Ninong’s 10 Year Anniversary – The LA Food Scene Part 3

Tomorrow, Ninong’s celebrates its 10 years of existence. God, help me put this into words. For once, I just don’t know what to say lol!

You’d be surprised how many times I’ve tried to write this post. I’ve been trying to find a way to correctly articulate the emotions I feel, the things I’ve realized, and the future of what life as a Filipino-American will be like. It ties into the history of our restaurant in ways that I’m not sure I’d ever be able to fully explain. So much so that I can’t articulate everything in 1 post. Heck we’d be here for A WHILE if I tried to do that. This topic has become something really important to me and its a conversation we, as Filipino-Americans, need to be vocal about. Today, I want to begin that conversation with this post. But first, let’s talk about Ninong’s.

Ninong’s in 2008

10 years ago, my family officially opened the doors to our original Granada Hills location. I remember the days leading up to the opening, feels like it was yesterday. We laughed, learned, we cried, we struggled, but we did it! We had no idea what to expect, all we knew was we put everything we had – I mean everything – into this business. We risked it all. All on a business that had no reputation, 14 seats, and no established community. We had no idea what we were doing, none of us had ever owned a restaurant before, and we just learned along the way. A decade ago, we set out to spread the idea of Filipino food and culture with the world. Starting with our local community.

As years went by we started to make a name for ourselves and people have asked me how we’ve grown so much I tell them that I think it’s because of 2 main reasons.

First, is because of our mission of SHARING Filipino food and culture. Because of this mission we’ve had to dance the fine line of making our cuisine more approachable by other cultures without compromising the flavor. We feel we have a responsibility as a person’s potential first-ever Filipino meal – and we don’t take that responsibility lightly.

To see Filipinos and non-Filipinos sitting in our dining room enjoying our family’s recipes is the most rewarding. As time goes on we see more diverse cultures walking through our doors, people are beginning to know the names of our food, and we see other Filipino restaurants and chefs being acknowledged in non-Filipino publications and events. It’s an awesome thing to see! If you asked me 10 years ago what I thought the landscape for Filipino food would be, I wouldn’t even be able to give you an answer.

Second, is our dedication to our brand and family. Over time, we’ve met so many colleagues, fellow chefs, and wonderful people that have helped to guide us and shape our brand to where it is today. But ultimately, as a family, our goal is to just share our experiences and family’s food. We will never try to be something we’re not, we’re always going to be a family owned and operated business. We’re always going to be family first, a restaurant second. Our recipes, food, business, and experience will follow suit. We would never make something or put something on the menu that wasn’t inspired or created by a family member. Everything we do revolves around that idea.

Gah, I still can’t believe it. 10 years, I can’t believe they flew by just like that. I’m humbled.

I’m so grateful that I’ve had many opportunities when it comes to sharing my experiences as a Filipino-American entrepreneur and restaurant owner. There’s a sense of pride that fills my heart as a Filipina-American that just wanted her whole life to blend in. I grew up in an environment where my parents were both entrepreneurs, I was lucky in that regard. But as a 1st generation Filipina-American I didn’t embrace my culture as much as I should have. I wanted so much to be more “American,” than Filipina. Whatever that even means. Growing up and seeing friends of other cultures so rooted in their culture is something I’ve become envious of. Now as an adult, I’m trying to chase my heritage and learn as much as I can so I can share it with everyone I know. And the best way I know how to do that is through our food.

With our food at Ninong’s comes my upbringing, my childhood, my family history – my life and what it means to be Filipina-American.

I’ve participated in numerous interviews and panels about being a minority/woman/Fil-Am entrepreneur. Each time I share my experiences I learn something about myself and my sense of pride for being who I am grows. I just spoke with a girl this week, as she was interviewing me for her thesis and we both agreed – it’s a great time in history for Filipino-Americans.

I sit here and am in awe of what the Fil-Am entrepreneurs and restauranteurs of today are accomplishing. I’m humbled to be a small portion of that achievement. I hope that it’s only up from here for all of us. We’re a force to be reckoned with, we’re putting our stamp on the world, and we’re unashamed of what we have to share.


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