- PAOLO BICCHIERI
Meet the man behind one of Los Angeles’ most iconic Filipino American cafes
Even though Ronald Dizon finally got an Acura NSX, detailed like he’d dreamed of since he was a kid, it didn’t seem to make him any happier. It was 2017, and while the then-car engineer scratched his head, seeking something to fill whatever hole had formed, his mom mentioned offhand coffee from the Philippines. He was dumbstruck; he didn’t realize coffee was cultivated in the islands where he was born. In fact, some of the world’s rarest coffees grow throughout the country: Liberica, which accounts for less than 1.5 percent of commercial growth, is a well-loved member of the Filipino coffee cultivars.
After an obsessive deep dive, he set his mind on creating a Filipino coffee business. The result of his brainstorming is Teofilo Coffee Company. These days he understands why that car was never going to fulfill him: he needed something to bring him closer to his people.
“It kickstarted a momentum for me,” Dizon said. “Once my mom mentioned coffee from the Philippines, it was a year of learning about our long history in coffee. I knew I had to do it, or it wouldn’t be out there.”
Dizon’s coffee company not only survived the pandemic, but he also opened during the worst of the worst COVID had to offer. His Los Alamitos brick-and-mortar is flourishing after many pop-up events and farmers’ markets. In June 2022, he opened a second shop in Bixby Knolls, Long Beach, called Kubo along with a third roastery located in Stanton. Dizon is one of the only Filipino Americans importing, roasting, and selling coffee from the Philippines in California. His business doesn’t skimp on food, either. The cafe caters to the explosion of ube popularity with housemade ube cookies, gelato, and strudel, tiramisu with Teofilo cold brew, calamansi gelato, and brekpasilog — a two-egg omelet with a choice of longanisa, tocino, spam, or all of the above. For those who grew up drinking strong Robusta coffee with calamansi and Pandan condensed milk, Dizon’s shop is a lifeline to home.
But Dizon wants to do more than be an enclave for Filipinx folks in the states. At 37 years old, he traveled back home to meet farmers and build relationships, which led to partnerships with Kalsada Coffee Roasters and the Philippine Coffee Board. He wants to be the Blue Bottle of Filipino coffee, pushing specialty coffee forward and growing with the same explosive force as Starbucks.
The approach and sensibility of the coffee he offers at Teofilo is universally Filipinx and also uniquely Dizon. For example, inspired by Childish Gambino, Dizon uses the Wu-Tang name generator for his coffee blends, coming up with names like Phantom Magician and Professional Mercenary for $25 offerings. (In specialty coffee, and for beans as rare as Dizon’s, this is no steep cost). Connecting people to their history is a rich reward for him.
“People don’t know and they still don’t know,” Dizon said. “We don’t get recognized for our contributions. We’ve been doing this for hundreds of years.”
Dizon doesn’t see this journey ever ending. He’s been able to bring his love of cars back into the mix with his community group the Underground Koffee Club, an events and community group centered around conversation, cars, and, of course, coffee. He plans to purchase a farm in the Philippines someday. And he’d like to cultivate coffee in California, too, and provide that back to the community.
“I’m just into the hard work,” Dizon said. “I’m not there already or whatever. I thought I already made it before this company, so this is bigger than me. It’s for my people.”