MANILA, Philippines – In this little coffee shop in Cainta, everyday is a cosplay convention.
It is not unusual to see everyday people dressed in anime-inspired French maid costumes, or garbed with long tresses, cat ears, or colorful hairpieces in this hang-out place. No, they are not competing in some cosplay tilt. They are actually servers at Meidolls Café, the very first maid café in the Philippines.
“As an otaku (or an anime/J-Pop enthusiast), I’ve always been familiar with the maid café concept. In toy and comic conventions, there are maid cafés that are set up. So I thought why not put up something permanent so that otakus like me can have a tambayan,” says owner Reia Ayunan, a cosplayer since 2003, and a J-Pop fan all her life.
The maid café trend has been around in Japan for over a decade now. In these places, waitresses treat their customers as masters, much like the traditional geisha would regard their customers. Waitresses are required to engage with their customers, making sure they feel at home. But customers are not allowed to ask personal information from the staff.
“In Japan, karamihan sa mga otaku are very shy so they go to maid cafés where they feel at home and welcome,” Reia explains. “After a busy day at work or in school, the Japanese just want to lay back and be served by their own servants.”
With Filipinos being naturally hospitable to guests, the idea of a maid café fits perfectly well in the local setting.
Everyday is a new experience
Meidolls Café has so far done well with the help of the growing Filipino cosplay community.
“All of the waitresses are cosplayers, but it is not necessarily a requirement. The foremost requirement is they should have a background in food or customer service. It is a plus if you are a cosplayer that is known in the cosplay community. Our target market is cosplayers, so ‘yung staff can entice their cosplayer friends to come here,” Reia explains.
The food is simple fare, a mix of Italian and Japanese. Some of the staple favorites include curry carbonara, fishkatsu, lasagna, fried sushi rolls, cupcakes and the Meidoll Ramen.
“I try to keep them as inexpensive as possible because cosplayers are mostly students. The food has to be affordable to them,” Reia says.
Occasionally, the waitresses entertain customers by singing and dancing to Japanese songs. They also gamely pose for photos.
Ivy, a Tourism graduate, used to work as a ticketing agent for an airline company prior to working as a server at the Meidolls.
“It was my mom who told me about Meidolls Café because she knows I’m a big anime fan. I was already out of work for one year so she suggested that I should try applying at Meidolls Café. I’m enjoying it here now. Nakakakwentuhan mo ‘yung regular costumers. I also studied intro to Japanese in school so nagagamit ko ‘yung Japanese ko kasi minsan may Japanese customers kami,” relates Ivy, whose favorite character is Misa of Death Note.
On the other hand, Tenshin, an incoming HRM sophomore student works at the café to save up money for school. “Masaya dito. Kakaiba siya sa mga ibang fastfood chain. It’s always a new experience everyday. It doesn’t feel like work because I enjoy cosplaying. At the same time, natutulungan ko pa ang parents ko,” shares Tenshin.
Dream come true
Ever since getting into cosplay, it has always been Reia’s dream to put up a café. And to raise enough capital, she worked as a librarian for two-and-a-half years at the American International School in Riyahd, Saudi Arabia.
“That was difficult for me. But every time na nahihirapan ako, I just visualize this dream so that when I got back here, I would have enough money to put up the café. I did research, I went to Batangas and to different places to learn how a coffeeshop business works. There were a lot of difficulties along the way. But we were still able to manage to open last January. Kaya umiyak ako noong opening day kasi natupad ‘yung dream ko,” she relates.
Reia believes that passion and uniqueness are the keys to have a successful business.
“I could have just put up a takoyaki cart business but then I wanted something that has never been done or seen here. And I feel so passionate about the maid café concept so I pursued it. You don’t open a business just for the sake of opening one. It has to be something unique. Or kung hindi man siya bago, you give it your own twist and make it more interesting.”