Dennis Coffee Garden: A Balikbayan Uplifts Sulu Culture Through Coffee

Photo Caption: Imelda Dagus started working overseas right after college as a flight attendant. She has worked and lived abroad for 25 years – more than half her life, far away from her home in Jolo, Sulu.

Imelda Dagus had a high-paying job in Oman. She had financial security, a good career, and an ideal family. After 25 years of being an OFW, she has finally found her comfort zone. But she risked it all to go back home to the Philippines and start a business.


Her dream of being an entrepreneur started when she read the book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki. She was so inspired that she went on to read many other entrepreneurship books and attend business seminars, some of which are organized by Go Negosyo.

“I was so inspired and eager to learn that I even followed Go Negosyo when they went to Bahrain,” she shared.

From what she learned, Imelda said that an entrepreneur becomes one due to the following reasons: Crisis, Chance or Choice. For her, it was a choice. While she had lived a comfortable life overseas, she figured that she couldn’t be an employee and stay within her comfort zone forever. Eventually, she and her husband would have to come home. She asked herself, “What will happen then?” She realized that at some point, she had to take control of her own destiny.

More than her personal reasons, Imelda found it necessary to preserve and scale up an old town cafe, which was established by her grandmother in 1962 in the town of Jolo, Sulu. Imelda finds her passion in this project not only because it is about preserving a legacy handed down to the third generation but also about upholding an age-old coffee culture worth sharing with the rest of the world. Imelda says “it’s not just about coffee, it’s also about culture and legacy”.

Imelda Dagus (3rd from left) joined Go Negosyo as one of the panelists during the 6th OFW Summit (November 2016).

Imelda Dagus (3rd from left) joined Go Negosyo as one of the panelists during the 6th OFW Summit (November 2016).

Dennis Coffee Garden
Dennis Coffee Shop was first established in Jolo, Sulu in 1962. The coffee shop, initially called Omar’s Place was among the industry pioneers, and was managed by the family matriarch, Ubbaisa Ahalul.  Though without a formal education, it was through her inherent entrepreneurial skills and own brand of business management that the coffee shop grew into the enterprise that it is today.

Imelda spearheaded the project of expanding and taking the business to the next level.  She had put together a plan to bring Sulu’s Dennis Coffee to Zamboanga City and this time, as the more upscale Dennis Coffee Garden (DCG).  “We want to create something of value, which our community can be proud of.”

DCG is the first of its kind in Zamboanga, it aims to offer not only quality coffee and native delicacies, but also ambiance and space.  Aside from a garden and alfresco dining area, there are also function rooms and other facilities for meetings/gatherings that cater to families, social groups and customers from nearby offices, colleges and commercial establishments. Additionally, it is located near the airport to provide travellers the perfect waiting lounge or a place to dine, meet and relax as soon as they arrive in Zamboanga.

Dennis Coffee Garden is truly a depiction of value creation as it promotes cultural heritage, inclusive growth and community development.

An Inspiration to OFWs
Most OFWs are afraid to leave their jobs abroad because of the risk of not finding the same opportunities in the Philippines. In her interview with ABS-CBN News, Imelda said that “OFWs in particular should think of building a business back home instead of coming back and looking for another job, because you will definitely not get the kind of income that you earned overseas back in the Philippines.”

Aside from entrepreneurship, Imelda is also determined about inspiring other OFWs to invest in a business in their home country. She believes that building a business will not only empower them, but also help the country by giving people jobs.

Ms. Imelda Dagus is the epitome of a strong businesswoman. Not only does she provide employment for the local people of Mindanao, she also preserves the culture of her family and the place where she grew up while doing well for herself. If she can make it, why can’t you?