An Edmonton queer Filipino duo has made their dream of owning an all-inclusive cafe a reality. The store opened its space near the end of 2020 and is owned by Mavi Az Tolentino and Reika Herradura. Intent Coffee sits right past the southeast entrance to Southgate Mall.
“It was a high school dream of ours from when we were like 16,17, but we only started working towards it when we were in our twenties, like two years ago,” said Tolentino.
Intent began as a hyper-modern, minimalist coffee shop with a focus on the product. After attending a queer meetup by Shades of Color, a not-for-profit group that advocates for QTBIPOCs (Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, People of Color), it changed direction.
“We were surprised, like, ‘there are other people like us?’ We were asking the queer people at Shades of Color about a safe space as a cafe, and they were all gasping for air [in excitement],” said Tolentino.
By maintaining a fairly strict ruleset in running Intent, Tolentino and Herradura intend to maintain a safe space as equitably as possible. One of the main facets of their business philosophy is hiring for culture.
“We hired specifically from our own communities that we were from, which is the Filipino community, the youth and the QTBIPOC community. All of our team members are from our community, so they already share the same values and beliefs,” said Tolentino.
The desire for a space that is not age-exclusive yet queer-friendly led to the business of coffee. While coffee is atypical for a modern queer setting, it ensures that people of all ages are able to enter the space without any barriers, unlike gay bars – the previously most common safe space for QTBIPOCs.
“Queer youth can’t access a lot of queer spaces in the city and that’s causing a lot of harm. [Intent] became a queer cafe, and after that, we went back to our roots, being more proud, being Filipino,” Tolentino said.
A diverse array of dishes and drinks stock the shelves and line the menu. These items are far from what may be seen at other coffee shops in Edmonton.
Ube, a purple yam grown in the Philippines, is featured in multiple items. Chocolate from the Philippines is among their more popular items, with flavours like coffee or strawberry.
“A lot of people don’t know that we grow coffee and cacao trees. Also, we have amazing baked goods. We’re not just known for our dishes. There’s a lot of history between coffee and pastry in the Philippines,” observed Tolentino.
Along with the diverse menu, management policies make Intent Coffee a unique place to be employed. Coworkers find themselves on equal footing with each other.
“We abolished hierarchy in the way we work at Intent. So instead of having positions and having a manager that does everything like scheduling, inventory, stock and training, we decided to split those up and share the power,” said Tolentino.
“It’s inhumane to expect a manager to do some things, and it’s important to make people feel like they’re contributing, that they have a part in this.”
Maintaining an inclusive and safe workplace might seem complicated, but for Intent Coffee, it’s cut-and-dry. QTBIPOCs around Edmonton are welcome at Intent.