The UP restaurant was about more than just the food
THE Chocolate Kiss Café, a restaurant just as beloved and as respected as any other institution in the UP Diliman campus, is closing — another casualty of the pandemic. The announcement was made via its website earlier this week.
“The Chocolate Kiss Café, our family’s 23-year-old restaurant at the second floor of the Ang Bahay ng Alumni Building in the UP Diliman Campus, will remain permanently closed even after the community quarantine,” said Ina Flores Pahati, owner, and daughter of Chocolate Kiss Café co-founder Maline Flores in the statement.
“We didn’t know our lives would be changed when my family opened The Chocolate Kiss Café. I was a grade-schooler then, and the year was 1997. From going home directly after school (or work, for my elder sister), our family suddenly had this point of convergence, an unplanned extension of our home,” the statement continued. “My mom and aunt, founders of the Café and both UP alumni, decided to take the leap with their home-based cake business with the humble intention of giving the UP community a new dining experience, and an alternative to college canteens.”
For a long time, it was the nicest restaurant around. It was inevitable that many people in the community would attach memories to it, usually ones that were more special than the mundanity of readings and coffee.
“I remember going there around first year or second year college,” reminisced Patricia Carranza, a lecturer at the UP College of Music, and a blogger through her own channel, Mama, At Iba Pa. “It was the first posh restaurant in TBA (Bahay ng Alumni), being there before ROC and Art Circle Cafe. I usually have my lunch and merienda in Area 2 and college canteens because that’s what my budget usually allowed. Stepping in Choc Kiss or other restos in Katipunan or SM North meant I had saved enough money from my baon (allowance), scholarship, or teaching sideline.”
“It is usually a first stop for me when I meet friends, or when I happen to be somewhere on campus for meetings. For breakfast, for lunch, or for coffee and cakes, it was always Choco Kiss,” said Ivy Lisa Mendoza, a senior lecturer at the UP College of Mass Communication, and managing director of PR firm Mediasense.
Both reminisced about their favorite dishes at the restaurant (this reporter remembers the ribs). “I am a creature of habit so I only order three things — the thick and creamy mushroom soup for starters, the savory Kalbi Chim for main course, and my beloved Dayap Cake for dessert,” said Ms. Mendoza. “These I order as in ALL THE TIME (emphasis hers).”
“I love their Devil’s Food Cake, not because of the taste per se,” remembered Ms. Carranza. “I like dissecting the cake. Eating the cake part, the white icing part, the middle chocolate cream part, and then all at once. It lets me stay longer than usual in the restaurant nang hindi nagiguilty (without feeling guilty), because I still have food. Eating through the layers makes my stay longer. I can space out in a public space longer.”
Ms. Carranza noted that Chocolate Kiss was one of the few places in the UP campus where one would dress up. At the College of Music, as a student, she would have to dress up for performance examinations, and she and her friends would treat themselves to a meal at the cafe after performances, still dressed up in their examination clothes. The farewell statement of Ms. Pahati noted this, saying, “It always amused us how a couple all tidied-up for a date would be in the same dining room as folks (who just lived around the corner) dressed in their pambahay and tsinelas (house clothes and slippers). People felt comfortable to come as they were, and we loved how it was that way. We will miss how on some hours, the Café can be quiet and feel like a respite; then on other occasions, someone can suddenly sit at the piano and serenade everyone in the room, or members of the UP Singing Ambassadors will just break into a song.”
“It was a place where we enjoyed not only the food but just being merely there. It was a place where you saw people of all sorts, from the so-called intellectual superstars to the UP Maroons basketball players, from your former teachers and classmates to your own students. It was a place where everybody seemed to know everyone, even the servers knew the regulars,” said Ms. Mendoza. “The day after my wedding — which was held at UP Chapel — I dragged my newly minted husband to a rally at the administration building, and then to a good lunch at Choco Kiss. I wanted to show him too how exciting life on the Diliman campus could be!”
It’s interesting to note that the favorite memories of the cafe of the two faculty members we interviewed had something to do with scholars, perhaps owing to the fact that it was one of the few buttoned-up places within the university’s radius. “My favorite memory of it was when we had a lunch meeting with our scholarship benefactor, UP Music Ed alumna Olivia Reyes-Rocha,” said Ms. Carranza in a mixture of Tagalog and English. “I belong to the last batch of students who had a tuition of P300 per unit. My parents could afford it, but I had two younger siblings who were still in school. The scholarship helped cover other costs.”
“It is where we first met our (meaning I and my college barkada Purisans) scholar Gerald Roxas, a UP Tacloban transferee who was affected by Yolanda and who had to relocate to Diliman to be able to continue his studies. We gave him a first glimpse of Diliman life and treated him to Choco Kiss treats,” said Ms. Mendoza. “When he finally graduated, and to show his gratitude to us who sent him to school, Gerald then treated us to lunch — in Choco Kiss of course,” she said with a smile.
Due to the gentrification of nearby Maginhawa St. in Teachers Village and Katipunan Ave., one can simply shrug off the closure of Chocolate Kiss (it had a second branch in the Ayala-operated UP Town Center), because there are now restaurants of the same, if not a higher caliber as Chocolate Kiss. Asked about what UP loses in Chocolate Kiss’ closing — well, it turns out it isn’t just a restaurant after all. “Hindi masakit sa bulsa ng undergrad (it doesn’t hurt an undergrad’s pockets),” said Ms. Carranza. “The scholars who now have great jobs and have achieved something might feel happy whenever they go back there.
“Now that I’m a bit okay financially, whenever me and my husband would bring my family — parents, children — to UP, one of the places we go to is Choc Kiss: for implicitly sharing our identity through food, in the midst of momentary comfort within the university.”
“Chocolate Kiss was UP’s own, it was UP’s best kept secret, so losing it grates. In fact, when it opened a branch in UP Town Center, many people did not warm up to the idea, because that would mean sharing that secret to people outside the campus. Really, it was a UP thing much like the Oblation or the Carillon,” said Ms. Mendoza.
The Chocolate Kiss, now only a memory, will share its fate with other beloved UP institutions: CASAA, the Faculty Center, and the UP Shopping Center (all three lost to fires). “Every time this happens, a part of your UP memories goes with them too. I guess it will be the same with Choco Kiss closing down,” said Ms. Mendoza.
Though the restaurant will be permanently closed effective Aug. 24, customers may continue to order The Chocolate Kiss cakes and pastries from its Fairview, Quezon City Commissary through www.thechocolatekiss.com. — Joseph L. Garcia