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From the Ground Up: AJ Cabarles Uplifts Local Farmers Through Entrepreneurship

AJ Cabarles. Photo by JL Javier

The CEO and founder of Kaulayaw Coffee takes a more grounded approach to business and community development

Hidden beneath her left forearm lies an inscription that has been tattooed in traditional baybayin script. It reads as kaulayaw, which in the words of its holder, “is a deep Filipino word that means a pleasant or intimate companion,” says AJ Cabarles, founder of Kaulayaw Coffee. “It’s like kasama, kaibigan, and everytime you take a sip of our coffee we want you to feel that someone is with you. In a way, we want our coffee to be your kaulayaw,” she adds. From its inception, the values that AJ had instilled into her business was one of companionship, giving back, and at its center, love. 

The idea behind Kaulayaw Coffee was born alongside AJ’s partner, Chef Ally Niño, who both conceptualized the coffee space during the pandemic while capitalizing on AJ’s love for coffee. Initially, the concept was only digital, with sales being made online through Facebook marketplace, and was mostly offered toward friends and family. Eventually, they branched out toward the creation of physical stores after the number of orders exceeded a thousand per day, spanning different locations across Manila. 

Photo by JL Javier

Despite this rapid expansion, AJ encountered a number of challenges as she built the foundation for her coffee business. As an entrepreneur, she had encountered challenges stemming from unequal opportunities and perceptions by coffee enthusiasts. “I have experienced skepticism from certain individuals in the industry because I’m a new player, but these challenges are what pushed me to take formal training and a [newfound] determination to prove myself,” AJ mentions. 

Apart from a shared passion for coffee, Kaulayaw was also established in order to give back to the local community. “I just started with helping farmers. A friend approached me asking if I would be willing to help local farmers sell their coffee.” 

In an effort to uplift the agricultural scene, Kaulayaw has made it a point to fully source its ingredients both locally and ethically, with a majority of its beans grown in different locations in the Philippines, which includes farms in Davao del Sur, Gen San, Bukidnon, Batangas, and the Mountain Province respectively. This mission is what grounds Kaulayaw and its operations, and is driven by a passion to bring up the local community of farmers as well. Through Kaulayaw Coffee, alongside her other businesses (Uhaw Bar & Lounge in Antipolo, AJ Coffee & Bed in Coron, and Euphoria Events Management), AJ hopes to pay it forward not only as an entrepreneur, but as a champion for community development.

“Inspiring every hopeful dreamer through my life journey, that is my legacy,” says AJ. 

Photo by JL Javier

Visit Kaulayaw Coffee’s branches across the country, including its flagship store in Antipolo, Estancia, BGC, Coron, and a branch in Tanay that is being relocated toward a better location.

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