Craft Café’s Chris­tian Buhisan on what it takes to turn a bar into party cen­tral

Cebu Living - - Profile - By LIANA SMITH BAUTISTA Im­ages by NAPOLEON BOJOS, JR.

“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.”






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