THE STORE sits unassuming along busy Gorordo Avenue in Barangay Lahug.
A sign says “Presents and Such Tearoom and Café” and the glass window gives curious onlookers a sneak preview of the pretty trinkets
displayed inside the store.
I knocked on the door and a warm, homey voice ushered me in.
“You’re here! Come in! Come in!” said Louella “Loy” Alix, author of “Hikay: The Culinary Heritage of Cebu,” which presents the peculiarities and origins of Cebu’s timeless dishes and delicacies.
Providentially, she also co-owns Presents and Such, a gift shop opened in the early 2000s and has since contributed to the friendly neighborhood feel of Gorordo even when hotels and condominiums sprouted like eager mushrooms in that part of Cebu City.
Her husband and co-owner Rudy appeared from a door leading to their living room, offered me a hug and said, “Welcome back to Cebu!”
The mission that afternoon was clear and simple: Check out Presents and Such Tearoom and Café.
The gift shop, that has been operating for close to two decades by a couple who loves to cook and eat, has finally opened a cafe!
“Loyal patrons from different parts of the Philippines would often ask Mira (storekeeper) where they can sit down, relax and have a bite to eat. Finally… here we are,”
Tita Loy waved her hand and then, as if she just remembered a pressing issue to discuss with me, asked: “So… are you going to have tea?”
Commonly referred to by the younger crowd as Tita Loy and Tito Rudy, the Alix couple is everybody’s favorite aunt and uncle or better yet…everyone’s dream parents.
The couple are prime movers of the Movement for a Livable Cebu (MLC), a SEC-registered and non-governmental organization composed of volunteers who want to make Cebu a sustainable and livable community.
But before MLC, there was Presents and Such.
And there were Tita Loy and Tito Rudy whose doors were always open to people.
I was one of those “basang sisiw” who, once upon a time, found comfort in the colorful and intelligent stories of Tito Rudy while munching on the filling ensaymada and hot sikwate of Tita Loy.
They are nurturing, loving and caring.
Tita Loy is an English major who writes books and collects pretty things. Tito Rudy is a retired engineer and an artist who sculpts and draws.
Presents and Such is a store the Alix couple started in 1998 in their home in Salinas Drive with their daughters Patricia and Maia as first employees.
Later, they transferred to their current location along Gorordo Avenue, gave up a lot of household stuff to live simply, and employed less than 10 people for their store.
The atmosphere in Presents and Such Tearoom and Café is one of class and daintiness.
The café’s ambiance exudes warmth and kindness.
Inside, it is easy to decide to drop your bags and order tea paired with apple pie (or make it à la mode to pack in the happy hormones).
The menu is not extensive.
Mainstays are empanada, apple pie, chicken pie, and sandwiches. There will always be brewed coffee, tea and juice. If you want pasta, they can cook up Spanish sardines and puttanesca.
Tita Loy’s idea is this: You sit down and order whatever is in the menu of the day. If you are lucky, you can ask Mira (or whoever is entertaining you that day) if there are off-menu specials they can prepare for you.
Tita Loy’s training as a home cook started in the kitchen of her grandmother Leonila Abao in the northern Cebu town of Tuburan. Her lola was a Home Economics teacher who taught her the importance of using the right amount of the freshest ingredients.
Tita Loy knows how to cook.
But beyond that, she loves to cook.
When I asked why she keeps herself busy in the kitchen, she said: “Cooking is not work for me. I am most alive when I am cooking. I laugh and I tell stories when I cook.”
The café sits less than 10 people at one time but it is this tight-knit space that reminds you of personal relationships to cherish; of conversations to continue over well-prepared merienda; of the need to just pause and think about nothing as the world outside Present and Such Tearoom and Café window goes frantic.
There is a shelf of books that Tita Loy has made available for the reading diners because as they said “some things are best enjoyed in the company of books.”
That part of Gorordo Avenue—from Casilda Bakeshop down to UP Cebu—is turning into a real estate haven especially now that Handuraw Pizza is closing shop. Presents and Such Cafe Tearoom and Café may just be the remaining venue in that area when one wants to just sit down and talk with your silingan (neighbor).
Tita Loy says she plans to hold poetry reading sessions in the café later on.
Sounds like a new hangout place, doesn’t it?