[Ask TBM] How to Start a Business in the Philippines as a Returning OFW

Opening a business can be risky, especially for a returning OFW. We ask Aldreen Barron, the owner of Brunch Cafe to share tips on how he managed it well.

Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are among the top contributors to the Philippine economy, especially as they make up around 10% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). With the hard work that they pour in, many of them dream of being able to provide for the families they left behind.

Some OFWs, however, have returned to the Philippines to start businesses of their own, as the country is filled with many opportunities. Case in point: Aldreen Barron of Brunch Coffee, who decided to take the risk of coming back home and becoming his own boss.

Given the high demand for coffee shops and the viable opportunities for starting a business here, we asked him to share tips and tricks for fellow OFWs who want to do the same.

Being an OFW for years, how hard was it to adjust to the Philippines when you went back home?

Honestly, it is really a big adjustment after being away for 9 years. Once in a while, I travel back home but not so frequently due to work restrictions. It gave me a hard time adjusting to [three main factors]: 

  • Safety: I am so used to just laying down my things everywhere because it is really safe [in Singapore] that no one will take them from you. But now, I have to double-check my surroundings first before placing my things. 
  • Convenience: [In Singapore,] I can easily go anywhere within a few minutes and not worry about the traffic jam. But back [in the Philippines], I felt like I just have to stay at home, so that I won’t get stuck in hours of traffic.
  • Other people’s judgments of what you’re doing or decisions [that you make]. 

What are the struggles of putting up a coffee shop in the Philippines?

In my experience, since we opened the coffee shop a few months ago—a lack of patience, aggressive competitors, and [being] financially unstable are the struggles in putting up a business or coffee shop in the Philippines. Filipinos are very talented and skillful enough to create new trends in food and drinks, which, if you don’t know how to keep up, you will not succeed.

How do you source your coffee beans? What’s your measure for good quality coffee?

I used locally sourced coffee beans such as “BARAKO” from Lipa Batangas. I chose these coffee beans kasi kakaiba siya sa mga coffee beans na natikman ko.

[Translation: I chose these coffee beans since they’re different from what I’ve tasted].

It is not as smooth, balanced, and fruity if you’re going to compare it to other coffee beans. But it is rough, imperfect, acidic, and has a burnt aftertaste, which gives more character yet a perfect imperfect flavor that compliments the overall concept of our coffee shop.

How did you decide what to put on the menu?

Basically, comfort food. Drinks that are timeless and food that is unexpected in a coffee shop [that] satisfies your cravings yet [is] worth buying. One of my deciding factors is the food that [sated] my hunger as OFW—but made with a special twist.

What is one aspect of your business that you are most proud of? 

I am mostly proud of how I can finally use my years of experience and learnings as an OFW working in the same industry [and] that I can confidently run my own business and call myself a business owner. 

There are many coffee shops in the country. What makes yours stand out? What is its competitive advantage or unique selling proposition? 

I already think of that when I was still planning or even just dreaming about this coffee shop. In the words of my father, “Papatayin ka lang ng malalaking company [Big companies will just kill you].” I believe that each business has its own unique approach toward the consumers. 

Our cafe has nothing much different from others, but what makes us stand out is that we give comfort, and the feeling of being safe—that you can also call us a home. We’ve created this safe space for everyone without judgment for who or what you are. [We believe that] you are valid.

[With that], the variety of comfort food with quality ingredients that you will love and enjoy is definitely one of our competitive advantages over other coffee shops.

What lessons have you learned in your business journey?

I learned 3 important things in my business journey: how to be more responsible in managing money, time, and health. You will not get MONEY if you don’t know how to spend TIME wisely. Focus on your goals and you will not have time if you don’t value your HEALTH—[both] physically and mentally.

What’s in it for Brunch Cafe in the years to come? Do you dream of branching out?

Two to five years from now Brunch Cafe will have its sister company, which caters to different lines of businesses. At a very young age, my Mother dreamed of having different businesses and I want to fulfill that dream of hers. 

What can you say to other OFWs who also want to go home and start their own businesses?

Know what or where you are good at, so you will be confident with the business that you want to start up. Or if you’re a risk taker like me, go for it, do things out of your comfort zone, and explore the possibilities that you feel will take you somewhere and learn. Because I believe in the saying that “We learn from our mistakes” and that is true. 

And I am living proof of that. For sure, many—not just I—experienced it before, and now, [I am] a successful entrepreneur. Just follow your goals, manifest them, work hard and everything follows.

Aldreen Barron worked as an OFW for 9 years in Singapore before returning to the Philippines to open Brunch Cafe—a coffee shop that serves comfort food, pastries, and coffee.