1996. It was an era when Wi-Fi was just a funny sounding word, mobile phones were the size of bricks, and the idea of heading out for coffee with your friends was about as familiar as the concept of social networking at the time—that is, to say, completely alien.
It was also during this time that Steve Benitez did something that very few entrepreneurs would dream of doing: he decided to start a business that involved selling coffee to a market that shuddered at the idea of paying for a drink they could brew at home. The idea, however seemingly radical at the time, was borne out of his passion to share his coffee experiences in the US and Europe to Filipinos, many of whom are coffee lovers.
Thus, on June 28, 1996, Bo’s Coffee opened its first branch in Ayala Center Cebu. However, they still had to deal with a very challenging question:
How do you convince people to buy specialty coffee when they’d rather make it themselves?
Branch #1 is a kiosk in Ayala Center Cebu. Now it's only one of four in that mall.
"Coffee was not a lifestyle yet, it was just a product. There were not a lot of coffee shops, and there were no foreign brands in the market," said Steve Benitez, Founder and CEO of Bo's Coffee. Filipinos, at that time, couldn't understand why they'd have to pay so much for a cup of coffee, and that was the mold Bo’s Coffee had to break.
Given the market situation of the industry in 1996, the public perception of Bo’s Coffee hadn’t been very encouraging.
“The first Bo’s Coffee in Cebu was just a kiosk with six tables—a very, very small operation.” Benitez recalls. "Back then, people saw coffee as just a product that they can get for free in their homes, and they get it so cheaply at restaurants. So when we priced our coffee at specialty coffee prices, it [met] some resistance.”
He continues, “For the first three months it was really discouraging. If it was purely treated by me as a business, I think I would have folded that up. But it was really more of a passion, because the coffee experience at Bo’s Coffee isn’t just about the just-roasted freshness of our various brews, it was also about the experience of enjoying quality coffee with the people you love.”
After facing initial setbacks, Benitez’s commitment to providing world-class coffee experience for the Filipino community enabled the company to grow and flourish, and eventually, the community grew to love the brand.
The Bo’s Difference
Upon seeing the brand name, many ask: who in the world is Bo?
“I studied the coffee business for two years before starting the company,” Benitez narrates. “In one of the exhibitions I attended in New Orleans, there was a booth by an expert coffee roaster: an American-Italian named Bo. I visited a lot of roasters, but he made an impact on me because he was very, very serious about his coffee. I remember him telling me that he didn’t want to become so big because he wanted to ensure quality. When it was time to put a name into the coffee shop, I felt that he was one of those who influenced me greatly. He stood for quality and passion—that’s why I named it Bo’s Coffee.”
The coffee shop’s tag line, “Just Roasted,” is a testament to Bo’s legacy. Benitez explains, “A big factor in maintaining the quality of coffee is really the freshness of your beans. To guarantee the peak level of freshness in the cup that you sip, we make sure that the beans are served soon after roasting. You can have a really good coffee bean, but if it’s been sitting on your counter for over three months, it’s far inferior than freshly-roasted coffee even if it’s not yet expired.” While it’s true that coffee beans expire around six months after roasting, Bo’s Coffee serves coffee within a month after the roasting date.
Founder and CEO, Steve Benitez, receives the MVP Bossing award
Bo’s Coffee accomplishes just-roasted freshness by primarily sourcing its coffee from Batangas, Cavite and the Cordilleras, thus eliminating the time it takes to import beans from abroad. Bo’s Coffee also makes sure that it orders beans only as needed so that stocks are kept fresh. To make this possible, its logistics and sourcing team carefully forecast monitor stock levels in its warehouse and in the stores.
The same goes with the food served at Bo’s. “Aside from coffee, our passion has extended to our food line. We have established our commissary both in Manila and in Cebu,” says Benitez. Having its own commissary has allowed the company greater control over quality and product innovation.
But the coffee shop experience doesn’t end with food and beverage—the store’s ambiance is part of the enjoyment as well. The homey interiors of Bo’s Coffee stores combine homegrown and world-class in Western influences mingled with Filipino art, including lamps designed by the internationally-acclaimed Filipino designer, Kenneth Cobonpue. The result is a great coffee shop experience for you and your loved ones to enjoy.
Bo’s Coffee Today
On its 16th year, the six-table kiosk that had been Bo’s Coffee in 1996 now has 58 stores nationwide. It is also considered as one of the premier local specialty coffee brands in the country. This homegrown company looks forward to expanding in the local and foreign markets, maintaining quality and passion as it grows.
“We’re definitely excited about our plans for expansion, and I’m proud of what we have achieved in the past years,” Benitez says. “I’d also like to thank the Bo’s Coffee community for being a part of the company’s growth.”
Blueberry Cheescake from Bo's Coffee
Today, one can only marvel at how much Bo’s Coffee has evolved over the years. Not only does it allow Filipinos to enjoy the rich, flavorful coffee hailing from local plantations, it also offers a soothing environment for customers to enjoy their drinks in the company of the people they hold dear.
Bo’s Coffee is a proudly homegrown specialty coffee brand. Since 1996, it has grown to include 58 outlets strategically located in Metro Manila, Tagaytay, Laguna, Cebu, Bacolod, Iloilo, Bohol, Dumaguete, Calbayog, Tacloban, Cagayan de Oro, Davao, Cotabato and Zamboanga.