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How a Filipino café in Barcelona went viral, thanks to ube

Lolit De Chavez saw an opportunity in the lack of Filipino desserts

Welcome to L'Ube Kape (Photo by Ysabel Cacho)

Lolit De Chavez, the owner, founder, and baker of L’Ube Kape

A Filipino café in the heart of Barcelona went viral on TikTok, gaining over 170,000 views on the app and bringing a fresh batch of daily local and foreign visitors. The not-so-secret ingredient? The sweet purple yam Filipinos call ube.

When Lolit De Chavez, the owner and founder of L’Ube Kape, opened the cafe in March 2023, she didn’t expect her café to become a viral sensation.

For De Chavez, the café was meant to give Filipinos living abroad a slice of home and introduce foreigners to one of the most popular purple yams from the Philippines. “Of course, when you live abroad for so long, you miss Filipino food,” said De Chavez.

As the name suggests, the L’Ube Kape menu consists of pastries and coffees made with ube. The menu also offers non-ube food and beverages such as toast, breakfast bowls, croissants, focaccia sandwiches, cookies, and cakes. But the bestsellers on the menu have the ube flavor, such as the ube cake and cheesecake, which are best paired with a cup of the ube café or latte.

Ube meets coffee (Photo by Ysabel Cacho)

The ube cheesecake, another bestseller (Photo by Ysabel Cacho)

Ube Cake, one of the bestsellers (Photo by Ysabel Cacho)

One of the fan favorites, the ube cheesecake, is framed in the cafe. (Photo by Ysabel Cacho)

Ube tart (Photo by Ysabel Cacho)

Desserts at L’Ube Kape (Photo by Ysabel Cacho)

Food and travel bloggers who arrive at the café armed with their phones are immediately immersed in a lavender haze. Inspired by its best-selling ingredient, the café is filled with purple food and decoration. Framed photos of the bestselling menu items also hang on the wall. A few customers even showed up in matching purple accessories to go with the aesthetic. After carefully angling their phones over their purple coffee and cakes, foodies and bloggers alike dig in and discover the hype was worth it.

Purple and other colors (Photo by Ysabel Cacho)

Inside L’Ube Kap (Photo by Ysabel Cacho)

De Chavez said the customer following, both in person and online, happened slowly but steadily. When L’Ube Kape first opened, she noticed a mix of Filipino and American customers. She said she wasn’t as surprised to see Americans in her café, adding, “Even they are familiar with ube! In the States, there are a lot of bake shops with ube, so they know what it is.”

Initially, Spanish locals didn’t pay much attention to the café and thought the purple color was from food coloring, not the ingredient, said De Chavez. But eventually, they noticed the café would get crowded on Saturdays and Sundays. Soon, food bloggers started visiting and documenting their experiences. When the TikTok account Barcelona Food Hunters shared their experience on TikTok, the café went viral and became known for its “purple coffee.” The video led to a published article and an interview on national TV.

Despite going viral, De Chavez said she didn’t expect the locals to like ube, since the Spanish are more familiar with American cakes like carrot cake or red velvet. “But I think with the ube cheesecake, they get the flavor of the ube more than the cheesecake, which is what they like,” she said.

But perhaps the most unassuming ingredient to the café’s success is De Chavez herself.

De Chavez initially studied to be a nurse, but after graduating, she left the Philippines to be with her eldest sister, who was already living in Barcelona. “I didn’t do the board exams, I came straight here,” she said, adding that she worked in different houses. In 2006, she started baking part-time, every weekend, for her family, and enrolled in short baking classes.

Soon enough, she caught the attention of the Filipino community in Barcelona, and she started baking wedding cakes. Then, her new hobby began to take over her life. De Chavez shared that she eventually couldn’t control her hours due to the demand. She was always tired and stressed from baking and designing cakes while working round the clock. She decided to stop baking in 2017 when she reached what she calls her “peak.” However, in 2018, she worked with Kasarap, another Filipino restaurant, to provide the ube cheesecake on their menu.

When the pandemic happened in 2020, she gradually returned to baking. “During the pandemic, there was nothing to do, and there were a lot of online baking classes so that’s how I started again,” she said. She started baking for her family before expanding by selling ube-favored ice cream and pan de sal, since there were none in Barcelona.

Eventually, De Chavez saw an opportunity in the lack of Filipino desserts. Even though Barcelona has Filipino restaurants, she noticed most of them only served one or two desserts, which made the menu more limited and sold out quickly. “Here, nobody bakes the cakes we’re familiar with from back home like Goldilocks or Red Ribbon. People are looking for that,” she said. “So, I thought I would bake those if I could find the right ingredients.”

Since then, the café has found a steady flow of new and repeat customers, both online and off. While De Chavez is delighted with the social media buzz, she is too busy to manage the café’s account as more and more customers are stopping by. She works with another barista, but for now, De Chavez said she does most of the kitchen work and shopping for the ingredients to post on Instagram. But as one can see from the hundreds of tagged photos and TikTok videos, her customers are more than happy to spread the word beyond the corners of Barcelona.

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