ON THE night of the feast of St. Dominic, a small, cozy café tucked in the corner of the Santo Domingo Parish and convent complex in Quezon Avenue went abuzz with customers.
UST alumnus and ex-seminarian Vic Alcuaz expected only 60 people during the soft opening of the St. Dominic-inspired Café Inggo. But to his whole kitchen and café staff’s surprise, more than 150 people came to visit after the Aug. 8 Mass in honor of the founder of the Order of Preachers.
Alcuaz named his café after the Dominican band “Inggo 1587.” Fr. Jomar Sibug O.P., an original member of the band, asked him to open a café inside the parish compound.
Alcuaz, who is friends with many Dominican friars, said St. Dominic’s charism inspired the interiors and the motifs of the café.
“I thought of this concept. And I want it aligned to the church. The interiors will have to be Dominican,” Alcuaz told the Varsitarian.
Café Inggo’s curtains are black and white, the Dominican colors, and are drawn to the side. A huge portrait of St. Dominic hangs on the wall.
Artist Alex Uy’s illustrations of Dominican churches in Albay and Cagayan are on display.
A porcelain bust of St. Dominic given by the treasurer of the Dominican Order in the Philippines, Fr. Boyd Sulpico, O.P., to Alcuaz is installed behind the counter of the café.
Operating 24/7, the café plays Gregorian chants sang by the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos from four till six in the morning, for the Dominicans who will be sipping their early-morning coffee.
“When people come here, I would like to tell them a story that is related to the Dominicans,” Alcuaz said.
With Royce Hotel and Casino manager Mabel Martinez as chef, Café Inggo serves a variety of Spanish and Filipino dishes.
“I’d like our food to be Spanish-Filipino. This is all Spanish-Filipino. chicken valentino, humba, Ilocos bagnet. The only thing we don’t have yet is the bibingka and puto bumbong.”
Convenient stores wanted the spot, but the parish cannot allow the selling of products such as magazines, condoms and cigarettes.
The soft opening of Café Inggo was flocked by Dominican friars including the prior provincial of the Philippine Dominican province, Fr. Napoleon Sipalay, O.P., worshippers and as well as the UST Singers.
All his life, Alcuaz had taken detours. He was a seminarian at the Santo Domingo Convent, but left religious life after his father died.
“I left the convent in 1972. I was a novice at Santo Domingo. I did not finish because my dad died a year before that and I thought my mom needed some help. I wanted to help the family, and I studied in UST during the evening,” he said.
Alcuaz took communication arts in the University; on evenings, he attended the late “love poet” Ophelia Dimalanta’s literature classes while he worked part time as production assistant for ABS-CBN.
Alcuaz, however, did not finish college as there were bigger job opportunities waiting for him. He left school on his third year in college when Philippine Airlines (PAL) offered him a job as a steward.
In 2011, De La Salle-College of St. Benilde granted Alcuaz a diploma in hotel and restaurant institution management.
A good mix of hospitality, TV and concert prods
PAL was the start of Alcuaz’s hospitality and management career. At 21 years old, he was assigned to international flights.
“For three years, I was flying international. All around to the United States, to Europe, to the Middle East, to Asia, to Australia. I was seeing the world, it was an enjoyable job,” Alcuaz said.
Alcuaz became a trainer of PAL stewards until his resignation in 1984.
“I was waiting for the next opportunity in my life, I was about 30 years old. And when I was looking at the newspaper, job hunting, Hyatt Regency Manila Hotel was looking for a training manager in 1985,” Alcuaz said.
For Alcuaz, hotels were “just like airplanes,” except they had rooms. He eventually became director for human resources in Hyatt Regency Manila Hotel.
He was also director for human resources when Shangri-La Manila was being established in the 1990s.
“The general manager [of Shangri-La] said that they wanted me to establish the service culture in all the Shangri-Las in the Philippines. We opened Shangri-La in 1992, and they sent me all over the world to take a look at the cultures of Shangri-La. I enjoyed it, it was a wonderful to be part of great hotel chain.” Alcuaz said.
The culture of hospitality and faithfulness to St. Dominic led to the establishment of Café Inggo, he said.
“As a hotel consultant, teaching people how to run their restaurants and hotels, I earned enough money to make me happy and comfortable. But I never thought that one day I’d be opening my own café,” Alcuaz said.