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Mostra: More Than Specialty Coffee How the Vision of Four Friends is Changing Lives

What happens when an opera singer, an actress, a culinary expert and a former Army Infantry Officer have a shared vision? The open a coffee shop. Not just any coffee shop, a specialty coffee shop sustaining farmers in the Philippines that just happened to be named 2020 Micro-Roaster of the Year! Meet Beverly, Jelynn, Mike and Sam.

The driving passion and inspiration shared by all is their Filipino cultural heritage and their desire to give back to the community one cup at a time. Together they founded Mostra Coffee in 2013 but the vision was years in the making. Jelynn Malone, Beverly Magtanong, and Sam Magtanong have been friends since elementary school and while each pursued varying passions, it was a trip to the Philippines in 2010 that ignited the fire to do more for the country.

You may be surprised to learn coffee was not their first choice. In fact, they didn’t even drink coffee when they started. But when they found out that in the early 1900s, the Philippines was the fourth largest producer of coffee in the world, and learned how it has since fallen off the map, they went on the search for the best beans and educated themselves along the way. In their store, they roast coffee from all over the world but their Philippine coffee brand is the most popular and they incorporate it into all of their espresso drinks. Today, they all are coffee drinkers, so Risen sat down with them, of course while sipping their signature Bibingka Crème Brulee lattes and Campfire lattes, to hear more about their inspirational story.

Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine in San Diego, California

Risen Magazine: This company was born more out of the need to want to help others than it was the desire to open a coffee house, yet now you’re accomplishing both. Share how Mostra started and how it’s developed into the company it is today.

Beverly Magtanong: Backin 2010 we were doing a lot of work in the Filipino community here [San Diego]. We were fortunate to be able to take a trip together back to the Philippines. Before that I hadn’t been to the Philippines since 1986, so this was my first time back since I was four years old. We were going there with a group of people and we were learning a lot about social enterprise and social entrepreneurship. We were brought to the slums in the Philippines and then we were also going to the countryside. We were able to see a lot of the beautiful parts, and a lot of the resources that the Philippines has to offer. We came away from that trip wondering what can we do to help sustain the lives of the people over there. At the time, Jelynn was still in Hollywood, I had a voice studio, and Sam was working in the healthcare sector. We had an opportunity at his health care facility because they needed a café inside of their building. So we started a pastry company –

Jelynn Malone: We don’t bake though. Our friend bakes.

BM: Yeah so we had commissioned her to be our pastry chef and then we wanted to do coffee out of this café because there’s doctors, nurses, family members and that’s their lifeline in those kinds of situations. But we didn’t just want to buy a Keurig. So, this is how Mike came on board who is our other business partner. He was posting all this coffee stuff on his social media, like his espresso machine, different brewing methods —

JM: We literally didn’t drink coffee. Or know anything about coffee.

BM: We were like Frappuccino girls. You know, it was like cream with a little bit of coffee [laughter] We call him up and say, “Hey, we’re trying to do this thing, but it looks like you know a lot about coffee. Can you consult with us or just show us around?” And Mike said, “Sure, let’s go to a few different roasteries.” I was like, “Oh we have those in San Diego?!”

We decided we were going to be a roastery and build a world class brand here in the United States sourcing Arabica Coffee from the Philippines. We’ll increase the demand and be able to sustain the lives of the coffee farmers.

JM: Then he talked about specialty coffee and we were like, what’s that?

BM: We didn’t know anything! He brings us to a few different places, where we had a double shot of espresso, plain espresso, a pour-over coffee, cold brew, he was like, “Just try these.” We thought, “No that’s okay” because our frame of reference was only black super bitter coffee. But we did the tasting and we were weirded out by it. It was a different experience. We actually tasted lemon, we tasted nut, chocolate, tea-like types of flavors. We said, “What is this?” Mike said, “This is what happens when coffee is sourced really well and brewed really well.”

From there we started doing a lot more research on coffee and we always knew that the Philippines had coffee, but then we found out that Arabica Coffee is actually grown there too; in the highland mountains. Arabica is the higher quality of coffee. We knew that was the perfect fit so we scratched the café idea. We decided we were going to be a roastery and build a world class brand here in the United States sourcing Arabica Coffee from the Philippines. We’ll increase the demand and be able to sustain the lives of the coffee farmers. Keep in mind this was this big vision that Jelynn and I had. Again, we didn’t do coffee and we didn’t know anybody that knew Arabica coffee farmers.

