Jade Dragon – Thank You For 50 Amazing Years

We went out to eat last week at a Chinese restaurant for my mom’s birthday dinner. It reminded me that we haven’t ate at Jade Dragon in a really long time. I mentioned that we should go to Jade Dragon soon for the sake of memories, and even made a mental note of it for when it’s my turn to treat the family out to dinner. It was on my mental list of places I should order from on Sundays.

For anyone that has grew up in Daly City, the restaurant, Jade Dragon, rings a thousand bells. For me, Jade Dragon has been at the center of my family’s milestones. From 1st birthdays, to baptism receptions, to birthday dinners, to birthday parties, to retirement parties, to debuts, to catering family events, to many eventless weekend dinners, we basically grew up at that restaurant eating their food. To this day, I still have fond memories of my family and I eating at Jade Dragon. Hence why I wanted to go back after a few years of not eating in the dine-in restaurant area or the reserved party rooms. With the pandemic going on its 2 year anniversary, going to a familiar place that housed great memories from your childhood would be a great comfort. I looked forward to taking my family there again.

Last night, my family and I ordered take-out from a Vietnamese spot on Ocean. I have been on my satay pho obsession for a couple months now, and it was time to have my sisters join in on the craze. Especially since the Bay Area was freezing cold this last week, a nice warm bowl of pho was definitely appreciated. We stood around the kitchen table, putting together our bowls of pho. Anyone who has ever taken pho to-go knows the struggle of assembling your meal to your liking. My eyes grew wide as I watched my little sister take her first bite.

She agreed. The satay pho was really that good. My sisters and I sat in the living room, devouring our steaming bowls of that peanut broth goodness. My dad joined us to watch another episode of 90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days, a Sunday night tradition for the last 2 years. And by 7:40 pm, we were stuffed and ready for a food coma. I was so full that I couldn’t even finish the extra noodles I had added to my order. I called it satay quits and went on my phone.

Justine messaged on our group chat a screenshot of one of her Facebook friend’s posts. The pictures on the post were very familiar to me. It was Peggy standing in front of her restaurant, Jade Dragon. I remembered her familiar face in an instant. Up until reading that Facebook post, it dawned on me that I never knew her name. However, her face was such a familiar and inviting face from my childhood. I read the caption above the pictures and gasped.

“Jade Dragon is closing?!?!” I blurted out.

Gasps filled the room, “Whaaaaaaat!?”

Quickly I remembered that I wanted to take the family there to eat. Now, my chance was almost gone. The post said that they were closing their doors for good tomorrow (Monday). I had no idea if that meant that their last day was that night, Sunday, or their last day in service was the next day, Monday. I frantically tried to find their website online, seeing if the rumor was true. I couldn’t find a website or any social media pages for the restaurant. Google said that they were closing at 8 PM, which was in 8 minutes. As full as I was, I knew it would be foolish not to at least attempt to place an order for the last time. So, I called in, hoping that 8 minutes until closing wouldn’t be too much of a hassle.

“Jade Dragon.”

“Hi, are you guys closing at 8?”

“Yes, you can place your order now and it will be ready in 15 minutes.”

“Uh, will you guys be open tomorrow?” I said, already dreading the answer.

“No, we are closing. Last day is today.”

At that point, I knew it was about 5 minutes until they closed. So I did what anyone else would do… I placed an order for fried chicken. I got off the phone and my dad was flabbergasted. He couldn’t believe I ordered more food after we gorged ourselves 5 minutes prior. But I had to. There were too many memories made at Jade Dragon not to! And I knew I would regret not getting 1 last opportunity to bite into the tastiest, crispiest, best chicken skin of all time, Jade Dragon chicken.

Had this been for any other take-out, my dad would be annoyed as hell. But Jade Dragon also held a special place in his heart too, and he was equally as shocked that they were closing. So my dad, little sister, and I headed for the car to pick up our last order from the restaurant we so very loved. I didn’t have much expectations, because I knew that seeing Peggy there would be a very slim chance. But I hoped anyways.

We parked the car in front of Jade Dragon. We have been to this parking lot many times before. It was dark outside, the “open” sign was no longer on, and something about seeing the restaurant’s sign in the dark made me sad. We walked in, and there were still people at the bar section to the left. The huge Buddha statue that I rubbed every time I left the restaurant growing up sat in it’s same position in front of the door. We turned to the right towards the dinning area. Everything looked exactly the same. It smelled exactly the same as it did 20 years ago. And then from behind the restaurant, slowly walking and emerging from behind the paneled divider, came Peggy.

Seeing Peggy’s smiling face took me back 2 decades ago. Suddenly, I was 7 years old, walking into Jade Dragon with my family. The smell in the restaurant was the same, the furniture was the same, the decorations untouched, the tables were set up exactly as it was 20 years prior. I had flashbacks of my older sister and I pouring tea into our teacups, only so we could add way too much sugar. We wouldn’t stir the sugar into the tea, we would let it sink to the bottom so the last couple sips were sugary, grainy, and delicious. I remembered picking out the peas in my fried rice and lining them up on the side of my plate, pretending they were audience members.

I remembered the circle table at the very back of the restaurant where we had my dad’s surprise 40th birthday dinner with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. I remembered all the events that took place in that restaurant – my uncle’s retirement party, my goddaughter’s birthday party, my 1st birthday that I don’t remember but have pictures from… the list went on. I remember running to the Buddha statue to rub his belly. “Rub for good luck,” my mom would tell me. And oh how I believed it. And I remembered Peggy’s smiling face greeting us at the back of the restaurant, “Oh they’re so big now!” she would tell my parents.

And there she was, in the same part of the restaurant, greeting us into Jade Dragon for the last time. She looked exactly the same. Her friendly face is one I could pick out from a crowd. It was such a surprise because I don’t think any of us expected to actually see a familiar face. I expected to not see anyone I recognize, pick up our chicken, and say silent goodbyes in our head. But there she was. The woman whose face I’ve associated with Jade Dragon and great family memories. The most welcoming face to be greeted with.

