While Trixie Jose had long dreamed of creating a safe space for people to gather and enjoy Filipino food and drinks, the turning point in her entrepreneurial journey was when her now-husband Matthew Reyes took her on a birthday trip to Washington in 2019.
The couple, who were both raised in New Jersey, was inspired by the large and tight-knit Filipino community in Seattle, where they discovered a thriving Filipino coffee shop.
“We walked in and I felt like it was our dreams coming to fruition right in front of us. And on top of that, there were so many non-Filipinos coming in and out too, enjoying the drinks and the food. That was a pivotal moment for us because it kind of made us realize like, ‘OK, this can actually be a thing,’” Jose tells NextShark, noting the lack of similar Filipino-centered spaces in New Jersey.
The couple’s idea to start a coffee shop in the Garden State was further fueled in 2020 when Jose’s grandmother was diagnosed with COVID-19 and placed on a ventilator. Her grandmother eventually recovered, serving as the catalyst for the couple to pursue their passion as “life is short.”
Jose, 30, and Reyes, 32, both come from immigrant families seeking a better life in the U.S. Jose’s family initially lived in cramped conditions, and her parents worked multiple jobs. Jose mentions that her mother even worked as a carpool driver picking up and dropping off at least 10 children to and from school before getting ready for her night job.
Similarly, Reyes’ parents worked tirelessly to improve their family’s life. His father started with jobs like garbage collection and worked his way up to becoming a power plant engineer. The couple acknowledges the sacrifices and hard work of their parents, which played a significant role in the establishment of their very own coffee shop.
“I think it’s very true what they say about how our parents’ generation is about survival and putting food on the table for the kids. And our generation is very just like pursuing our passions and achieving our goals. It really would not be possible without all the hustle that our parents did, so I’m very grateful for all the sacrifices that our parents and my lola made,” Jose says.
Jose eventually quit her full-time job as an accountant to start her own business with Reyes, which began as a pop-up homemade coffee cart in 2021. They settled on the name “Ayala Coffee” as a tribute to Jose’s grandmother, who grew up in the Ayala Heights neighborhood in Quezon City, Philippines.
After a month of successful pop-ups, they decided to open a storefront in their hometown with the hopes of connecting to the Filipino community.
“Growing up, my best friends in elementary school were Polish, Brazilian and Indian, and they would always have these after school [cultural] programs. Filipinos don’t really have that,” Jose shares, adding that she and Reyes eventually settled on opening a coffee shop because of their passion for coffee.
Ayala Coffee, the first Filipino coffee shop to open in New Jersey, serves blended, authentic flavors inspired by Filipino desserts, including ube (purple yam), leche flan (crème caramel pudding), cassava (nutty-flavored vegetable) and buko pandan (coconut and pandan-flavored jelly).
The business owners say they source all their coffee beans from the Benguet region of the Philippines, emphasizing its high quality. As it is their goal to represent their culture through coffee, they stress the importance of working directly with farmers in the Southeast Asian nation. Reyes says they connected with a small farm to do business, ensuring fair pay for the farmers and even paying them more than what typical specialty coffee farms in countries like Brazil or Colombia would receive.
The couple also emphasizes their commitment to sustainability. They compost coffee beans, collaborate with local businesses to recycle coffee grinds for plant fertilization and use compostable cups and straws. They also monitor ingredient quantities to reduce waste and minimize their environmental impact.
Jose and Reyes’ commitment to uplifting their culture and the Philippines through Ayala has helped bridged together the Filipino community all over New Jersey. According to the owners, Filipinos and Filipino Americans from diverse backgrounds feel a sense of familiarity as they enter their shop. They come together and connect through cultural experiences while also sharing their love for the Filipino cuisine.
Along with Filipino American History Month, Ayala Coffee is also celebrating their 2nd-year anniversary. As they have gained a large following after only two years of business, Jose and Reyes are gearing up for a larger location in the heart of Union’s downtown. They are in the process of building the new space, which they described as more of a cafe than a traditional coffee shop.
Jose reveals that they have partnered with Filipino chefs who have an innovative approach to food. While the couple’s expertise lies in coffee, they are excited to introduce a unique dining experience that combines Filipino flavors with a modern twist. The owners are aiming to open their Ayala cafe in Spring 2024.
“We’re really excited because there’s nothing currently like this on the East Coast that we’re aware of, or at least in Jersey,” Jose says. “Just like how Matt and I wanted to present Filipino flavors through drinks, the same goes for the food. We want to introduce a new way for Filipino food to be experienced.”
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