Carla Poleen Rosito-Dulnuan, founder and owner of Café Yagam, has gone through quite a journey since the café opened in 2014. Her degree in anthropology paved the way for her to be a community organizer for Cordillera Green Network, an environmental non-government organization that introduces coffee as cash crop in partner communities in the Cordillera as part of their Agro-Forestry advocacy. It was at this period in Carla’s life where she has had numerous ventures all around the Cordilleran Region of the Philippines where she learned and experienced so much about its culture whilst doing essential research on the area and community.
Farmers in Kibungan, Coros, Kabayan, Tublay and Kapangan Benguet and in Kadaclan Mountain Province offered the use of their farmlands. In turn, through her work with CGN, the farmers were provided with coffee seedlings and workshops on how to grow and tend the coffee plants. In time, the farmers begun harvesting coffee berries, processing them into green beans and selling them back to CGN for grading and roasting. The roasted and ground coffee beans are packed and sold locally and some are exported abroad. The revenues help maintain their other projects like green scholarship and environmental education.
Soon enough, Carla’s director suggested that she open a coffee shop to further expand the advocacy she and CGN share. Eventually, she accepted the challenge to help out the highland coffee farmers, serving as an outlet to showcase their products and so much more of what the culture has. “Because of my work with the NGO traveling all around the Cordillera, I learned a lot about our culture. I was active with a cultural and research group and every time we have gatherings we always cook our regional specialties to the point that it became a competition for us. All these experiences inspired me when the opportunity came for me to open the café,“ Carla reminisces when asked how the café started in July 2014.
Many people ask what Café Yagam means. The right question to ask, actually, is “Who is Yagam?” Yagam is the name of Carla’s daughter and that is one detail that speaks much about what the café represents. It was quite clear to her that she wanted to have a menu with the dishes she knows and loves. She wanted to serve Cordilleran cuisine in a place that feels most like being in the ili, the Cordilleran term for village. She had a number of artists from the region who helped her with the café’s interior design as well as how food is plated.
Like a mother to her daughter, so is Carla to Café Yagam. But then it wasn’t easy to run a café. She was, however, determined to keep going because of what the café represents. This led to the decision to join a Google Business Group event in Baguio City. Her partnership with Google put Café Yagam on the map, making the café more visible online. True enough, foodies, tourists and locals learned about Yagam and then the media started doing features on the place. Events were also organized by Baguio and Cordilleran artists which became a house regular. Café Yagam now became a home to artists and writers in the Cordilleras.
Café Yagam’s partnership with Google Business Group (GBG) brought sales and recognition at an all-time high. Café Yagam got a lot of attention online through blogs and forums. The café became well-known as the go-to destination when visiting Baguio and would always turn up in articles featuring the best restaurants in the Mountain City. Being searchable in Google and Google Maps really helped the business in a significant way. There wasn’t the need for marketing in the radio or newspaper.
Because of this, the heart to share with the world what the Cordillera Region has to offer has become a reality. Local farmers were earning a good living with coffee crops, and the rich cultural heritage of Cordilleran traditions and food was made known. It is truly a successful social enterprise that has gone through leaps and bounds.
In the year 2017, Café Yagam entered the top 24 in the GBG stories search which was a totally unexpected surprise. At that time, Carla said that they were not hopeful for a spot but when they found out that they made it, this made everyone excited because Café Yagam is the first Cordilleran from Baguio to ever reach the final top 9.
Café Yagam continues to look towards the future, determined to become the place to escape from the humdrum of the City and experience the old Baguio again and again. Carla adds that they will continue to find more ways for the café to grow and make the Cordilleran flourish, not just when it comes to food, but also in the areas of art, music and literature.