“Sorry, we’re closed. The cooks are going home,” she said kindly with a sympathetic smile. We had our masks on, but we let her know that we had placed an order already. “Oh, the fried chicken!” she said happily.

We talked a bit while we waited for our fried chicken order. We let her know that even though she may not remember us, that we definitely remembered her and cherished the family memories we made at Jade Dragon. Peggy said that she somewhat remembered our faces, but I really didn’t expect her to. She knew me since I was like 4, I doubt she could recognize 27 year old me. However, she was still very kind about it and insisted that she remembers people’s faces.

We reminded her that we were regulars way back when. Peggy let us know that it was just finally time for her to retire. “50 years in February,” she said tenderly. I couldn’t believe it – Jade Dragon was closing its doors after 50 years. She updated us on her husband’s health and the passing of her sister-in-law 4 years prior, another familiar face at Jade Dragon. She told us that they sold the restaurant space to Kukje, and they’d be remodeling it soon. Standing there talking with Peggy, I couldn’t believe how much time had passed. Instead of her being in awe at how much my sisters and I have grown, we were now in the middle of her restaurant on it’s last day – probably their last order. Yes, we were the assholes that ordered 5 minutes till closing… but I’m glad we did.

Peggy went to the back to check on our order, and we walked around the restaurant. Everything looked the same. In my memories, I recall it being so much bigger. It was sad looking around knowing that this restaurant wouldn’t be around anymore. It was a very nostalgic moment, especially since a couple weeks ago we learned that Tanforan Mall would be permanently closing as well. It feels like so many major things from my childhood are quickly fading. So many places that housed so many great memories are soon to be a thing of the past. It hit me.

Peggy came out with our chicken, and we headed to the cash register. I was so glad that we got to see her that night, and that we got to say our thank you’s and give her our best wishes. I handed her a generous tip, which she refused to take. We encouraged her to take it, and let her know that we would miss the restaurant.

“I need to give you a souvenir then. Something to remember by.” She headed to the back of the restaurant. She gifted us 2 embroidered animals that were framed separately – a horse and a cat. We were honored to take a piece of Jade Dragon with us.

After that, I asked if we could have a picture with all of us and the Buddha. Peggy was thrilled to do so. We took our masks off and smiled for the camera. The Buddha that we rubbed every time we came into Jade Dragon, and every time we walked out. When she saw my dad with his mask down she said, “I remember your face now! Now that you don’t have a mask, yes, I remember your dad.”

So we said our goodbyes, our thank yous, and our well wishes for her retirement. I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness. But as I ate the leftover Jade Dragon chicken today for dinner, I remembered all the great memories of family, food, and great service.

Jade Dragon gave Daly City 50 amazing years. I’m grateful that my family and I got to talk to Peggy before they finally closed their doors. This one definitely hurt because Jade Dragon was a big part of the community. However, I will always remember the many happy memories I have of Jade Dragon over the years. And that’s the definition of a successful business – when people keep coming back because your food is great, but also because of the happy memories and great hospitality.

Today, Monday, February 28, 2022 Jade Dragon closed their doors. Thank you, Jade Dragon, for 50 great years!

Hopes & Daydreams

When you feel bored, where does your brain wander to?

Y’all already know this, but I’m a dreamer by nature. When I’m bored, my mind drifts in so many directions. Who needs entertainment when I got my own damn self? And truly nothing is off limits for me. I think of everything and anything, which is probably why I’m notorious for getting easily distracted.

Lately, when I close my eyes, I picture myself “having it all.” Shit, who doesn’t? And most of the time, my daydreams are forever changing…

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I’m in my big ass cozy home, I’m holding my baby in one arm as I use my other hand to type up my latest project. I’m working from home, the vibe is stress free, and I’m financially comfortable. There isn’t a care in the world. My house is clean, my kids are taken care of, and my husband and I are financially well. We’re not tired, we’re not burnt out, and we genuinely love what we do. I’m working on my latest passion project, but I’m ahead of schedule. There’s no pressure to deliver because I’m working on my own time. Anything I put out is just adding to the already massive amount of well-known published work I have circulating around.

The doorbell rings and my parents enter. They take off their shoes at the door and make themselves comfortable. The kids greet their grandparents and try to show them the latest things they learned in school, show them a new wrestling move their dad taught them, or give them a drawing they made sometime during the week. There’s already food in the kitchen, and you can still see the steam, you know that shit’s still hot. It’s from our favorite take out restaurant, and we have everyone’s favorite dish.

It’s Sunday dinner, and we’re waiting for the rest of the family to show up. My nieces and nephews start to arrive, and they immediately link up with my kids and start playing. The once mellow home is starting to be filled with relatives, getting more and more chaotic as more people start arriving. But I fuckin’ love it. The kitchen is filled with delicious food, so I start to light the candle so the house doesn’t smell like straight food the whole night. Everyone’s together, everyone’s happy, and life is good. Everyone grabs a plate and starts to eat.

“Did you know we used to do this at Tatay’s house?” I tell my kids for the billionth time.

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I’m on and off planes consistently. This time I’m in a distant land that resembles paradise. Hawaii? The Philippines? I’m not too sure, but I’m on some island. The weather is perfect. It’s sunny, but it’s not too hot. And when I say perfect, I mean a very particular kind of weather – I get hot hella quick. The skies are blue, I’m by the beach, and I ain’t got shit to do. I have nowhere to go and I have all the time in the world. My biggest concern is where I’m going to eat that night. There’s no masks, no pandemic, no restrictions. In fact, COVID ain’t even a thing anymore. So much time has passed since the pandemic that it’s a distant memory.

I’m not worried about work, or finances, or stressing. I’m present and in the moment. I feel damn good in the clothes I’m wearing, and I’m radiating confidence… still humble though. I turn on my laptop and start typing away. What am I writing? I don’t fuckin know, all I know is in my fantasies, I’m always working on something. I’m writing for pure fun and enjoyment, not because the bills depend on it. However, it is my money maker, but it’s so effortless that the writing experience is peaceful as hell. I often look back to my beginning stages of my writing career and how I kept up with my blog. My mind drifts off for a bit, remembering how confused and lost I was… I’m thankful I stuck with it because it got me to where I am. “I did that shit,” I think to myself.

