“My partner Karen Togle-Recinto and I are both lawyers in the Philippines -- we know each other from law school. And after I moved to the States in 2007, we got together again and thought of doing a business together -- because I didn't want to be a lawyer anymore! It was too much stress. Practicing law in the Philippines is a different ballgame in a lot of ways, and I was getting tired of it. But we developed our love for cafés in law school. We lived on coffee and cigarettes!”
DD Peña, head chef of The Coffee Adventure, laughs through his phone speaker as he describes the history of the project, which produces hand-made Filipino deli items like embutido (Filipino meat loaf), beef tapa, and Vigan-style longanisa for delivery nationwide, as well as serving a tempting menu of Pinoy Sliders — the spicy Chori Burger slider made with chorizo sausage, the sweet and savory Pinoy Burger slider, and the Adobo Flakes slider, a house special recipe of stewed, shredded chicken and pork crisped on a flattop griddle just before serving. It’s an operation that’s rooted in DD’s personal history as a business owner in the Philippines, uniquely colored by the food he grew up eating.
"We opened a coffee shop a little over seven years ago in Milpitas. And I owned a Figaro franchise in the Philippines -- it's a popular coffee chain, and I was their lawyer. And then I became a franchisee, with my franchise open in Alabang. So when Karen and I were talking about going into business together, I mentioned the coffee shop because of my familiarity with that business. And even though I had no experience cooking, I was excited to take on that role and see what I could do with it — especially with my family’s adobo recipe.”
Making the shift from corporate lawyer to small business owner — throughout the process of immigration — was a transition that DD says has helped him take a slower approach to life, while also enjoying a greater sense of independence.
"My life now, with my duties at The Coffee Adventure, it's a little slower than it used to be. I much prefer it! Being able to direct the course of your own business, and the decisions I make aren't as life and death as they used to be; having a client's livelihood in your hands can be really mentally taxing. The Coffee Adventure is much more physically taxing, because I am there every day, and I cook all the food myself, so it can be exhausting! But I like the rhythm and pace of my day because I am in control.”
That aspect of control is especially important to DD as the popularity of Filipino cuisine continues to rise across the mainstream. For The Coffee Adventure team, being counted among the Undiscovered SF vendors who are helping shape the narrative around what modern Filipino cuisine is supposed to look and taste like carries special significance, spreading a sense of cultural pride through carefully crafted dishes that are meant to engage Filipino and western palates alike.
“If what we are trying to do is to bring our food to the mainstream, it's hard to envision non-Filipinos going to a traditional turo-turo spot. We try to make our food more elegant and appealing to the non-Filipino base, but we want to make sure that the flavors and the techniques we're presenting are very recognizable and attractive to the Filipino customer. Because they are going to be our biggest advocates -- the Filipino customer has the inherent understanding of our food and our flavors, and is going to be our most passionate promoter to their non-Filipino friends. All the major chefs are all talking about Filipino food being the next big thing, and the only way to do that is for non-Filipinos to start appreciating our food. Undiscovered SF is a great place for them to start. Because even if it is a Filipino event, that's essentially for the Filipino market, where Filipino people can feel at home and feel that there is something that's for and about them, they're going to be buzzing and telling all their friends about how fun it was, and how good the food was, and to try the Pinoy Sliders offered at The Coffee Adventure.”