CSUN’s AAPI Restauranteur Panel – Home Cooked

On the 1st of the month I was invited to be speak at a panel for CSUN’s AAPI Association (Asian American Pacific Islander Association). The panel consisted of Tien Nguyen (Los Angeles Food Writer), Kristine de la Cruz (owner of Creme Caramel LA), Rayson Esquejo (co-producer of Eat Play Move LA), and myself. The panel was held at the Oviatt Library in the center of CSUN’s campus.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect. When they asked me I was actually really surprised. I knew I was passionate and had a lot to say about what I do but had no idea people were noticing it.

When I arrived the room was still empty, so I wasn’t sure how many people were going to attend. I walked away for what felt like a minute and next thing I know the room is full of people! It was nerve-racking and exciting at the same time.

The room was intimate and inviting, could fit about 50+ people. They had chairs and a couch set up for us. They made it feel like a living room which made me feel more comfortable. 

The panel was a lot of fun. The organizers did a great job making us feel welcome. It felt like we were just talking amongst ourselves at someone’s house – talking about life, how our businesses evolved, and what’s become of the LA food scene. We also discussed what it was like as an Asian-American growing up as a minority and how that affects the way we’ve grown/how we perceive our businesses. Tons of good stuff! Hope the guests found it informative and fun!

We also prepared some pastries for the panel including our Ube Macaroons, Food for the Gods, Ube Custard Cake, and Barako Coffee. They were a hit! I’m so glad people enjoyed it.

What I’m really surprised about, though, is how passionate I am about my upbringing and what it’s like to be Filipino-American. I don’t know, I guess I never really thought about it. I mean it did, but I never thought about it being that pivotal or important to me until I had to talk about it. Talking about what it was like growing up, how my mom would pack me meat and rice instead of PB&J’s, the insecurity I felt, watching my parents be entrepreneurs, the gap between 1st and 2nd generation Filipinos, and the journey of eating both Filipino and non-Filipino food. Wow, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Who knew?! Well now I know, it’s important to me.

More on that later, this needs a post all in itself. In the meantime….

A big thank you to Katherine (in the yellow), Veronica (not pictured), and the entire team at CSUN for your hospitality and for inviting this girl to a big girl party. Hope to work with you again in the future!

xoxo,

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Sysco Business Review

When my family started Ninong’s in 2008 things were a lot different. The state of our economy, our customer base, and our sales numbers have changed in the 10 years we’ve been open. I noticed a shift when I started working for the restaurant. We were growing and I could tell mostly because of how much we were spending in food costs.

I had a 2013 Subaru Impreza hatchback at the time  and I started noticing that slowly but surely my car was filling up with groceries more and more every week. It got to the point where I couldn’t fit the groceries anymore so I’d have to make the trips to the grocery store 3x a week instead of my normal 2x. 

Imagine that. An extra trip just because I couldn’t fit everything in my car. I knew something needed to change.

Then a salesman from Sysco walked into our door. Bless him! He had no idea who we were. In fact, he was just walking by because he wanted to try to recruit a restaurant down the street from us. He stopped in and offered to look through our grocery list and see if we would be a good fit.

Working with Sysco has been integral in our growth as a restaurant. Aside from groceries they offer so many free services that help businesses in the restaurant industry succeed. I can’t say enough about how much I value the relationship Ninong’s has with Sysco.

 

I can’t say enough about the relationship we have made with Sysco. They have great people that work for their enterprise that really care about us and our business. @ninongspastries has grown very quickly in the last year thanks to their commitment to help us succeed while sticking to our roots. To the people there that have really listened to what we want to accomplish all while pushing us to be more creative than ever, THANK YOU. You help us keep the flavor of Filipino food alive and are allowing us to introduce it to a whole new audience. For that I am so grateful. It was our goal to do this all along and we’re finally doing it! Ninong’s and my family thanks you. Guys, I can’t wait for you to try what is in store! We’re cooking up some more tasty ideas for you to enjoy! 😘

A post shared by Carissa Ortega (@justkissa) on

 

A couple weeks ago we had a Business Review at their headquarters in Oxnard. One of the things that I truly believe has kept us in business for almost 10 years is that we don’t want to stay stagnant. We always want to keep pushing the envelope, trying to evolve, and challenging ourselves to make even better dishes. Sysco has really helped us to do that.

The new chef showed us some really great dishes and has our minds turning with ideas on our next release. I can’t tell you exactly what we have planned yet but rest assured that we’re working on some really yummy stuff. Stay tuned!

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Restaurant Series – What to Expect

When I was brainstorming my angle for this post I was originally thinking about people that have never opened a restaurant before. But as a person that  has been working full time in the restaurant business for almost 5 years and seeing my family run the restaurant for an additional 5 years there’s still SO much that I didn’t know about. Because of this I decided that I needed to dedicate one post in this series to what to expect when opening a restaurant and/or moving an existing one.

  1. First thing’s first. Nothing is going to go to plan. You’re going to run into road blocks, things won’t go as planned, and things are going to take longer than you thought.
  2. You need to hire professionals. I can’t stress this enough. My contractor, Matt of Hunt Construction, and my architect, Robert of E2 Design, were a God send! I can’t sing their praises enough. Hire people that you trust and understand your expectations. Because I hired people I trust and understood very well what I was hoping to accomplish it was easy to lean on them when I had questions. When it comes to restaurant build outs or remodels you want someone that does it right the first time and is familiar with what the City requires. That leads me to my next point.
  3. Know the City requirements. This is why hiring experienced professionals is so key. You’re not going to know what the City requires if you’ve never done this before. Even the professionals that have experience run into new requirements all the time. Our restaurant didn’t open when we hoped because we ran into unexpected requirements and small road blocks. The building and health code books for LA County is so overwhelming so the best thing to do is rely on your trusted professionals to help guide your way.
  4. Permits are not cheap. Building permits, health permits…and stupid me, I forgot to budget for those. For the City of LA I believe overall building permits are a percentage of the overall cost of your build out (I know, sucky right?!) and then there are the plumbing permits, mechanical permits, electrical permits, etc. The health permit for the City of LA was over $1000 for our restaurant. 
  5. Whatever you think it’s going to cost, multiply that by at least 3. We had a budget in mind, but we went over. It was unavoidable though. We needed to pump grease traps, hydro-jet the lines, put in a new fire system, clean the hood…it was an endless list. I felt like all I was doing was writing checks.
  6. You’re going to live in your restaurant for a while. People think that restaurants could be an easy way to make money and that it would be low maintenance if they just hired a manager to manage it for them. NOPE. Get that out of your mind right now. No matter what, for your restaurant to have success you need to invest time. At least in the beginning. You need to establish the expectation, train, teach, iron out operations.
  7. You won’t know what you’re doing for a little while. No matter how long you’ve been cooking your food or serving your customers a new space will throw anyone off. It’s going to take a little while to get acquainted to where everything is, where you put everything, and how you’ll set everything up. Once you “nest” a little bit it’ll get better.
  8. It’s going to come down to the wire. That day before you officially open you’re going to have a laundry list of things to do. Even if you didn’t procrastinate, you’re going to remember things at the last second. Before we opened we were working from 6 am until almost 3 am and there still wasn’t enough hours in the day.
  9. Expect the unexpected. You’ll definitely learn a great deal, get really stressed, have a few mental break downs, and lose sleep. But honestly, this experience has been so rewarding to see people walking into our place and enjoying themselves. All we can do is approach these unexpected hurdles with grace, trust in the process, and know it’ll all work out.

xoxo,

Kissa

 

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