The standard experience of a bar at a catered event is, you know, all black outfit, oxblood vest, very formal. The bartenders and almost robotic, and the menu is boring. Rum and coke, that’s it; no flavor, no character. So we decided to develop event-specific cocktails depending on the event, and the people we were working with – not just because it was good business, but because that’s really what we wanted to do. Create good drinks, develop our talent, be challenged,” Paolo says.
Paolo Dayao, his partner and best-friend since Kindergarten Joseph Alcasabas, and little brother and chef Vince Dayao are the minds and muscle behind pop-up bar Straight Up. Put onto the bar hustle by Joseph’s cousin Randolph Cabrera, the pair are the creators of the hit Milo-Coco mocktail – which drew thirsty patrons of all ages and backgrounds at the July debut of Undiscovered SF’s 2019 season. Today, the Straight Up team’s concept focuses on complete Filipino flavor experiences that pair mixed drinks (masterminded by Joseph and Paolo) with Vince’s evolving approach to Filipino food.
“While we were exploring the world of trying to open a bar, Paolo’s youngest brother, Vince, started to grow in the kitchen; plus, I feel like growing up Filipino develops a special relationship with food – your passion and your love through food. That led to a collaboration with Vince we called Silog Mondays, where we paired Filipino inspired cocktails with his food. It was really popular, and that was where we realized, ‘Hey, we got something going,’” Joseph says.
Riding a three-year journey – from a creative catering-bar project into a fully-fledged, Filipino-focused bar and food program – what’s most refreshing about Straight Up is how they point their roots as key motivators for their hustle, and understand their business as a way to express gratitude for the chance to increase Filipino representation.
“I spent a part of my childhood in the Philippines, I have really vivid memories of sitting in Manila traffic, and kids my age knocking on our car window asking for change. It made me sad to know that those were the cards they’d been dealt – and being on the other side of the glass, I knew it meant I had to make the most out of my cards. Some people just don't get the chance to do what they love or what they want. So we're blessed enough to have this opportunity, and we have to pursue it because we could have easily been dealt a different hand,” Joseph says.
In turn, Straight Up also embraces the value of growing in the SOMA Pilipinas community alongside the rest of Bay Area Filipino culinary scene – carefully noting the uniquely productive and creative possibilities of working closely with people you trust deeply.
“I feel like the Filipino food industry is very tight knit. Like, everyone kind of knows each other; everyone kind of recognizes each other’s work. Like, at Undiscovered in July, we were setting up our tent and I was like ‘Damn, that guy over there is hustling! Am I doing enough right here?’ So, I feel like that motivation, in and of itself has created more challenges for me, Joseph, and Vince to kind of push harder, you know? To make better drinks, and really do a compete experience with food and drink,” Paolo says.
“The great thing about growing in SOMA Pilipinas is when people who you just met give you that feeling, like they’re looking out for you, for sure. You know? Even though they don’t even know you, they’re here to help you, wanting to build that relationships which is really ... they’re building more than relationships, you know?” Joseph says.
Armed with such a mature and evolved perspective on their work, Straight Up’s excitement about their craft and product pushes boundaries, asking patrons to engage with different perspectives on Filipino culture and truly consider what it is that makes a meal, or a drink, a special experience.
“For us to carry on the Filipino tradition, I feel like would be through the food because that’s all we cooked and ate growing up. And, you know, just seeing how it brought everyone together all the parties and the focus on family, and togetherness. You learn that at such a young age, it just becomes a part of you, you know? It was cool to me! And still is. So we definitely want to push like that aspect of like, family, community, and getting people together, and feeling good,” Paolo says.
Written by Paul Barrera.