Neat rows of calamansi seedlings welcome you at a plant nursery in Silang, Cavite. Some of them are already fruiting. There are also fire trees, rubber plants, variegated gumamela and Palawan cherries for sale. The greenhouse contains ornamental plants including different varieties of monstera, alocasia, philodendron and succulents.
The 4,000-square meter lot is also home to Hidden Charm Café. Aptly named because there is little chance you will discover it when you are driving on Aguinaldo Highway. There are no signages from the highway that direct you to it. You have to make a turn on a narrow, nondescript road, drive for a good two to three minutes before you reach the property and get rewarded by a wide-open space.
Turning on Waze and pinning South Wholesale Plants will, however, lead you right to it. It’s the kind of place you discover only through word of mouth and Facebook ads. But the place is surprisingly busy on a Tuesday afternoon. Guests come with their friends, children and dogs.
The gazebos maintain the open dining atmosphere and it seats up to 40 people. There is a variety in the seating accommodations and the walls have paintings by Artreach Missions on display. The café serves pizza, pasta, burgers and pastries.
Owner Christian Leynes and his family are deeply involved in its operations since it opened in December last year. We spotted him moving around, checking on guests, chatting them up and talking about the products. On top of the kitchen and the cashier is his daughter who is taking up culinary. The staff in the café are her classmates.
Leynes’ mother can be found in the greenhouse. She sits quietly by the table with her sun hat on. There is no phone in her hand. Instead, she keeps herself entertained by observing children run in her garden.
It’s hard to imagine how only two years ago the lot was used to grow pineapples and papaya. Leynes said he started the business to offset some of the carbon footprints of the information technology industry, which he is part of.
“We wanted to be known as a supplier of plants who prices them as low as possible,” Leynes said. Their calamansi is at P100, a 3-ft rubber plant is P350 and their monsteras start at P600.
The profit margin is slim but Leynes said he doesn’t mind because it was not created to be their main source of income. Their family also owns IT Avenue, a computer, phone and accessories distributor with branches in Cavite and other parts of the country.
Helping the community
Another goal for the garden is to help the community that they are a part of. Leynes opened the space to his neighbors so they could sell their plants on consignment. Their neighbors have entrusted them with their herbs, succulents and carnivorous plants.
The café also gives space for small business owners through the community market. You can find kakanin and native products of vendors every weekend. It is Leynes’ next project. He wants to set up a permanent space for them.
It is in one of these community market nights that he got introduced to Concepcion Pascual, founder of Artreach Missions. Artreach Missions is a nongovernmental organization that promotes art through lessons.
“We were regular customers here. My mother approached [Leynes] and talked about our organization with him. This is how the collaboration started,” said Cowilyn Joyce Pascual, creative director of Artreach.
The collaboration doesn’t just end with the space. Hidden Charm Café promotes Artreach projects in their café and vice-versa. Leynes also said he will be sponsoring the meals of the organizations’ scholars. With the art school onboard, the café has become a one-stop destination for families.
Children and adults can do their paintings for two to three hours at P900 per session. Materials are provided including the canvas. It’s a great way to have a meal and adult conversation in peace and bring home a plant or two after. It’s very close to Tagaytay, thus visitors can experience the temperature drop in the evening, and spare themselves from the heavy traffic of driving all the way up to the highlands. INQ