The sunset is the perfect ending to a perfect relaxing day. We finally decide to ditch the beach and go back to the place to get ready for dinner. We get all dressed up and head out. It’s a restaurant that wants me to write about my experience dining in. In fact, that’s why I’m on this paradise island. We got the trip complimentary in every aspect. My loved ones are along for the ride. I’m finally getting to travel the world because of my writing.

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I’m getting interviewed about my latest passion project. And like every other interview I have done up until that point, I make it a point to share that I was born and raised in the Bay Area. I call Daly City by name and make it known that that’s where I was raised the first 25 years of my life. I rep San Francisco and the Bay Area as a whole, but I don’t hesitate to shout out Daly City.

The interviewer doesn’t ask, “Where’s that?” like past reporters have. No, they know where Daly City is. I’ve repeated it in many interviews, wrote about it tirelessly in my writing, and have been very vocal about where I’m from.

Bay Area born and raised. To me, this will forever be home. But they want to talk about the glam side of the Bay Area, San Francisco more specifically. The tech side of San Francisco, the hipsters, how boujee it is. But that’s not the San Francisco I grew up in, that’s not what was happening in Daly City.

I’m finally at a place in my life where I can give back. Give back to not only my family and those around me, but my community as well. The Bay Area, Daly City, San Francisco, the place I called home for so long. The way J.Cole reps Fayetteville, North Carolina is the same way I’ll rep my home town. But I just don’t rep it for the sake of Bay Area street cred. I acknowledge the good, bad, and the ugly of the city.

My parents weren’t in the tech industry, people like me could never buy a home in San Francisco in the year 2022, and families that were born and raised in the area were getting pushed further and further out. I know first hand what it’s like to be in the most expensive area in the country, and not have it like that. And because I know what it’s like, I’m giving back to the community that made me.

The schools are getting better funding, sports teams aren’t getting cut, and little Manila, Daly City, is making a name for itself. Daly City is no longer being overlooked or downplayed.

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I’m enjoying the early morning hours at my kitchen table. It’s still pretty dark outside, the house is still quiet, and I’m reminiscing on the stories I just told my grandchildren the day before. I’m always talking, always involved, always passing down our family stories. That’s important to me – that those stories and the people in those stories are still talked about. Even though my grandchildren never met them, it’s important that they know where they came from. I need them to know where our family came from, what struggles they endured for us to have a better life, and learn all the family trauma so that it does not repeat itself.

I have finally hit my Uncle Iroh stage in life where I’m just wise, chillin’, and offering unsolicited advice. I look back on my life and accept all the choices I have made, I love reminiscing on all the memories I’ve made with those who have come and went, and there is not one ounce of regret in my soul. I love the life I chose. Even though at times it wasn’t clear to me and I’ve had my fair share of hardships, this life is mine and mine alone. I never think what if, and there’s no doubt in my mind this is where I’m supposed to be right now.

My house is surrounded by so many photos. So many happy memories captured in a single shot. My house is decorated with family, friends, postcards, vacations, art, collectibles, everything that brings me joy. It’s a house filled with love. Just by looking at the photos on the wall is a family history lesson all on its own. My old wise ass is known for sharing all the stories, making sure people from our past don’t get forgotten.

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When I first got this writing prompt, I originally wanted to write about 1 daydream only. But my daydreams are forever changing, which is why I decided to share the most common daydreams I have. Even though the daydream changes, 1 theme remains true in all the scenarios – I’m happy, successful, giving back, and have my loved ones along for the ride. And I guess that captures the essence of what success means to me.

I’ve seen a shift in what I daydream about recently. In the past, a lot of my free time went to thinking up imaginary scenarios that stressed me out. What am I going to do with my life? What if I don’t get X done in X amount of time? What if I fail? What if I make the wrong move in life? Am I going to be successful? It seemed like even my daydreams stressed me out. But recently, I’ve been daydreaming positively. I’ve been more comfortable in knowing that things will come with time, and of course hard work. When I allow my mind to freely wander stress-free, I find myself subconsciously telling me what’s important to me and what I truly want out of life.

Rhonda: Heart Of Gold

Illustration By: Marielle Cabillo (Instagram: @work_in_progress.ai)

If you were to ask me how Rhonda and I got close, I really couldn’t tell you. She was my dad’s first cousin, meaning she was my 2nd cousin, or aunt, or whatever the correct term is. With a 25+ year age gap, Rhonda still insisted that we were “cousins.” So to mess with her, we gave her the nickname “Tita-Lola” (Auntie Grandma).

In the past, the only times I’d ever really see Rhonda in person were at family reunions that are held once a year. Well, reunions and funerals. Our family is so big that we’ll probably never get every single family member at an event…. ever. Despite not growing up together, not seeing each other often, and probably not acknowledging each other at events for the first decade plus of my life, Rhonda and I managed to have a very close bond.

I feel like social media is what helped break the ice in our relationship. When Rhonda added me on social media, I feel like I was given a key into her heart and soul. You know the saying that social media is just the window into someone’s house? That you can only see what they want you to see? That wasn’t the case for Rhonda. Her social media platforms unlocked the door and let you freely roam the “House of Tita-Lola.” If being an open book had a picture in the dictionary, it would have a big ass picture of Rhonda’s selfie.

Rhonda had no problem sending a friend request to anyone and everyone involved with our family. If you were at a family reunion once, have a last name she recognized, or had mutual friends, you probably got a request on Facebook or Instagram. Family meant everything to Rhonda. She knew all the chisme, all the extended family, and wanted to share everything she knew about my great-grandparents and our family history. And whether you wanted to know all that information or not, if you followed her on any socials, you had no choice but to see it.

