Cafe owner turns grandfather’s Volkswagen Kombi into a coffee shop

Published May 18, 2022, 10:43 AM

by Yvette Tan

A 1973 Volkswagen Type 2 Kombi van turned into a mobile cold brew coffee shop.

Many bikers and coffee addicts are familiar with Kombi Brew, a cold brew coffee shop that’s run out of a 1973 Volkswagen Type 2 Kombi van.

Van owner and coffee shop proprietor, Budz Badua, inherited the van from her paternal grandfather and spent years restoring it. “My lolo was a mechanic who liked working on German cars,” Badua says in Tagalog. 

Restoring a family heirloom

The van, which she named Kahel, has been in their family since 1976. “It was our school bus,” she recounts. The van was supposed to be sold in 2011, but Badua asked her grandfather if she could restore it instead. Her father, who was also a mechanic, helped her. 

It wasn’t always smooth sailing. Her father passed away in 2014, and apart from the grief of losing a parent, she was left to finish the restoration on her own. “I had a hard time because he was the one who knew about engines and bodywork,” Badua says. “I didn’t know where to start.”

Badua contacted the mechanics her father introduced her to. She also joined the Volkswagen Club of the Philippines where she met other Kombi owners. Even then, she encountered many mechanics who either did shoddy jobs or outright cheated her. 

As with the restoration of any classic car, it’s finding the correct parts that’s a major challenge. Badua restored the engine, a process which took months, before working on the body, tires, and brakes. Aside from having to buy new parts, she shares that when her father passed away, many of the Kombi’s parts were stored in boxes without labels, then forgotten. “I was online a lot looking for serial numbers and double checking with other Kombi owners where I could buy them,” she says. “I got better at researching because I had spent so much money unnecessarily.”

The van was rewired and a push start button and electric fuel pump were installed. “I changed everything so it could be road-ready,” Badua says. 

She also modified its interiors to fit the coffee shop, removing the first row of seats to make way for a kitchen pod which houses space for a stove as well as a sink with containers for fresh and greywater underneath. The middle seats were changed into a rock and roll bed that transforms from a car seat to a bed.

After years of work, the van was able to take to the road again in 2017. “I’ve driven it to [places like] Baler, La Union, Anilao, and back and forth to and from Tanay. You can take it anywhere. I’ve never had a problem with it. All it needs is a lipstick renovation,” Badua says. There are plans to reupholster the driver’s seat, as well as revamp the van’s interiors and continue with the bodywork.

From school bus to coffee shop

A former OFW who returned to the Philippines to become a wedding and commercial photographer, running a coffee shop from her Kombi didn’t immediately cross Badua’s mind. Though she entertained the idea of running a restaurant from the van, she envisioned serving comfort food like goto and pares. Trips abroad inspired her to try serving coffee instead. She started with, and currently serves, cold brew coffee concoctions, since these are the beverages she likes to drink. 

She started serving coffee from her coffee van Kombi Brew in Volkswagen Club of the Philippines events in 2017, then began catering to private functions like weddings before the pandemic forced her to run Kombi Brew full time. Kombi Brew’s initial core clientele was Manila’s growing bike community, though it has expanded since. The Kombi regularly parks at the Mayflower Food Truck Fest in Greenfield, Mandaluyong, and in Intramuros, among others. Customers can find out Kombi Brew’s schedule on its social media pages.

Badua hopes to finish restoring Kahel before taking Kombi Brew to Siargao. And though there have been offers to buy the Kombi, Badua says it’s not for sale, for the simple reason that, “[Kahel] is part of the family.”

Follow Kombi Brew on Facebook, Instagram, and Tiktok at @kombibrew

Photos courtesy of Budz Badua