June 27, 2023 – Redge
Deuces Coffee’s Richelle Labrusca on opening impulsively, calculated brews and going all-in with her sister, Julie and partner, Hanna.
Richelle Labrusca’s Deuces Coffee started out supplying coffee beans to cafes. That gamble lost when dealt a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic hand. It also left her with a weighty problem— in the form of a ton of green beans. Her sister, Julie Terrei recalls advising her sister.
“Rather than letting the beans go to waste, and us lazing around all day watching TV and eating at home, Richelle, Hanna (Richelle’s partner), and I decided to do something.”
Richelle being obsessed with coffee fueled their experiments. Three different types of natural sugar combined with coffee and tea, brought out a taste akin to milk tea, but with pronounced coffee notes. The trio had created their signature “Brown Sugar Latte.” Quickly preparing ten 260ml PET bottles with this brew, they sent these with a custom, “This coffee is for you,” label to a friend for her birthday.
It was a winning formula.
“The next week our friend called us saying she wanted twenty!” Says Julie excitedly, “We asked ‘are you sure? It was that good?!’ She said yes, and that she would pay for them!”
Word would spread, and so would their coffee. More importantly, the community’s response would also encourage Richelle to take a shot at her own coffee shop.
Richelle’s biggest fan, Julie, remembers the moment in 2021 when the well-travelled coffee lover gave her dreams a second chance.
“It’s done. We did it. We have a store.”
To which Julie replied: “…whhhhaaaatttt???”
As it happened, Richelle was walking past a space near the ultra-posh Greenbelt 5 with a ‘For Rent’ sign hanging invitingly outside.
Richelle went all-in.
Aside from the name being a throwback to a second try at coffee, “Deuces is an ode to our mom, whose sport is poker,” says Richelle, “it means a pair of twos, and the intention is to also have different concepts with coffee ‘+’ whether it’s a roastery, cocktails, a bakery, etc…”
Yet when Hanna and Julie heard Richelle suggest they use pink for their interiors, their jaws dropped. It was not Richelle’s personality.
“Deuces has to be not me,” said the eldest partner simply, “If (the design) was me, then I’m doing this for me. It has to be for the customer. I have to let Deuces, be Deuces.”
Going through five repaints before settling on the current hue, Deuces’ key color contrasted with their building’s brutalist design.
“It was our way of softening the place,” quips Richelle.
Working with a single architect and many sleepless nights for a year, Deuces’ opening in April of 2022 would also come as an impulsive bet.
“We were having a seminar for our staff then,” Julie shares, “then my sister just said ‘Julie, gawa ka ng post!’” Being the younger sibling and more adept with social media, she complied.
A single couple would be their first customers.
“They had the store to themselves. They ordered a drink and a pastry. Mostly they were taking pictures and video. They had a dog!” Julie recollects.
The very next week, Deuces would be flooded with new faces, as the pair they first catered to were well-known Tiktok influencers. When they asked a customer, they replied: “You’re on everyone’s ‘For You’ page!”
Dealing a Full House
Barely a year in and Deuces is still turning up aces.
One might say it’s due to their exquisitely crafted coffee. “Amber Restaurant’s champion baristas in Hong Kong helped us realize the role of water in the brewing process,” reveals Richelle. Indeed, every drink served goes through a specialty mineral-infusing machine. Julie adds that: “as a third wave coffee-shop we make it a point to know where our beans come from and how they’re grown— to give customers a better experience.”
Others say Deuces’ allure is in their delicately authentic sushis, tepanyakis, and katsus. “A lot of our staff were from Japanese restaurants that shuttered during the pandemic,” Julie remarks, “it made sense to play to their strengths.”
Or perhaps it’s the crowd-pleasing specialty drinks like Pink Horchata and Ginger Mint Soda, expertly mixed by baristas given complete creative freedom. “We value and invest in our people,” asserts Richelle, “better pay, better training, better perks— they represent Deuces wherever they go.”
Perhaps all that and more as Deuces’ success is in large part due to Julie, Richelle, and Hanna’s teamwork, which they have in spades.
“What I like about our dynamic is that when we disagree, we can sit down, talk about things, and express ourselves,” Julie says, “We don’t let our egos get in the way.”
Inspired by an ultra-luxury, California-based coffee shop concept the team found in Japan, Blue Bottle, Deuces has just bet on their second branch, located in Alabang.
“This one is more of a speakeasy, serving cocktails alongside flatbreads and pastries and of course, great coffee,” Julie states, “but what we really want is a flagship store big enough to host seminars, multiple roasters, and large events.”
While not yet quite among local high-rollers, Deuces Coffee is beating the odds through the rare three-of-a-kind understanding of its owners— serving specialty flat whites & long blacks to a consistently full house.
Real stories. Real people.
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