Tita-Lola did not give a shit about over posting. That term did not exist to her. She used her social media pages more like a Twitter account with how often she posted. But that’s how I, and probably many others, felt like we were close to her without really speaking much in person. Rhonda shared her personal life, opinions, likes, dislikes, family history, rants, and how she was managing her illness. Nothing was off limits to post about. Anything less than 10 posts a day would have me thinking, “Is Rhonda okay?”

Though she loved to share everything online, in person, she took a while to warm up. Rhonda was cool with everyone in the family, but with people she didn’t know very well, she would be a little shy to start up a conversation. But don’t let the shyness fool you – she probably knew everything about you from what you posted on social media. Rhonda would just be waiting for the perfect time to break the ice and attempt to start a conversation.

My sisters and I and our other 2nd cousins initially bonded with Rhonda by (dare I say it…) low-key bullying her. It was all fun and games, and Rhonda was the perfect person to joke around with because she’d sit there, laugh her ass off, but continue to take the mild abuse. Whenever she’d try to defend herself or shit talk us back, we would rebuttal with another joke. Those were good times. And now that I look back, I laugh in my head because we were really out here cappin’ on our fuckin elder and didn’t even know her like that yet hahahah.

I just know that when she realized how foolish and ridiculous my sisters and I can get, she felt more than comfortable to be around us. We got closer and closer as the years passed, and it was no longer awkward to just approach each other at family reunions or other gatherings. It was such a significant age gap, but our relationship just worked. Each family gathering, the Cabillo and Prado girls would gather around to mess with Rhonda, and she loved that shit. It was always a good time when we all got together. Every time we would go home after a gathering, my heart felt full.

I got really close to Rhonda in the last decade. It all started with jokes and acting a fool, but throughout the years, I got to know Rhonda on a deeper level. We had our fun and games moments in person, but we also vented about our lives on a serious note. I knew Rhonda behind the social media posts, the jokes, and the banter. I quickly learned about things that made her happy, things that made her sad, what she dwelled on, what was most important to her, what motivated her, and so on. She vented to me about her health, problems, and all the many situations she would get herself into. And bitch, there were many, hahaha. Rhonda, I know you’re looking down on me like “don’t you say nothing, beezy!”

Quickly, Rhonda became someone I could turn to if I needed someone to talk to, but most of the time, I listened. I listened to the many things that were on her mind. And I think that’s why we got so close. She had so much to say, and I listened and gave my 2 cents. Ironically, the girl that posted so much online to stay “connected,” felt overwhelmingly alone from time to time. I wanted to be there for her when she needed someone because I knew she would do the same for me. It was a great feeling knowing I had a family member who could offer me advice, judgement free.

Rhonda vented to me a lot about her health. I know she posted a lot about her situation on social media in detail, so it would kind of be a reiteration of what she already shared. Rhonda was very transparent with her health complications – she would post photos of her dialysis, her medicine shipments, her appointments, good and bad news, and everything in-between. Unknowingly, she gave us all a glimpse into her daily life, and we would see how much it took to upkeep her medications and treatments. Whether you wanted to see it or not, her followers got an overwhelming sense of her daily reality. Her posts would have you thinking, “Damn, how does she do it?” And yet, she did it. Tita-Lola was very hopeful, yet very realistic, about finding a kidney donor. Rhonda had my younger sister make business cards to help get the word around. She never gave up.

Rhonda’s health took up a lot of her time. Every appointment, every medication, every shot, every timed meal, was a constant reminder about her reality. There would be days where I talked to her, and she would unpack everything on her mind. I think what made our relationship special was the fact that we could be brutally honest with each other. I knew her daily routine took a huge toll on her, some days it would get to her more than others, and I had to remind her that it was okay. It was okay to feel what she was feeling, it was okay to feel sad, it was okay to vent out those emotions to me. What would make me especially sad was knowing that whatever I could say for comfort would not change her reality. That was the saddest part, to know that all I could do was be there for her and hope for a miracle.

Whether she realized it or not, Rhonda would find joy in the smallest things. I think that’s what made her so strong, the fact that she took on so much with her health on a day to day basis, but still managed to get excited off of the most random things. From PEZ, to music, to her celebrity girl crushes (the fact that I know her celebrity crushes though, bye lmfao), to anything San Francisco related (#BornAndBred) – these things alone could make her day. But nothing could make her day more than the interactions she had with Damian and Delilah. Her nephew and niece was her whole life. Rhonda would literally do anything to see a smile on their faces. She would document their small interactions on Facebook, and you could feel the overwhelming sense of love she had for them just by reading their commentary. They are what kept her going.

Everyone knows how big Rhonda was on family. And family just didn’t mean blood related, her friends became her family as well. Anyone who Rhonda considered “family,” she was loyal to for life. Once you made an imprint on Tita-Lola, she would never forget you. Even the friendships that drifted apart or ended on bad terms, she would still wish the best for that person. We would have many talks about people she remembered from the past, and how she still cherishes the friendships because it meant a lot to her at some point in her life. Rhonda always tried to give people the benefit of the doubt and see the good in them. If anything ever went sour, in her heart she wished them the best and clung to the good memories. She had such a big heart, and always chose to be the bigger person.

Family was everything to Rhonda. The love she had for her grandparents (my great-grandparents) was so strong that it could transcend lifetimes. Rhonda loved and missed them so much, I know that they had such a big impact on her life. I could tell that decades later, her grief from their passing was still fresh. However, she tried to use her sorrow in a positive way. She tried to educate the younger generations about our family history by telling us stories about the great-grandparents that I never got to meet. Every time Rhonda missed them, she would post a photo, a memory, or a story about them online. “This is where it all began, the reason why we’re all here,” my dad says every time we visit his grandparents’ grave. It was true, and Rhonda felt the exact same way. She took it upon herself to make sure that everybody in the family knew exactly where we came from, who started it all. She wanted to make sure that their names lived on in our family history.

