Coffee and great food really do bring people together. I can’t count how many great conversations I personally had over either of the two, and it seems like this is what brought Omu Camus, Christian Casino, and eventually, all of their business partners together.
“Christian and I started the business [The Black Bean] in 2019 in Makati,” says Camus. “He functions as our CEO and basically oversees all the details that comprise the business. To him, everything has to be done well, otherwise, we don’t do it at all.”
Camus believes that’s one trait she and her business partner have in common. Looking back, it’s the one that helped them get through the most trying times. It’s safe to say that when they opened in November of that year, they didn’t have an idea of what was about to hit them—no one did.
“We never really had the chance to have a grand opening because in March 2020, the first lockdown was announced,” Camus shares. “What’s funny is that the first thing I thought about was, ‘Oh my gosh! What will happen to all the backup dishes we just made?’ We marinated the tapa, our supply of bacon just arrived, and I said, ‘We have to move inventory!”
Shifting to delivery
“We weren’t sure how the pandemic was going to progress and how it is going to further affect us,” says Camus. As they went through every possible strategy they could do, they had a lightbulb moment of sorts. “We thought, ‘Wait a minute! We’re still a food and beverage business and everybody needs to eat!’”
One way that helped them get to know their market was social media. “Christian kept very close communication with all of our previous guests that would message us on Instagram. I would tease him that he is the perfect online friend because people would talk to him, not just about food, but everything, even personal things,” says Omu Camus.
One way that helped them get to know their market and encouraged their customers to try the menu was social media. “Christian kept very close communication with all of our previous guests that, you know, would message us on Instagram. I would tease him that he is the perfect online friend because people would talk to him, not just about food, but everything, even personal things.”
“It gave us a glimpse of what people are looking for, and again, we were serving comfort food. [We thought] there’s probably a way to kind of bridge that gap of serving something comforting at a time when you need comfort the most.”
This new challenge of suddenly shifting to delivery got Casino’s gears moving. “It got him excited,” says Camus. “He started looking for packaging, he started working on the website—and would keep making me try doing an online purchase knowing if it’s not efficient, I wouldn’t pursue the transaction.” He believed that if a customer could go through an ordering process unscathed, then they would likely be returning customers.
In the same breath, Camus had to continue creating content that shared their story on social media—to help promote the meals and drinks they could now enjoy at home—without fully knowing if their business would even survive.
Safe to say that after all of the hurdles thrown their way, they were able to thrive during a tough season. So much so that when they finally opened for dine-in customers, they were filled to (the allowable) brim. “What overwhelmed me was the number of reservations that came in, and all the messages that said, ‘We can’t wait!’ and ‘I look forward to visiting!’”
New investors and partners
“We had ideas for expansion without particular prospects—of who our investors or partners would be. We wanted to be able to mobilize our plans, but it was always up in the air,” shares Camus. They didn’t want to push something that wasn’t organic and at some point they decided that maybe, they should just wait for the right time to pursue. “Fortunately for us, how our new partners came together is a very interesting story. We didn’t have to go out of our way to find them.”
“Aina Vidal is a childhood friend of mine,” says Camus. “I don’t even remember how it occurred to me that she would want in. But now, she is our executive chef for the BF [Homes] branch.”
“Then there’s Lawrence Cua (the man behind Bun Appetit),” Camus continues. “Lawrence is a very interesting persona because we did not see him coming. He was a regular in Makati, and he loved our Cream Pares Pasta. For somebody of his caliber to appreciate the food we’re putting out, then we must be doing something right.”
Lawrence provides a lot of insights in terms of operations and creativity. Camus believes that he will help further develop the character of the BF branch and take it to where they want it to be.
Lastly, they have Robert Alvarez. “Robert is actually also our landlord,” quips Camus. “He was just supposed to be accepting rent and making sure we pay our rent every month. But then he listened to our presentation and the next thing I knew was that he also wants in.”
Opening a new branch
“Was it always in the pipeline to expand? Yes, of course. By the principle of business, it’s really kind of expected for a cafe to have a second branch within, at least, [a] three- to five-year period. Otherwise, the possibility of your brand dying is rapid,” Camus responds.
“For us, it was such a test of spirit because we were faced with that dilemma during a pandemic and it was during the waves of varying lockdowns.”
When you have faith in what you do and are surrounded by the right people, just like The Black Bean team, it was just bound to happen to open a second branch. “We always attribute the success of our branch to our team. Everybody who went onboard understood what we were trying to put out—so it’s not just good coffee, it’s not just good food. It’s the overall experience that we are curating for our guests.”
Camus adds, “You know, this community was what affected our strength and decision to expand—the team that we had, the people we were serving. They were happy, you know. We can’t let them down and we weren’t ready to raise a white flag and tell everybody that this was it for us.”
“You know, this community was what affected our strength and decision to expand—the team that we had, the people we were serving. They were happy, you know. We can’t let them down and we weren’t ready to raise a white flag and tell everybody that this was it for us,” says Omu Camus.
You can also label the choice of location as serendipitous: Camus and Casino initially decided to open in Bonifacio Global City, but when their landlord-turned-partner Alvarez texted Casino with the message, “You should check out our building. It looks like your cafe, you’re going to love it. Please give it a chance,” then they knew that they had to take a look. And guess what? It really was love at first sight.
Building the menu
“The original menu was inspired by Christian’s favorite comfort food that never really fully satisfies him when he orders in other restaurants,” Camus candidly shares. “So he sat down with our chef at that time, Jessica Meyer. He said that if we were going to serve it here, it would have to be really good.”
Pursuing excellence was also a trait that their executive chef, Vidal, understood as she worked on BF Homes’ menu exclusives such as the Shrimp Scampi, Perfect Catch, and the Beetroot Quinoa Salad. “What we wanted is that when you visit the BF branch, you will have his familiar vibe because we have the signature brand of service, but then you have something different to experience.”
When it comes to food inspiration and ideas, Camus credits Casino for it. “He likes doing research; he puts himself up for the challenge. The Meringue Cappuccino is exactly one of them,” Camus says excitedly.
“There was no recipe online and it was trial and error. It was whipping and whipping… and whipping until he found the right precision to create the formula to make it beautiful.” And that drink is definitely not the only one that’s quite interesting. They also have drinks like the Black Sesame Latte (available in both hot and cold), the Lazy Barista that features coffee jelly, and a line of floats perfect for the impending summer heat.
When they said they were all for good food and good coffee, they weren’t kidding.
More to come from The Black Bean
With the recent opening of the BF Homes branch, we couldn’t help but ask, “What is next?”
“More food coming your way,” says Camus. “[We’re] always busy. Whenever new dishes are out or whenever a new beverage is out, we’re already working on something new.”
“What we wanted is that when you visit the BF branch, you will have his familiar vibe because we have the signature brand of service, but then you have something different to experience.”
Another thing we can look forward to are activities that build and strengthen the community further. “We’re planning to have events, classes, and things that will help us, you know, get together or get closer even if we’re socially distant. To have decent conversation that’s beyond the mask and [face] shield.”
What about location? “The big dream is to bring it outside the country. I don’t want to jinx it, but you know… I’m not going to name which country,” Camus sheepishly says.
“I really hope that it’s also going to be the same roster of people that we have right now that’s going to help bring us there.”