In Silang, a stop for good food, plants and art lessons
Neat rows of calamansi seedlings welcome you to a nursery in Silang, Cavite. Some of them are already bearing fruit. There are also fire trees, rubber plants, variegated gumamela and Palawan cherries for sale. The greenhouse contains ornamental plants including different varieties of monstera, alocasia, philodendron and succulents.
The 4,000 square meter grounds also house the Hidden Charm Café. Aptly named as you are unlikely to find it when driving on the Aguinaldo highway. There is no freeway signage directing you there. You have to turn into a narrow, nondescript road, drive for a good two to three minutes before you reach the property, and be rewarded with a wide open space.
However, activating Waze and pinning South Wholesale Plants will take you straight there. It’s the kind of place you only discover through word of mouth and Facebook ads. But the place is surprisingly busy on a Tuesday afternoon. Clients come with their friends, children and dogs.
The gazebos keep the atmosphere of the dining room open and can accommodate up to 40 people. There is a variety of seating and the walls feature paintings by Artreach Missions. The café serves pizza, pasta, burgers and pastries.
Owner Christian Leynes and his family have been deeply involved in its operations since it opened last December. We’ve seen him move around, check in on guests, chat with them, and talk about products. In addition to the kitchen and the cashier is her daughter who throws herself into the kitchen. The cafe staff are his classmates.
Leynes’ mother is in the greenhouse. She is sitting quietly by the table with her sun hat. There is no phone in his hand. Instead, she entertains herself by watching children run around her garden.
It’s hard to imagine that only two years ago the lot was used to grow pineapples and papayas. Leynes said he started the company to offset some of the carbon footprints of the information technology industry, of which he is a part.
“We wanted to be known as a supplier of plants that sells them as cheaply as possible,” Leynes said. Their calamansi is at P100, a 3ft rubber plant is at P350 and their monsteras start at P600.
The profit margin is slim, but Leynes said he doesn’t mind because it wasn’t set up to be their primary source of income. Their family also owns IT Avenue, a distributor of computers, phones and accessories with branches in Cavite and other parts of the country.
Help the community
Another purpose of the garden is to help the community of which it is a part. Leynes opened the space to his neighbors so they could sell their plants on consignment. Their neighbors have entrusted them with their herbs, succulents and carnivorous plants.
The cafe also provides space for small business owners through the Community Market. You can find kakanin and native products from vendors every weekend. This is Leynes’ next project. He wants to create a permanent space for them.
It was during one of these community market nights that he was introduced to Concepcion Pascual, founder of Artreach Missions. Artreach Missions is a non-governmental organization that promotes art through classes.
“We were regular customers here. My mother approached [Leynes] and talked about our organization with him. That’s how the collaboration started,” said Cowilyn Joyce Pascual, Creative Director of Artreach.
Collaboration is not limited to space. Hidden Charm Café promotes Artreach projects in its café and vice versa. Leynes also said he will sponsor the organizations’ academic meals. With the art school on board, the café has become a unique destination for families.
Children and adults can do their paintings for two to three hours at P900 per session. The material is provided including the canvas. It’s a great way to have a meal and adult conversation in peace and bring home a plant or two afterwards. It is very close to Tagaytay, so visitors can feel the temperature drop in the evening and save themselves from the heavy traffic of driving to the highlands. INQ