A few weeks before her passing, it dawned on me that I haven’t checked up on Rhonda in a while. So, I texted her and we picked up from where we left off. She updated me about her life, what was going on, how her health was, etc. The last text message I sent her was after I read a status she posted on Facebook saying she was being taken off the donor list. It was a few weeks before she had her health complications, and I wanted her to know that a lot of people love and care about her. I didn’t know how to comfort her during this time, what do you say to someone that receives that kind of news? I just wanted her to know that I saw the update, and wanted to send my love.

When I heard the news that Rhonda passed away, of course I was devastated. It didn’t feel like reality. Rhonda? Tita-Lola Rhonda? Rhon?! It’s crazy because obviously I knew first hand how her health was declining, but you just never think that the day will come. And when that day does come, you’re stuck there, dumbfounded. I started to feel an immense amount of guilt, that the last couple of years we didn’t get to hangout as much due to COVID and personal schedules. I wanted to hangout with her and invite her over many times, but held off because of the pandemic. I felt that the last couple of years we weren’t as close as we used to be because we were off doing our own thing. Of course, when we would reconnect it was back to how it used to be, but I felt like I should’ve been there more towards the end.

When I start to get sad and feel guilty, I feel like I can hear Rhonda’s voice in my head, “Don’t worry about it, yo.” I know the last thing she would want me to do is feel guilty. It really didn’t matter how much time went by, whether we talked consistently or not, I knew that once we connected again, nothing would have changed, nothing would be awkward, we’d just pick up from where we left off and update each other on the important things. And I’m grateful that I got 1 last “what’s up” update before she transitioned out of this life.

Rhonda was always there for me for the important things. I knew that I could count on her to give me advice and listen to my troubles, judgment free. Tita-Lola was hands down one of my biggest cheerleaders. She supported my writing, was there to encourage me when I wasn’t confident in myself, and always let me know how proud she was of me with what I’m choosing to do with my writing. That’s why I felt comfortable to tell her the many ideas I have. “But I don’t know…” I would tell her at the end of a wishful thinking rant. I would explain 1 direction I wanted to take my writing, but then think of 5 other things I want to do. I knew I was all over the place, and would feel a little embarrassed as to what people’s opinions would be once I stopped talking. Rhonda would look at me and casually encourage me to do all of it. “Why not?”

She truly made me feel like I could do anything. Of course, the true push will have to come from me and me alone, but to know that I had Rhonda’s support and she was cheering me on from the sidelines in anything I chose, was a great feeling to know. Rhonda would never try to talk me out of the many ideas I had, and for that I’m grateful. She was so happy to see people be passionate about things, and she encouraged it in every way that she could. That’s just who Rhonda was – the most loving, supportive, and simpy mother fucker you will ever meet. I could laugh with her until I cried, but I could also get real with her and cry my heart out if I needed to. And I know she felt the same.

Rhonda was a giver. She would give you the clothes on her back if she thought you needed it. When she said she got you, she meant that shit. I know that because I have been on the receiving end of her generosity and love. Rhonda would listen, but her support wouldn’t just end there. She would literally try to see how she could help your situation, how she can personally make it better. If she loved you, Rhonda made your problem her problem, and if there was an immediate fix, she would do it. I don’t think I know too many people like that. If you knew Rhonda, consider yourself lucky. She was the most kind hearted person, giver by nature, and one of life’s true gems. Rhonda truly had a heart of gold, and I’ll miss her presence in my life.

I really can’t believe that Tita-Lola is gone. It’s a weird feeling to know that I can’t just text her, or DM her, or tag her in something. My Facebook and Instagram feed crickets as the main poster is no longer posting. It’s a trip to know that I’ll never see the green “online” symbol next to her handles. I have avoided reading through our text message and Instagram threads because I don’t want to get sad. Because it doesn’t feel like she’s totally gone. All her posts, pictures, stories, etc, they are living on. When I tagged her in a post a couple of days after she passed, I decided to read our Instagram chat. It was her encouraging me to take the next step, be independent, and accept an offer to move out. She told me, “How many more signs do you need :)? You’re a writer.” That was Tita-Lola, encouraging without being pushy. God, I miss her.

I find a huge comfort in knowing that Rhonda got the reunion she so desperately wanted with her grandparents. I know she has reunited with the many family members she has lost throughout the years. When I miss her or wish she was still here, I remind myself that she is finally at rest. Rhonda is no longer suffering, no longer in pain, no longer on her tedious schedule. She is at peace. And that alone brings me peace. Rhonda fought her fight, and now we have a real one looking over us from the other side.

Tita-Lola, I miss you. But I know you are at peace. I know that if anyone is pulling strings for me on the other side, it’s definitely you. The way you helped guide me and encourage me in this life, will be some of my most cherished memories of you. Before you went, you asked me to help you with our family’s family tree, and all these projects you had in mind. Like you did for my great-grandparents, I will make sure that you are remembered. I’ll have many photos of you flipping me off to share. Please continue to guide me like you always have.

Rest In Peace, Yo.

Last Year

Every first of the month, I stalk Susan Miller’s Twitter to see if she posted her monthly horoscopes. May 1st was no different. I went on and read about my Aquarius horoscope for the month of May. I paused. Wait, MAY?! It’s crazy to me how we are already in the month of May, and I can’t help but feel like this pandemic is speeding up and slowing down time simultaneously. To me at least, it’s like ever since March 2020, the months are just bleeding into each other, and all sense of time is completely fucked up. The pandemic has been around for such an extended period of time that pre-COVID life seems like ages ago.

I couldn’t believe that it’s May 2021 already. Not in the actual sense – given that I don’t live under a rock – but it’s crazy to me how fast time is flying, and how much things have changed. It made me think back to this time last year, and I realized that it is the anniversary of when my life drastically changed. To those that have kept up with my journey, I bet you’re like “omg, girl, you moved out, calm down.” To others, moving out is something exciting. For me, it was one of the most stressful moments of my life to date. Sounds dramatic but it’s true.

