 stores they are set to open for the year 2012.
Gatchalian says they have inked an agreement with a number of partners to open branches, targeting durian-eating countries like Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand; and cities with large concentration of Filipinos, including Las Vegas in the US, Toronto in Canada and Adelaide, Australia.
“We are going to make our presence felt in these places because these are cities and countries where our partners are based,” he says.
He remembers how he, himself, a coffee lover, and wife Larchie, first opened its Davao branch in 1998 as a spinoff of the fashion brand they are selling. But even from the beginning, Gatchalian says he already recognized the need to make his brand stand out by making a difference in the highly-competitive market.
“Even before we opened, I already made sure, that we should have something different to offer, something that really speaks about Davao,” he says. “That’s how we started experimenting with durian coffee.”
Gatchie says not all people come to like the durian fruit the first time they taste it, but coffee tends to drown out its pungent taste and masks its strong and disagreeable smell, that’s why the durian coffee could be a good introduction to the actual fruit.
“Offering them durian coffee could be the first step in introducing the fruit to non-durian eaters,” says Gatchie, who grew up in Manila and did not take to the fruit easily the first time he tasted it.
“Like I did, not all people would come to like the fruit immediately,” he says. “But if you do it in the coffee, the coffee covers its strong and disagreeable smell, that’s the first step,” he says, “Soon afterwards, they can eat the durian fruit, itself.”
When BluGre opened its first branch at the LandCo building in 1998, the coffee culture has not yet swept Davao. But when young urban professionals and students discovered the pleasure of hanging around the cozy, well-designed interiors, having long intimate conversations or simply relaxing in its quiet ambiance, word got around, giving birth to the coffee lifestyle of the Davaoeños. This triggered the sprouting of more coffee shops all over Davao, so that, in one of the press briefing in the late 90s, night bars had complained of thinning crowds as more people hang around cafes at night.
BluGre has not only become popular among the locales but also among travelers and visitors.
“When you’re from Manila, you will likely look for something different when you arrive in Davao, something you have not tasted before, and that’s why they continue to come to BluGre,” he says.
He admits, too, that sales was temporarily affected by the coming in of Starbucks in Davao in May last year but sales perked up again as visitors continue to search for the coffee shop that “truly reflects” the tastes of Davao.
Aside from the durian coffee, BluGre also offers the usual fare of latte and mocha; and a number of bestselling cakes and pastries. BluGre sources most of its Philippine coffee beans from the Mountain Province; so, to ensure product quality in all of the BluGre outlets, they have organized a quality control team to maintain and ensure the consistency of their product, Gatchie says.
“That we brought the coffee culture to Davao, that is our claim to fame, so the whole country wrote about it. For a while BluGre has become Davaoeños’ official drink,” he says.
He considers his brand positioning so successful that even their durian coffee was being copied by newcomers. “But what could be a greater flattery?” he asks.
“In Davao, they say there are already 280 coffee shops, matira ang matibay (only the fittest will survive),” Gatchie say.
“But we alone can claim to have started the coffee culture in Davao since 1998 and we’ll make sure we will continue that,” he says. “We will continue to capitalize on durian coffee, targeting durian eating countries abroad, which include Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand.”
“We will also be targeting Davaoeños abroad,” he says.
Gatchie says he is thankful that Davao has been treating BluGre as their own brand but they had to set their eyes beyond the country if they build on what they have done.
“We plan to go where there is a concentration of Filipinos,” he says. “Our slogan is bring Davao to the world.”