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Coffee and Culture: Breaking barriers and fostering the spirit of Bayanihan

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Raine Cabral-Laysico
Raine Cabral-Laysico
For comments or feedback, email Raine at rainecabral@gmail.com.

I was privileged enough to speak to three Filipino-Australian cafe owners who are passionate about food as a way of building rapport and creating safe spaces for connection and collaboration within their local communities. As migrants, we have much to contribute to enrich our new home. As second to third-generation migrants, there is a call to establish our own voice and be heard in a country we call home. Often when speaking to Filipino-Australians, there is a sense of displacement, a vague feeling of not quite fitting in like a square peg in a round hole. This new generation of cafe owners seeks to change that. 

The message is simple. You matter. Your story matters. Your roots matter. 

And we welcome you into this multicultural fabric we call home. 

Coffee Menu
Coffee Menu

Coffee may seem like a trivial thing. However, when coupled with social connectivity and collaboration, it becomes transformative. 

Everyone has a story to tell and it is in these places that you can hearteningly share yours.

Migrant Coffee

Migrant Coffee
Stacey Earsman and Melodee Malazarte

Stepping into Migrant coffee felt like coming home, it was brimming with positivity and acceptance. There was an underlying sense of belonging as if to say, this is a safe place, come as you are flaws and all. 

Upon meeting Melodee Malazarte, one of the co-owners of Migrant Coffee, together with bestie Stacey Earsman, the mystery about the vibe was solved. Melo is someone who is effortlessly cool and this is channeled in every nook and cranny of Migrant. How could it not be? She, after all, created this space with her bare hands from the tables to the bar, to the walls through the help of YouTube. She had no training but had the will and determination to see it through. Working through the grief of her mother’s passing, Migrant is the ultimate labour of love. 

I remarked on how clean, open and functional their space was. To which Melo replied ‘That is the brief. We wanted a space where people felt included in the conversation. The tables were set up for communal dining. Like I can be at the bar speaking to someone at the end of the room and the person in the middle would also feel engaged.’

Migrant Coffee
Migrant Coffee
Fil-Aussie Melodee Malazarte

Building connections through food is a remarkable way to share our culture. Migrant’s offering of bagels with a twist – Thai and Island flavours that transport you home – gives your tastebuds a journey across the seas. My personal favourite is the Bok Bok Manok. The balance of flavours coupled with the freshness of the produce left me wanting more. Drinks were finely crafted and you can definitely feel the warmth in every sip, literally and figuratively.

The genesis of Migrant is simple. As daughters of immigrants, this was a space dedicated to their mothers. It is a proud women-owned and run business staffed by women. Your name matters, all the staff are trained to ask your name and even spell it. They make the effort to make you more than just a number. It is a place that recognises the value of having your own voice. Acceptance is the priceless virtue that Migrant willingly gives. 

At Migrant no one leaves a stranger, you come in as a welcome visitor and leave as a part of a family. The sense of community within the four walls of the cafe runs deep. Coffee is used as a vehicle to bring people in but you keep coming back because you’re family. 

When asked what’s next for Migrant, Melodee who is a DJ, fashion designer, turned cafe owner is excited about their plans for the future. It’s more community events, summer block parties, and of course more exhibitions that promote cultural diversity. 

To be part of the family, visit Migrant Coffee at 3/576 Barkly St, West Footscray VIC 3012. Call them at 03 7012 8809 email them: hello@migrantcoffee.com  follow them on instagram: @migrantcoffee 

Little Bliss Cafe

Little Bliss Cafe
Pauline and Troy Faltado

Tucked away up in the northeastern suburbs of Melbourne, you can find Little Bliss Cafe where you will be welcomed by husband and wife duo Pauline and Troy Faltado. Pauline who has an extensive background in hospitality, having studied culinary arts in New Zealand and having worked at five-star hotels most notably the Langham, is passionate about food and community. You can see her attention to detail from the fit out of the cafe to the way she impeccably serves her cakes and coffees. The cafe itself is bright and airy, it has a very modern coastal vibe from the offwhite walls to the rattan feature lighting hanging above the dessert bar. 