Around this time last year I got an incredible once in a lifetime opportunity to move out of my parents’ place. It was the end of April when this opportunity was brought to my attention, and little did I know that for the next 2 and a half months, I would be in a constant state of stress. This opportunity would give me the privilege to start saving money, live in expensive ass San Francisco, and take the next step in my relationship – but it also gave me headaches and countless sleepless nights. From the end of April 2020 – July 2020, this decision weighed heavy on my mind 24/7.

At that time, I just wanted to look into the future. I wanted to channel my inner “That’s So Raven,” and see what my outcome would be. I was so mentally stuck and conflicted that I didn’t know how to go about my life anymore. I was put in a position where whatever decision I chose, whether I accepted or denied, my life would drastically change either way. I was so stressed out. I feared change and didn’t want to mess up my family dynamic, but at the same time I was so curious to know what life would be like if I accepted the opportunity. There were pros and cons to both decision, and I was caught between a rock and a hard place. I begged the universe, my ancestors that have passed away, God – anybody or anything – to give me a sign on what the fuck to do with my life.

One of the months while I was in silent mental torture, I read my horoscope forecast for the new month. I can’t remember which month it was, but I remember reading it in awe. My horoscope basically described that I was going to be put in a position where I had to make a big decision. Now here me out, I love reading my horoscopes. It’s something that I think is fun to read and feeds my curiosity of the universe, future, and my life. But I don’t make big decisions in my life based on what my horoscope says. At this time though, I wanted a sign. I read my horoscope by Susan Miller, and not only did the whole thing seem very relevant to my life and my current scenario at the time – it seemed creepily spot on. It said I was going to have to make a tough decision, but whatever decision I chose, I could never go back to how life was before. Susan Miller described this transition like as if I were crossing a bridge, and that bridge falling apart right after I made it to the other side. Meaning, I was moving forward with my life, and whatever decision I made could not be undone. She also mentioned how I would make a commitment for at least 2 years – which tripped me the fuck out because the deal that was on the table required at least a 2 year agreement. I was shook. The universe doesn’t lie.

However, I didn’t make the decision I made because my horoscope was spot on at the time. But I do think of my mindset one year ago, and how I so desperately wanted to know what life would be like if I chose either decision – to move or not to move. It’s like I wanted a crystal ball to help me see what was the “right choice.” A year ago, I was so stressed out and really felt like I couldn’t see the bright light at the end of the tunnel. I felt like no matter what I chose, someone would be upset or disappointed with me. Fast forward to now, the present day, I look back and think damn, 1 decisions really changed my whole ass life. And here I am now, 1 year later, in a totally different headspace, happy with my choices, and growing as a person. It’s crazy what time can do. It’s true that 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, etc. – your life can drastically change. I kind of chuckle at how stressed I was a year ago – not because it’s funny, but because I should’ve known I’d be just fine. I’m exactly where I need to be.

Anti-Vax to Fully Vaccinated

I walk through Moscone Center’s doors and I am happily greeted by the staff every step of the way. It’s not crowded and doesn’t look all over the place. In fact, everything is so organized and in order. For some reason I expected chaos, long lines, and spending a good chunk of time there. But from the long row of check-in booths, to the stickers on the floor that tell you what direction to go in, to the sitting area where you wait with 2 big clocks on each side, everything was planned out accordingly and in a very efficient way. Each of my visits for the 1st and 2nd dose, I was in and out in less than 20 minutes.

When I entered Moscone Center, for just a second, I forgot I was on my way to get a dose of the vaccine. I expected the vibe to be serious, but I was surprised to find a light-hearted, welcoming, and joyous atmosphere inside. Workers were dancing happily to the music while escorting you to the next step. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was pleasantly surprised with how this vaccine site was operating. Even more so surprised with myself, since I never expected myself to be so eager to take a vaccine.

I’m the type of person that only visits the doctor’s when I absolutely have to. That’s just how I was raised to look at the hospital – you don’t go unless it’s a must, if it’s not that serious, you treat that shit at home and drink water. I would go for the necessary documentation, like if I needed a TB shot for work. I have all the vaccines that I needed to go to school, but if it’s not required, I wouldn’t take it. So when COVID happened last year and talks of a vaccine started circulating, I was dead set on not taking it once it was available.

Like many others, I just didn’t trust putting foreign things in my body. Trust is a big reason why people refuse to take the vaccine. There’s a distrust in the medical field, in doctor’s advice, and how this pandemic is being handled in general. There’s just so much opinions and beliefs that all point to people not trusting the vaccine. And I totally get it. But being in the pandemic for over a year and seeing what effects it had on people, businesses, and people’s every day lives, it really made me reconsider.

I can only speak from my own experiences, and I know at the end of the day everyone is entitled to their own opinions and are in control of their own bodies. But the last year alone has really changed my perspective on the medical field and people in general. This pandemic brought out the good, the bad, and the ugly out of people. For me personally, COVID really showed me who took the guidelines seriously, and who was just out for themselves, acting selfishly for their own pleasure and not for the safety of others and those around them. I found myself so conflicted with trying to keep myself safe, my family safe, but still trying to keep peace of mind. It was so hard not seeing my friends for a long time, and nothing to do but stay home, watch the news, and be fearful of what’s spreading.

From mid-March until June 2020, I woke up everyday and had the same routine. I would anxiously watch the news, seeing cases rising in California, and seeing the effects of what COVID had on my community. I watched Gavin Newsom make his speech everyday, his raspy voice calm and collected, while California watched in uncertainty. I got used to life indoors – not going out to eat to meet up with friends, wearing masks, not seeing people I regularly saw before, and so forth. When we first shutdown in March 2020, I never would’ve thought that over a year later, we would be in a similar spot. I had no idea that life would still be like this in 2021. When news of the vaccine distribution started going around, I was totally against it. I wasn’t in the first tier, so it didn’t really matter if I wanted it or not, it would still be a long way until I could even make that decision.

