Guanio, now 25, was so shocked by the culture of the corporate world she decided to follow her heart rather than a boss. Hence, she put up a coffee shop at the heart of Maginhawa Street, in Quezon City, in kudos to fans like her of the Harry Potter book and film series.
The Nook Café is known for the famous “butterbeer,” a beverage Guanio had to go to Japan for.
She sat with the BusinessMirror in July to share her three-year-old journey in putting up her Harry Potter-inspired coffee shop business.
What prompted you to go into business at a young age?
I consider myself already “business-minded” when I was young. I made it a hobby whenever I spend my vacations in our province, Mindoro.
I opened and managed a small sari-sari store. My parents would give me an allowance and then I buy the stuff that I need. I also wrote an inventory, even though I didn’t have any idea what an inventory is.
From there, I decided that I should take up a business course, aside from having a family with a business background in agriculture.
The business itself, I think, came a little bit early. After graduation, I entered the corporate world since there [was] a pressure for me to [immediately] find a good job since I came from a big school, University of Santo Tomas (UST).
I was culture-shocked with the corporate world; I was so lost that is why I suffered from depression.
Then a friend advised me to just put up a business. I said, “Why not?” I asked for my Dad’s permission and [my parents] supported my decision.
How did you come up with the idea of a Harry Potter-inspired coffee shop?
Even before, I really wanted to put up a book café. I wrote a proposal and presented it to my Dad, [who] agreed to be my financier. It was in June 2014 when I started thinking about it and we opened last June 2015; so it was a one-year process.
It wasn’t supposed to be a Harry Potter-inspired café. It was just supposed to be a lifestyle café because I really enjoy going to coffee shops, reading books and drinking coffee; and also being alone. That’s when I thought of building a business out of what I like to do.
One night, I was scrolling through Facebook and saw that Universal Studios opened a Harry Potter-inspired theme park in Japan. That’s when I thought: “I am a huge fan of Harry Potter, then and now; I should incorporate it into my business!”
I started researching if there’s already a Harry Potter-inspired café in the country because, if there is one, I would [leave that out of] my business. I told my Dad that I needed to go to Japan to research for the “butterbeer” and also to get some inspiration.
But we did not open just to be a Harry Potter café. We’re a book café deeply inspired by the Harry Potter books.
What process went into The Nook Café?
It was a long process. I took it slow; I took the time to regain myself from all the stress I have been through after my graduation.
Financially speaking, it is not easy to come up with investment money; but my Dad helped me with it. I also had a hard time looking for a perfect location.
At first, I [wanted to be in a location near] UST because I already know the market there. But I did not really get the chance to save a place there. Then my friend took me to Maginhawa Street [where] they also opened a shop. And then through mutual friends and different contacts, I found this place.
I feel like I am really destined to be here because the owner of this place was planning to sell it and that is when my friend referred me. When I got here, it already felt like home.
A lot of my friends helped me: my architects and my contacts were my friends from UST.
What’s the idea behind the coffee shop’s name?
It has always been in my mind even before I put up my business. I really love coffee shops and always search for a space that I can consider my “nook,” which means “a little corner.” I like the solitude that coffee shops provide me.
So when I was thinking of a name for my business, I had a difficult time thinking of something that would [come off] as a catchy name for customers, so I considered “nook” as my only suggestion in play. [My architect also liked the name.]
A friend also told me the coffee shop’s name was good because it had two letter O’s in it. She knew I want this café to have an owl inspiration from Harry Potter and those letters could serve as the eyes of an owl.
What makes Nook Café unique from other coffee shops? What does it offer?
The heart and soul of it, since this is my brainchild, and I personally love its theme. I let this café to be as genuine as possible.
I also want people to feel the cozy feeling of reading a book away from home yet they will not, in any way, feel intimidated or out of place.
How does the café operate?
We are open from 1 p.m. to 10 in the evening, Tuesdays to Sundays.
We plan to open during Mondays, too, but the University of the Philippines is closed during that time so we don’t have that much food traffic here in Maginhawa.
We have three employees, two of whom are part time. I don’t hire by posting through social media [but through] referrals because I want to have at least one person [whom] I trust to vouch for someone that I’m thinking of hiring. I became cautious ever since I was scammed by a carpenter during the construction of the café and after [I lost] a lot of money [through theft].
What has been the biggest challenge your business ever faced? How did you handle it?
It’s very hard to retain the attention of people because millennials always want something new. So the term “regular customers” doesn’t apply anymore.
They will still come back but they’re not really what you call “regular customers.” Whenever people these days go somewhere, they just check it off their bucket list and never come back to it again.
Another thing is the innovation in technology. In the past, if the food you provide is good, people are guaranteed to come back. Now there are a lot of factors: your social-media presence, the appeal of the café and the way you treat your customers.
I personally don’t believe in the saying “the customer is always right” or “customers above the service crew” because they’re just doing their jobs and I need people to respect them [crew]. Another good thing is, I know how the target market thinks since I am also included in the age range of the target market.
Social media is really a big deal to us since we immediately know what the market wants and it’s because of social media [that] we’re now known to many. Unlike before, when getting your product promoted is really the hard part because, back then, even if your food product is really good, if you’re still starting, it will be [difficult] for you to advertise it.
What future projects do you have for The Nook Café?
I want the second branch of The Nook Café to be [near] UST.
That’s what I’m focusing on right now because it has been in the works for one year already. But there are always problems that delay the plans, like the location and other stuff. Hopefully next year, I should be able to open a branch there.
What are your personal plans?
I actually have several things planned. One thing that comes to mind is going back to school to study again.
But I cannot do that right now because I really need to be personally here for Nook, not just because I am the owner but because the heart and the soul of it is with me. I’m afraid that if I go, things might get derailed or, worse, out of hand.
However, I’m the kind of person [who] doesn’t want the feeling of [being] stuck in a part of my life. I still want to study and hopefully do it abroad. I’m not sure with the degree yet but I’m not going to go with a master’s for my course.
I want other stuff, specifically in the arts. I don’t want to go back to business-related courses because I have my own family, my business and books to teach me. I also want to pursue other strands and also to travel.
I also want to take up international studies. I would also like to study about my family’s business since I am an only child and there will come a time that the business will fall under my hands.
Hopefully I would start them this year but the part where I study abroad, I would focus a lot more on that. To top it all off, I also would like to work and live abroad.
What could you advise other young people planning to go into business?
Be brave. It [going into business] is really not easy. Until now, I still feel nervous every day because I don’t have any idea what will happen the next day. So always be brave and be very focused.
If they really want to be in this industry, they should understand that they are going to sacrifice so much of their lives.
At a young age, it should be your time to explore and commit mistakes. But these will all change once you get into the business industry. You would have very little space for mistakes. You should never complain that “adulting” came a little early for you because you are the one who chose to have a big responsibility early in life.
That is the reality check, once I started to venture in the industry at a young age I realized, masyado yata akong tumanda nang maaga [I grew up extremely fast too early].