LICENSE TO PARTY
Craft Café’s Christian Buhisan on what it takes to turn a bar into party central
“Whatever you think you want to do, just do it. And if you think there’ll be challenges, there’ll always be ways around them. You just have to work a bit harder.”
Ask a group of twenty-somethings where the best place in Cebu is to get your party on, and at least one is bound to mention Craft Café in Banilad Town Center. By day, it’s a great place to enjoy coffee and free WiFi, but at night, the art comes off the walls and the party starts. And at the center of it all is co-founder Christian Buhisan.
It isn’t uncommon to find the selfconfessed extrovert circulating among his patrons. In fact, it’s a rare night that he doesn’t find himself chatting up at least a few of the people in this seen-and-be-seen hotspot. “I actually say hi to them almost every day,” Christian says. “‘Hey, how are you guys doing? Are you having a good time? Do you need anything?’”
Fortunately, entertaining people is something Christian’s had a lot of practice in. “When my parents would have guests in the house, I would be there entertaining them, talking to them.”
More difficult for him is the work behind the scenes. “It was challenging [to learn] how to balance everything. I’d be talking here for accounting, then someone would be like ‘Sir,
naa’y problema dinhi sa inventory,’ and I’d go ‘Okay, wait, I’ll be there.’ I really had to learn how to say, ‘ Wait, I’m going to finish this, then I’ll do this then do that.’”
Although there was a bit of a learning curve, not all things about managing a bar were new to Christian as Craft isn’t his first venture of this nature. He and a group of schoolmates had opened the now-defunct Barcode right after graduating from university—something he now describes as “a college project.” Through Barcode, he met and became friends with his co-founder, Alchology and PUMP club owner Elton Tio. A shared love of good company and good alcohol ensured that when Christian proposed the idea to partner up and open a new bar, Elton immediately agreed.
Craft Café opened in 2015 in a shared space with My Greek Taverna. “Since we had to match [the bar] with the Greek food and since we were at the [Banilad Town Center] mall, we had to somehow make it alive during the day and not only ‘night-genic.’ So we were like, okay, let’s make it a café during the day and more of a chill bar at night.”
The party didn’t come to Craft until a few months after they had opened, though, with a little help from Christian’s friends and key influencers from Cebu’s party scene, whom they invited to come, try their booze, and chill out. “For how many months, we played without DJs. We’d just plug in a cell phone and play music. My friends would be playing party music, and they’d invite friends, and those friends would invite friends, and it just became a huge party. And now it’s a party place. You can’t imagine how such a small place can have, on a Friday or Saturday, 200 to 300 people inside and another 200 outside.”
He also credits their selection of single
malt whiskeys and craft beers as the major draw for many of their loyal customers. “It’s interesting because we had zero knowledge about craft beers,” he admits. “Then Cebruery came and explained everything to us, even how to make it.”
Although they now offer beer from other breweries, Cebruery beers are still some of Craft’s most popular offerings. “The topselling beer would be the Boracay Blonde. It has a catchy name, [and] it’s light. Everybody tries one different beer, and then they get that beer.” Christian’s own favorite is a bit of an acquired taste, made from green mangoes. “The Guimaras Gose—the sour beer!”
Still, it’s clear he has tried everything Craft offers to its patrons. He is, in some ways, his own bar’s ideal customer—and that’s part of why it’s been such a success. “I don’t see it from a business perspective. I see it as if I were the customer. Like, what do I want? Where would I want to go? How do I make sure that what I want to drink is the same as a customer’s? The customer is still always right, so [the ultimate question always is] what does the customer want?”
This question still drives Christian, who is working on new concepts that he hopes will change the night scene in Cebu. “We have a couple of projects upcoming, definitely one at the end of this year, and another one next year.” He isn’t ready to share too many details about them, except that one of the concepts would be of a place where people will be encouraged to dress to impress. “It’ll be interesting,” he says. “It’ll be a challenge, something new.”
Of course, Christian is used to taking challenges head on. “Whatever you think you want to do, just do it. And if you think there’ll be challenges, there’ll always be ways around them. You just have to work a bit harder.”
DUM IAM INTIQUAM O CATUUSUM
PRARTERUM SENA, QUI PRAVERUM MORI TA NORENA, MIS IN VIGNOVERE ESCIT POTE NUM ESILNER FECTERFICAE CO UT
VIDEM, NON TEMUR.
CHRISTIAN BUHISAN’S SELF-CONFESSED BEING AN EXTROVERT WORKS
TO HIS ADVANTAGE