Initially, I was against the vaccine, but didn’t really have solid reasons why. For some reason, I believed that more people would be against the vaccine than being for it. To my surprise, it seemed the opposite. I had some time to think about whether or not I wanted the vaccine since I’m a childcare worker. I definitely wanted to wait a while first to see how people reacted to the vaccine before I decided if I wanted it or not. To my surprise, my older relatives got the vaccine. Most importantly, my 97 year old Tatay got it. That really made me change my mind. I wanted things to go back to normal so bad, and finally, the vaccine was that hope for me.

At first, I wanted nothing to do with the vaccine. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t get vaccinated. Since the beginning, I took the pandemic seriously. I follow the rules, I wear a mask, I keep my distance, I trust the doctors’ opinions, but also know that this pandemic is something new to everyone – they’re not always going to be right, so I keep cautious anyways. I despised people that refused to wear masks, not follow the rules, and make a commotion because they feel that staying inside is taking away their rights. I was tired of everyone being only about themselves and being selfish – helping to spread the virus around because of their own selfishness and carelessness. Though in the beginning I was anti-COVID vaccination, I came to the conclusion that if I wanted life to go back to normal, if I want to keep myself and those around me safe, and if I wanted to help end this madness, this is what I needed to do. Not believing in the validity of the vaccine would be contradictory to what I’ve been practicing this whole pandemic – which is being safe, believing in the severity of this virus, and playing my part in reducing the spread.

I didn’t know how bad I wanted the vaccine until I couldn’t get an immediate appointment. When it was finally my tier’s turn to get the vaccine, I was in no rush. I saw that there were a lot of appointments through Moscone Center, but didn’t sign up right away. At that point I knew I wanted the vaccine, but didn’t make it a priority because I was still a little nervous about it. That all changed when I realized Tatay already had his appointments to get vaccinated. I read that people who are fully vaccinated and are not part of the same household could be indoors maskless. Suddenly, I wanted to be fully vaccinated right then and there. I desperately refreshed my phone with no luck, everything was booked. This pandemic has taken a toll on Tatay’s memory. In the 2-5 minute visits that we make to his house every Sunday, he questions why we have masks on. At 97 years old, he is not aware of the pandemic, and it breaks my heart to slowly see him not remember who we are, where he is, or what time frame he’s living in anymore. I’m anticipating the day I can remove my mask at Tatay’s house, hoping that my face triggers his memory, to be able to give him a hug hello and goodbye without feeling anxious about it. And that day draws near as I just got my second dose.

Never in a hundred years did I think that I would be desperate to be vaccinated. I was hesitant because this is all so new. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that if people back in the day had the same mentality for Chickenpox, Tuberculosis, and all these other diseases that are basically no threat now and not common, we would still be battling those same diseases at an alarming rate right now. Nobody thinks twice on why children need certain vaccines to get into school because they have been a requirement for some time. I believe that’s where the COVID vaccine is headed – it’ll be a required vaccine to get to attend schools, etc. And it only seems like a big deal right now because we are the first wave of people getting it. But with time, herd immunity will kick in, and we will slowly go back to where we were before the pandemic.

The past year has had so much change. People have been isolating themselves, nervous to go out, and worried for their health. For me, getting the vaccine is a glimpse of hope. Not only am I protecting myself, but protecting my family, people I come in contact with, and even the people that don’t want to get the vaccine. I know to each their own – I was anti-COVID vax, but changed my mind. And I know there will be a lot of people who won’t change their mind. But speaking for only me – I chose to believe in science, even if I’m a little uneasy. This year alone has proved that staying home and living the lockdown life works, but isn’t going to rid the world of COVID. I’m optimistic about the future, as I see cases dropping and things scheduling to move up into the next tier.

The sticker board where you can place the sticker they give you with your time stamp on when you can leave 15 minutes after your shot, was near the exit of Moscone Center. I don’t believe it was there when I got my first dose, but noticed it on my way out after my 2nd dose. Seeing this wall reassures me that things are looking up.

BUSSDOWNMAMÍ

When Normaje “Nana” had her son, she really saw her love for party planning come to life. She wanted to do the most for all his parties – everything from the food, the decorations, and the dessert table. Nana’s auntie has always inspired her to bake because she was always in the kitchen baking new items and trying out different recipes. After witnessing her aunt bake for years, she decided to try her luck in the kitchen as well. She wanted to have her son’s dessert table be a certain way, and places she checked out just wouldn’t have what she wanted, or was over her budget. Anticipating and planning her son’s parties was around the time Nana noticed that she was getting more and more into baking. She had no idea that her love for food would one day turn into her small business, BUSSDOWNMAMÍ.

When Nana would showcase her son’s dessert table on social media, a few people would keep a mental note of her aesthetic and talent. When her friends started to have kids, they would reach out to her to cater and set up their dessert tables. When others started to notice her passion for party planning and creating different desserts in the kitchen, Nana started to think that maybe she could turn her hobby into another source of income to get her little family into a better position. People were inquiring about her dessert tables, and she would post the finished look on social media. Suddenly, she was known as the girl to go to for desserts and all things “party.” But like any small businesses owner, the self-doubt started to creep in.

” I was so hesitant!” Nana said remembering how nervous she was to announce her small business to the public. “I was afraid of what people would think, and of course the outcome. Would my stuff even interest people? Would I even get any clientele? So many questions ran through my head until I was like, ‘you know what… what can I possibly lose?'”

And just like that, the Bay Area native became the owner of BUSSDOWNMAMÍ, LLC. Nana describes BUSSDOWNMAMÍ as a one-stop-shop for events. She offers services for dessert and food catering, dessert tables, custom gifts, and more. If you faintly remember BUSSDOWNMAMÍ being referred to by another name, you have definitely been a faithful follower! When Nana first started to offer her services, she was offering dessert tables, party decorations, custom gifts, and a few minimal desserts such as chocolate covered strawberries, rice krispies, and Oreo dishes, to name a few. When she first started, her business was referred to as #DIYMAMÍ. The name came as a joke to mock her mom, who would always hashtag “cookingmamí,” in all of her Instagram posts. When Nana branched out and started introducing food plates and items, her friends would refer to her and her food as “NewNewsBussDown.” Being named two different entities became complicated and a little confusing to outsiders. So, she decided to ditch one name. Instead of letting go of one name completely, she decided to merge the two.