When prompted why she took the plunge in starting her own business, Pauline answered without any hesitation ‘I followed my heart. My husband and I pooled all their savings late last year and through sheer determination, opened up Little Bliss. Because for us, having coffee is like having your own slice of luxurious peace in the morning.’ It was slow going at first especially during their first week of operations, you can count on one hand the customers coming through. Yet they were not disheartened, they kept soldiering on and offered their signature Filipino hospitality, and within a few weeks, more and more customers visited the cafe, often tagging along friends and family. Even through the lockdowns, operating solely on takeaway, their now loyal customers have always made an effort to support this fledgling business.

What sets Little Bliss apart from the standard cafes is their Filipino cakes heartily supplied by Manila Bread Bakery. The range includes ube cake, swiss rolls, brazo de mercedes and the famous mashup of ube brazo de mercedes. These cakes are often sold out as soon as they get delivered, popular to both Filipinos and Australians. For Pauline, food is the easiest way to share our culture. Food is sustenance not just for the body but also for the emotional connection it gives us. It connects us with each other. Celebrations, family time, bonding with friends, are all done through food and drink. 

Aside from introducing our much-loved desserts, the cafe has a pay it forward program open to those in need wherein free coffee and food is provided. This is a joint effort between Little Bliss and the local community of Heidelberg. 

If you find yourself in Heidelberg West, feel free to visit Little Bliss Cafe located at Shop 3/51 The Mall, Heidelberg West VIC 3081 or Call them at 0422237084/ Email: hello@littleblisscoffee.com.au Instagram: @littleblisscoffeebar

Basement Cafe

Basement Cafe
Basement Cafe
Basement Cafe
Basement Cafe

Right at the heart of the CBD, a short stroll from Flagstaff station, you can find Basement Cafe. With an authentic vintage feel, you will find owner, Elbert ‘Elby” Estampador, warmly welcoming patrons into his world. A world filled with great Filipino breakfast classics like the tapsilog, longsilog, tocilog and the like. I was lucky enough to try the tapsilog and it did not disappoint. The meat quality was A+ together with the fresh atsara it came with. We could not get enough of it. As a self-confessed suka (vinegar) aficionado, it had the right balance of peppery goodness that can only be found in meticulous fermentation. Other offerings include weekly specials like pochero (pork stew), Bicol Express, Ginataan to name a few. Desserts like taho and bilo bilo are also part of the line up. 

What sets Basement Cafe apart from the rest is the relaxing atmosphere even in the busiest of times. Elby invites his patrons to take a moment, pause and breathe. In the hustle and bustle of city life, this is a rare luxury indeed. Hailing from a corporate design background, Elby worked with top-tier luxury brands for decades. He used his wealth of experience by continuing to be results oriented. He didn’t immediately change the menu, rather he slowly introduced new items whilst still keeping the classics. In a sense, this was a subtle nod to his migrant roots. It is not about strong-arming one’s way into the palate of the local community rather it was a slow and steady approach. Proof that Australian and Filipino food can co-exist and eventually find common ground. This intentional strategy bore much fruit. He kept his regulars while also attracting new patrons. 

When asked what were the challenges faced. He candidly replied ‘The transition from mental to physical labour hit hard especially in the first six months. In my previous role, it took a lot of my creativity, here because you are required to be physically present, day in and day out. I felt really trained, the constant aches and pains while my body was adjusting was the real challenge.’ However, a year and a bit in, Elby wouldn’t change it for the world. His staff whom he treats like family together with his mum and sister who welcome patrons especially on weekends all contributed to the familial feel of Basement. When prompted what else he has in store in the future. He kept things quite close to his chest. All he would say was ‘wait and see, there are a few things in the pipeline.’

To meet Elby and the team at Basement, feel free to visit! They are located at L1, 360 La Trobe St Melbourne VIC 3000. You can also call them on 03 9329 8000 or follow them on Instagram: @basementcafe


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Raine Cabral-Laysico
Raine Cabral-Laysico
For comments or feedback, email Raine at rainecabral@gmail.com.

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