This former I.T. head is breaking new ground as a barista on the streets

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Photo courtesy of Mong Vicente

Ambition and grit have made Mong Vicente attract hundreds of customers to his cafe on wheels, Cityboy Brew. And it is the same vast amount of determination that has kept his mobile cafe rolling when it nearly had none at the beginning.

In the first two weeks of Cityboy Brew’s launch in January, Mong would traverse Marcos Highway on his bike, searching for customers craving for hot coffee at the break of dawn. “Iyong first two weeks, dalawang baso lang ang nabenta ko. Kapatid ko pa saka kaibigan ko ang bumili,” he tells Speed.

Pero naniwala pa rin ako sa vision ko kaya hindi ako tumigil,” he continues. “Ang lakas pa rin ng loob ko noon kasi mag-isa lang ako sa Metro Manila na ganoon ang ginagawa. Wala namang ganoon dati, bigla nalang nagsulputan. So feeling ko may pupuntahan. Pinagtrabahuhan ko talaga para mapansin ng mga tao, especially since brewed coffee ’yung tinitinda ko.”

It was a leap of faith mostly because, throughout his career, the 36-year-old had been used to earning a regular wage as an information technology specialist. Mong headed the I.T. department of Powermall in Isabela City and its satellite branches for three years. Right after, he moved to Manila, where he worked as an I.T. service desk analyst in two different companies based in Ortigas and Eastwood for a total of eight years. 

It was only in December 2020 that he stepped out of the corporate world and into a path toward being his own boss. It may have begun with an uphill climb, but Mong never considered making a detour. He elaborates, “Iyon ‘yung goal ko e, ‘yung hindi na bumalik sa corporate job. Parang walang nangyayari sa akin doon. Parang paulit-ulit, fixed ‘yung sahod. Hindi mo mapalaki masyado kahit galingan mo.”

“At least, kapag may business ka, kapag ginalingan mo, may improvement, mas makikita mo ang result,” he adds.

Breaking new ground with Cityboy Brew

Aside from being an I.T. specialist turned business owner, Mong is also a freelance photographer. The idea of setting up a coffee shop came to mind when his client who owns online store Kape Kartel availed of his service. “Tumatanggap ako ng mga usual na product shoot. Tapos may nagpa-shoot sa akin na ang product niya is coffee [beans]. So, ‘yun, parang ini-sponsor-an niya ako ng napakaraming kape,” Mong recalls.

With those multiple bags of roasted beans, the former I.T. head created his own online store called “Blunt Coffee,” which sold cold brew drinks in bottles. He later took it to the streets as “Cityboy Brew,” inspired by the ingenious concept of The Coffee Mobile, a Cebu-based café that went viral in 2020 for its caffeine bar mounted on a Yamaha RXT 135.

From setting up his own mobile cafe along Marcos Highway during its first weeks, Mong moved to his regular station along Marikina Riverbanks, where he stays from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. every Thursday and Friday, as well as 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. from Saturday to Sunday. The open-air area, he says, has a refreshing vibe that adds to the relaxing experience of drinking coffee.

In addition, Mong couldn’t be more grateful that its barangay leaders were considerate enough to permit him and other vendors to set up shop there. “Noong unang punta ko doon, dalawa lang kami ng magtataho. Kasi alam namin talaga, bawal doon,” Mong says. “Napakabait nga ng mga barangay tanod doon. Ginawa nilang okay lang kasi pandemic.”

Next to looking for a high-traffic location, Mong upgraded his dark roast lineup with cold beverages using the recipe of his friend. The menu now includes Coldbrew Black, Latte, Black Hazelnut, Black Peppermint, as well as Caramel Latte priced P65 to P80 per cup.

Running strong at hundred cups a day

Mong’s tenacity and hard work ramped up sales from two cups in Cityboy Brew’s first weeks to as much as 150 cups on weekdays. “Actually, nao-overwhelm pa rin ako hanggang ngayon. Lalo na kapag weekend, maximum ko 300 cups na, three hours lang,” he says, adding, “Ang dami na, dinadayo na kasi ako. Like may mga nagme-message from Laguna, from Bulacan, naka-bike sila na grupo-grupo.”

With his monthly profit growing five times more than his previous paychecks, Mong revealed that his supportive wife, Rannilie, is likewise planning to go full-time on their business. 

Also bearing witness to Citybrew’s success is its first franchise that opened on May 12. The kiosk, located in Marikina River Park, was acquired by Mong’s friend Mark Reyes. “Iyon ‘yung reason kung bakit ko tinanggap ‘yung request ng kaibigan ko—para malaman ko kung paano umiikot,” Mong remarks. “Kasi ang dami, e. Ang daming gustong mag-franchise. Hindi ko lang alam paano sisimulan. So dito ko siya isa-start sa kaibigan ko.”

But more than the financial returns, what Mong considers the greatest feat of Cityboy Brew is its ability to empower people to pivot during the pandemic. 

Two months after Mong first wheeled out his shop in Marikina Riverbanks, he urged his friends to tag along with him and set up their own pop-up stores right beside his. They call their small community “Cityboy Crew.” The I.T. specialist turned barista has also inspired young people to build their own business based on Cityboy Brew’s model.

Alam mo ‘yun, kapag normal na tao ka, mahihiya ka maging vendor sa street. Gusto kong alisin sa tao ‘yun, e,” Mong tells Speed. “So ang dami kong naimpluwensyahan na mga bata na gayahin ‘yung setup ko. Nag-personal message sila sa akin, pinapaalam nila, ‘Puwede bang gagayahin ko?’ Open naman ako, syempre pandemic ngayon. I allowed them to copy the whole concept. Ang dami kong naturuan.”

Photos courtesy of Mong Vicente

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