Launching a physical shop in the middle of a business-crippling pandemic might be unthinkable to some, more so in one of the country’s COVID-19 hotspots like Quezon City. But fate wouldn’t have it any other way for couple Nariese Giangan and Chippy Abando, who unveiled Food for the Gays Café (FFTG) on 13th Ave. in Cubao last February.
For its good food and queer aesthetic, FFTG has been making the rounds online especially this Pride Month. The loft-type restaurant is gaining neighborhood fame for its bestselling Iced Coffee Shakerato, which complements its Italian and Vietnamese comfort food offerings and other baked treats. On its door, a rainbow flag drapes freely—enough to remind customers that FFTG respects and welcomes people of any shape, size, and, most especially, gender, identity, or expression.
From virtual to physical
Giangan, a proud lesbian who’s even prouder as an LGBTQIA+ rights advocate, started out FFTG as an online shop in April last year. She planned to work abroad until the current health crisis limited her instead to pursue ventures digitally. Her culinary flair was rooted in her student days at the International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management. Her entrepreneurial drive, meanwhile, has always been there. Her family previously owned a publishing business, while she has set up her own photo booth business.
Giangan attributes FFTG’s eventual success to her first products—bread and pastries. These cornerstones, she says, defined her entrepreneurial direction later on. “I guess it’s about trusting your products and your customers. It was a big risk, yes, but I kept on trying to calm myself by thinking na kaya namin ‘to (that we could do this). ‘[People are excited for FFTG Café to open.’”
Giangan finally opened FFTG Café with girlfriend-business partner Abando right on the latter’s birthday this year. They had planned to open in mid-2021 but the location they found could not be reserved for long.
“Individually and way before us meeting in real life, my girlfriend and I already dreamed of having our own cafes,” she reveals, recalling she felt kilig (giddy) upon finding out they had the same life goal.
Here, ‘you are valid’
FFTG, one could say, is a mesh of everything that makes up Giangan as a person—including her fight for love, equality, and acceptance as someone from the marginalized LGBTQIA+ community. The name of the brand itself easily gives that away.
Besides the rainbow themes, the cafe’s interiors give a warm welcome to anyone coming in. Its mostly white walls work as a neutral canvas for the Palochina furniture and small potted plants, altogether breathing a homey vibe into the place.
Giangan says the unit was already painted white when they first got it and they decided to work with it. “We planned on making it look very Instagrammable, but not intimidating or overly decorated,” she says.
“Gusto ko na ‘pag pumasok sila sa cafe, magagandahan sila pero magiging comfortable agad (My aim was when they come into the cafe, they will be amazed but feel comfortable right away),” she explains. “I wanted them to feel at home. Same with lights that I got from Dapitan Arcade—it’s super nice! I also bought colorful pasta plates.”
The cafe’s “centerpiece” is the motto “You are valid” in script.
Giangan’s message behind this is self-explanatory. Her hope is that if a customer has a “bad day,” they will see the sign and feel better. “It’s also our way of telling them that, here at FFTG Café, they are free.”
With health and safety measures in place, FFTG is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. It welcomes professionals working remotely to hang out at the place for as long as they like—it’s part of the cafe’s way of creating that sense of home and community.
“A lot of people have been telling us that they are happy and excited that we opened a cafe and not a bar. I guess we’ve been looking for a space like FFTG Café where we can just be sober and have good and meaningful conversations. Some of our customers actually go there alone at first. Then we try to chat them up, so they’ll feel safe and comfortable. Next thing you know, they’ll start coming more often. It’s like introverts are fitting in perfectly!” Nariese Giangan gushes.
“A lot of people have been telling us that they are happy and excited that we opened a cafe and not a bar. I guess we’ve been looking for a space like FFTG Café where we can just be sober and have good and meaningful conversations. Some of our customers actually go there alone at first. Then we try to chat them up, so they’ll feel safe and comfortable. Next thing you know, they’ll start coming more often. It’s like introverts are fitting in perfectly!” the owner gushes.
FFTG’s variety of comfort food marks the rest of the homey dining experience.
“Our carbonara, pesto pasta, and margherita pizza are our bestsellers when it comes to our food. People also love our different banh mi flavors. And, of course, people come to our cafe hoping to try our cookies, brownies, babka, and chocolate mousse cake,” Giangan says.
“Besides saying they love our coffee and food, our customers say we are nice and friendly. Sometimes when we cook our meal for us staff, we invite the customers to eat with us. It’s like having a family that’s growing every day.”
FFTG’s community efforts
Giangan remains to be one of the country’s most vocal lesbians advocating SOGIE awareness and LGBTQIA+ inclusivity. She’s active on Twitter and Facebook about pride and politics as part of her community manager role in online lesbian community @TanginaTibs. Every now and then, she also does talks tackling issues that’ve been haunting this macho-feudal society’s queers for the longest time. She’s also part of Girl Nation, a lesbian party held at LGBTQIA+ pub Nectar Nightclub in Taguig.
It seems inevitable that FFTG would be Giangan’s new platform for her personal campaigns. Many LGBTQIA+ fellows and allies have since made their visit, returning home gleeful that brands in line with the #LoveWins advocacy are literally taking up more space.
Giangan calls FFTG a safe and free space, with an exception: “We don’t allow homophobic and rude people inside the shop. I want our customers to be themselves, to be happy. We can laugh about anything but not at the expense of other people.”
Surprisingly thriving amid a crisis, FFTG as a young business is telling of the socio-political climate it is in. It strives to be politically relevant not just regarding pride, Giangan says, but also with other issues concerning poverty, governance, and even the environment (it’s a bike-friendly cafe!).
Last April, FFTG joined Quezon City resident Patricia Non in her community pantry movement that earlier sought in-kind donations for the benefit of the underprivileged. Inspired by Non’s makeshift pantry in Maginhawa, FFTG did its own small gesture outside the shop.
With lockdown restrictions, the cafe could not take in dine-in customers, so Giangan decided to use the space for donations after getting permission from the building.
Surprisingly thriving amid a crisis, FFTG as a young business is telling of the socio-political climate it is in. It strives to be politically relevant not just regarding pride, Nariese Giangan says, but also with other issues concerning poverty, governance, and even the environment (it’s a bike-friendly cafe!).
“On the first day, my lola also donated some items from her sari-sari store. We bought vegetables and other essential needs. Then we asked for more donations. It was super overwhelming! We are so glad we participated in the community pantry movement because we learned a lot,” Giangan narrates.
It’s through these tiny entrepreneurial efforts that Giangan and her partner hope a better Philippines would finally wake up and break out. With FFTG joining the bigger crusade for institutions to be more efficient and empowering, the two believe the dream isn’t dead. Their cry has yet to be heard, however, with the SOGIE Bill or Anti-Discrimination Bill that seeks to grant the LGBTQIA+ equal rights and protection still under Senate interpellation.
“We still have a long way to go, but I hope some people from the LGBTQIA+ community would educate themselves more about the SOGIE Bill and help in any way they can to spread awareness.”