Sam Magtanong: So in 2013, my wife comes to me and she says, “Sam we’re going to open up a business.” I said to her, “Bev you don’t know anything about business, you’re an opera singer.” She said,“Well Jelynn and I are going to start a business.” I added, “Jelynn’s an actor in Hollywood what does she know about business?” She says, “No that’s what we’re going to do and we’re going to open up a coffee roasting business.” I said, “Bev, you don’t even drink coffee. What do you mean we’re going to roast coffee? What’s this all about?” When she explained the vision of being able to…

BM: I sold him.

SM: …eradicate poverty via a group of farmers that have been excluded from the economic table and coffee and specialty coffee. When we started doing research about specialty coffee, coffee in general as a commodity, it’s the most value commodity outside of oil, it’s the most consumed commodity outside of water. So globally coffee is in demand, and it just makes a lot of sense. When you look at the coffee belt, coffee producing countries, you have some of these farmers that are protected by their governments and by the industry and they’re able to flourish, except for the farmers in the Philippines.

We did a little bit of a history and start of the 20th century, early 1900, the Philippines was the fourth largest producer or coffee in the world. Yet it’s fallen off the map. Now it’s like 125 in terms of output, it’s not even on the map and yet the Philippines is conducive for farming and for coffee farming – it’s got the climate, it’s got the soil, it’s got the elevation, it’s got the farming culture.

RM: And of course the Philippines is important to you because you share a common culture and history.

SM: For me, it was a question of identity. I was born in the Philippines, I came here when I was four. My mother is the daughter of a rice farmer, I’m the grandson of a rice farmer in Mindanao and I leave behind 57 first cousins. How did I get here? Why was I given opportunity? What separates me from them? I think those were the big questions growing up. There was nothing that separates us except for the opportunity that God gave us. So this was a way for us to connect the past, present and future and reclaim our history through a simple coffee bean. So we took out all of our savings, all of the money that we had collectively, we bought our first one pound profile roaster, our first four bags of beans and we started roasting in our garage in the summer of 2013.

How did I get here? Why was I given opportunity? What separates me from them? I think those were the big questions growing up. There was nothing that separates us except for the opportunity that God gave us. So this was a way for us to connect the past, present and future and reclaim our history through a simple coffee bean.

RM: How did you go from the roasting idea to opening up a storefront?

JM: After leaving our garage, we went into a roasting warehouse, where we started getting knocks at our door. We were just roasting and doing production there but people just kept knocking on our door asking, “Hey do you guys sell coffee?” We’d say, “We’re sorry this is a roasting facility we don’t serve coffee.” Until one day we were like maybe we should just open up here. In business, one of the biggest rules is location. Where we were was a dead business area, no action or energy, no foot traffic or anything. But we thought, they keep showing up so we should just open the door. So, we opened the doors and started off just one day a week.

SM: On a Wednesday.

JM: A random day. We did it when it was convenient to us because we had kids and schedules. We opened from 9:00am to 2:00pm. It’s like after the peak hour for a coffee but whatever. [Laughter] We said, if you want to come by you can come by and it slowly started. One person in one day. Then three people, and it was really word of mouth. From one day a week it turned to two days a week. I’m not even kidding, I’m going to say maybe like six months later it was a really popular place. It would be like 8:30am and we were slowly stumbling in…

SM: And there’s a line already.

JM: The line is out on the sidewalk waiting for nine o’clock, in a business park. We had lines out the door for those five hours and at two o’clock we would flip the sign, but then people would still come in and we’re like, okay let’s keep serving the coffee. But it was huge. Bev, Sam and I thought, I guess the demand is there, now it’s time to find a shop.

SM: With the demand, we started off with a home espresso machine. It would literally take minutes to heat the milk. Then our business partner Mike had the same one so we said, “Great let’s both bring of our home machines in, at least have the same kind.” I think that was three and a half years of doing that.

