Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Commitment to service brings success to basement cafeteria

by Allan Lazaro

QUEZON CITY, Philippines - With the high cost of commodities nowadays, the chances of finding inexpensive eating places outside the Ateneo de Manila University is close to nil. Fortunately, an Atenean does not have to leave the campus to find one.

Tucked away inside the Loyola House of Studies (LHS) compound, the Loyola School of Theology (LST) cafeteria gives the members of the Ateneo community, students and non-students alike, a very cheap alternative to the college cafeteria and all the fast food restaurants along Katipunan Avenue.

It offers a hearty menu of home-cooked meals together with a retreat house’s serene atmosphere, not to mention a breathtaking view of Marikina Valley. All of these in a complete meal that usually costs no more than P40.

Humble beginnings

Officially named Cora’s Canteen, the cafeteria is named after its owner and manager Corazon Gallardo, who herself spent 15 years as a subconcessionaire in the college cafeteria. Ate Cora, as she is fondly known, says the cafeteria’s beginnings can be traced back to 1997 when she, along with a partner, asked permission from current Ateneo de Naga President Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ, to put up a small canteen in front of LHS.

Cafeteria owner Cora Gallardo serves her customers herself.

LST was yet to be built then so the customers, who were mostly seminarians and Jesuits, ate at the terrace of LHS where there were tables and benches available. After a year though, her partner left the partnership because their small canteen was not really earning much money.

A genuine calling to serve, however, prompted Ate Cora to continue the business. “I didn't really come here to get rich. I just wanted to be of service to other people,” she says.

When LST was finished in 1998, she was allowed to transfer the canteen to the building’s more spacious basement where it has been located ever since. It was a few months after its relocation when the first college student discovered the cafeteria.

“The first college student who came here probably told his friends about my canteen,” Ate Cora says. "It all started from that one student."

The LST cafeteria began to be known to the college students after that. Ate Cora says students even used to call the LHS office just to ask where exactly the cafeteria was located.

Word of mouth

Unlike when she was still starting out with her business, Ate Cora doesn’t need to worry about poor sales nowadays. Through word of mouth, the LST cafeteria has become an alternative destination for students looking for a respite from the academic flurry of the Ateneo or those simply running on a tight budget.

One of the major reasons why the LST cafeteria has become very successful is that the food is much cheaper compared to the college cafeteria. A combo meal of one cup of rice, one main dish, one side dish, and a glass of juice only costs P40 whereas one has to spend an average of P50 just for a rice meal in the college cafeteria.

Cheap meals make the LST cafeteria a popular eating place for Ateneo students.

Ate Cora says she is able to sell food for such a low price because the lease for the place itself is very inexpensive. “When prices of goods go up, many people would tell me to just lessen my food servings since I don't want to raise my prices. But so far money hasn't been a problem so I don't even think of raising my prices,” she says.

Most of the cafeteria’s customers nowadays, she says, are college students aside from the occasional teachers and other Ateneo employees. The cafeteria usually teems with students especially during Tuesdays and Thursdays because the students’ breaks are usually longer.

Former Ateneo student Paul Flaminiano got to know the LST cafeteria through one of his blockmates. He says he used to eat there once every two weeks, often with his friends.

“At first I didn't really like the place because it looked gloomy inside but once I tasted the food I knew I'd always go back. And did I say that the food there is really cheap?” he says.

Communication major Michelle Caligan also heard about the cafeteria when one classmate invited her to eat there. She says she never tried to go there before because it was very far from the college campus.

“Usually, I go there once a month. I’ll probably eat there once a week if it’s nearer,” she says.

Ate Cora says even students from University of the Philippines come to LST not to do research but to eat in the cafeteria. Some students have also brought their own families to dine and enjoy the view of Marikina Valley.

Service and faith

Despite the success of the cafeteria, Ate Cora remains humble. She admits she never dreamt that her cafeteria will be popular especially among students.

“Of course I'm proud and flattered but it's really because of service that I continue to be here,” she says. "As long as people come here to eat , the canteen will be open to them. I'd like to be here for as long as I can."


1 comment:

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