JM: Then we had to think about hiring people. I’m one of five girls in my family. My dad just retired and we needed help. He worked the bar and he was so famous, inside jokes with everyone, I mean he’s Filipino. Everyone calls him Uncle Rod. Even now. Our whole staff calls him Uncle Rod and he still works for us, it’s been about five years. Then we’ve got two of my sisters, my cousin, and my mom would run errands for us every Saturday morning – random things we needed like ice, cups, whatever we needed, she would just be running around. My husband too, I mean it was all hands on deck.

SM: So we’ve been here for three and a half years and it was really special because it was family and it was an extension of our home. I think we just made everybody feel welcome. For five hours we got a chance to interact directly with the community and tell our story and hear their story. It was a special time for us.

RM: Share your approach to onboarding employees, it’s not your traditional interview process so to speak.

SM: Usually jobs at coffee companies are transitional jobs. They are minimum wage, you see the “help wanted” sign, you come in, do a real quick interview, and get the job. That’s not how we view the process. For us culture is the most important thing, we have set of values and a very specific vision and a mission of what this is all about. We are guided by those values and the mission that started this company and that’s the lens to how we screen our employees. That being said, coffee drinking and coffee experience is not a prerequisite, it’s not mandatory. We are owners who started with no coffee experience. What’s more important for us is a certain culture and a certain outlook, a certain perspective that someone has.

The interview process is more rigorous and it’s designed to bring out intention and to maybe force somebody to think about their role, what they want to do, and how they want to accomplish it through coffee. It’s a multi-step interview process. Interviewees go through a series of interviews with the staff, and our questions are really designed to spark conversation and connection. I have the final interview and want to know if they display the values that are in alignment with our company.

JM: We take Mostra very seriously in the sense that we want to provide careers for people in the Philippines but we even want our own employees to have life long careers within coffee. For example, we formed a partnership with Palomar College where we have an internship program and we can create more educational programs within the coffee industry so people are passionate about coffee that doesn’t just stop at being a barista, you can be more. It’s actually a sustainable job with so many career options. We are looking for roaster family members that eventually want to continue to grow with the company. We can invest in their futures too.

RM: Are you all coffee drinkers now?

JM: Oh yeah, now it’s like every day, somebody go to Mostra and get me some coffee.

BM: Totally now we’re like, where’s my coffee?!

RM: Lastly, can you share, coming from your perspective of having this huge vision, that you felt very strongly about, yet ill equipped initially, but still having the bravery to step into it and the faith to take each day as it came.

BM: I think literally that vision and the fire for us to pursue this, was from God. I know it sounds crazy. If I look back, I’m with my mother asking her for $10,000 to buy a coffee roasting machine, it sounds crazy. My mom is a voice teacher, and she said that I have a voice background but she could tell how passionate I was about this, and there was just nothing going to stop us. She gave us that money. For me, I knew the time that I found out that the Philippines had Arabica Coffee that this vision was going to work. I think you just kind of have to put on your blinders and not forget about the naysayers, but when you have that mission, and that vision, and you can see it from start to end, you just know in your heart it’s going to work. We had seeds of opportunities the entire way. We’d be like, okay that’s a sign, that’s a sign, let’s just go after it. If all of us thought it absolutely feels right then we’d roll with it.

SM: Part of our mission or vision states we want to strive to be the reason why people see the goodness in humanity. My point is, putting out good intentions, or putting our story out there has good intentions, and we couldn’t have done this without the support of the community. It’s really a tribe. Jelynn describes her entire family helping out, some were volunteers at one point, now they’re all employed by us. Our families have all supported us. As a husband and wife, Bev and I, support each other. All of our spouses support us. Then this entire community has really come out and they didn’t have to.

So why did they come out? What did they see? Or how did they identify with this story and with us that a lot of them go out of their way to support us? I think it’s people want to do good and people want to be inspired to do good. We’ve always just tried to have that platform or be the reason why people see the goodness. When I hire for staff I share with them that I want them to be able to connect with the customer. Why are they going to buy from them? What can you offer beyond the transaction? I think if we can get that right, where we’re exuding a certain amount of goodness that inspires others to do good, then we’ve got a chance at the business.

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