Nana started taking actual orders under BUSSDOWNMAMÍ around 2018-2019. She was originally known for her desserts and sweet treats. But customers couldn’t help but reach out to see if she would be serving the plates she would post her on social media. Nana has always been a huge foodie. In 2018, she really started to take an interest in cooking. Back in the day when she had Twitter, she made a thread of food, and the first dish she attempted to make was a shrimp boil. She looks back now and laughs that her and her husband were at Boiling Crab or Ray’s practically every weekend. Nana took a crack at it and was surprised how delicious her shrimp boil turned out. The success of this dish encouraged her to try out other foods – especially foods from fancy places that would cost an arm and a leg to dine in. She branched out to cooking steaks, well known side dishes, and dishes from other cultures. Now, her husband refuses to eat anywhere that he feels Nana could do better. There are times where they order from restaurants and he just gives her the “I told you so,” look, because they’re not satisfied with the meal.

BUSSDOWNMAMÍ ‘s Quesabirria tacos and Birria Lumpia are one of the most popular items on her menu, so it’s surprising to learn that initially going into the business, Nana had no plans on selling food plates. People kept reaching out to her about the food she would post on social media, so she thought she would just give it a go. Her first pop up was a huge success, and she was glad that she decided to test it out. Nana figured that offering food plates as part of her services would be a step in the right direction. Since her main goal was to become a one-stop-shop for events, it only made sense that she include food catering to her long list of services. She’s glad that she listened to what her followers wanted instead of just going the route she had originally envisioned, because offering things outside of dessert is what made BUSSDOWNMAMÍ take off. She listened, and she received.

Even though BUSSDOWNMAMÍ is a one-stop-shop with a lengthy menu, not just anything makes the cut. Nana still has a process on how a food item makes it permanently on the official menu. All of her food experiments get posted to her feed or story, and then she waits. If she gets multiple requests and inquiries, BUSSDOWNMAMÍ will do a trial run to test out if it sells and what costumers think of the new item. If the dish is successful, it earns a spot on BUSSDOWNMAMÍ ‘s official menu. Nana loves that her business is an “all in one” business, because it gives the freedom to switch it up with her items without having to worry about ruining her business’ certain aesthetic. But despite her extended menu, there are still certain items that the business is known for. Dessert wise, BUSSDOWNMAMÍ is known for their Banana Cream Pudding and Gourmet Caramel Apples, and food wise, it is hands down their Quesabirria and Birria Lumpia. When Nana hosts pop-ups, these desserts sell within minutes, and her Quesabirria and Birria Lumpia preorders sell out within the same day posted.

With items selling out the same day of announcing a pop-up, Nana is always buying ingredients in bulk. To maintain a system where every costumer gets the freshest products, she has to keep a close eye on her inventory. She keeps note of the amount of everything she purchases and what can be reused for the next pop-up, and takes into consideration what won’t last because it’s perishable. And it only makes sense that BUSSDOWNMAMÍ has two fridges to make sure everything is properly stored and ready for pop-up day. Other items like boxes, other packaging items, and back stock are stored at both pick up locations.

It took some time for BUSSDOWNMAMÍ to organically grow its clientele, but word of mouth and the power of social media worked in their favor. Now, Nana has costumers reaching out to her and placing orders that she doesn’t even know in real life. When she gets direct messages from accounts who have 0 mutual friends or connections, it’s a good feeling because it proves that how she is advertising her products are interesting those who she doesn’t know personally. It means BUSSDOWNMAMÍ is set apart from other small businesses doing similar work. But with growing popularity comes the concern of safety during pick-ups. Nana always makes sure to double check Instagram pages, ensure payments went through prior to pick up, and makes sure her business is “well protected.” Overall, Nana has faith in humanity, and welcomes orders from strangers.

But don’t get it twisted, BUSSDOWNMAMÍ ‘s success was not an overnight thing. It took a while before she started to get the traffic she is so used to now. Nana didn’t come right out of the gates selling out every week, even though that’s what her followers are used to seeing now. It took a lot of hard work and trial and error to get BUSSDOWNMAMÍ to where it is today. She went from being booked once a month to being booked months in advance. The progress was slow and steady, but in 2019 she started to see that she was starting to get booked 2 weeks in advance. 2020 is when BUSSDOWNMAMÍ really started to gain popularity and blew up. She saw her calendar being booked sometimes even months in advance, and she couldn’t believe it. Nana never imagined that her small business would be this busy. And she’s proud to say that she got herself and her small business to this point. Even though she started a few years back, there were very few businesses on social media that she could use as a reference and learn from.

” It was all trial and error,” she explained. ” It took time to figure out what worked vs. what didn’t, how to properly market, and understand the market / what interests / draws people in.”

For the most part, Nana keeps her personal life completely separate from her business. She does have a full-time job at Kaiser, and loves that she can balance out BUSSDOWNMAMÍ, a full-time job, going to school, and being a mother all at once. It’s her biggest flex because she knows that being a young mother is usually looked down on, and she is happy to say that she is holding it down for her family at 23 years old. And she admits that sometimes she surprises herself with how much she piles onto her plate. She believes in the power of hard work and dedication, and knows that if she wants something to be successful, she needs to put in the time and effort. One thing Nana doesn’t do is make excuses or feel sorry for herself. Her attitude screams, “keep your eyes on the prize,” especially since she has a family to provide for. To be successful, at the end of the day it comes down to how bad do you want it? And Nana has no issues putting in the extra time and work, because she believes a person will find time or make time for things that are important to them.

“My business is my baby!” Nana said, explaining how she finds the time for BUSSDOWNMAMÍ despite her busy schedule. “If it means coming home after a long day at work to spend a couple more hours to contribute to the success of my business, then so be it. We are all dealt a deck of cards, some have it better than others. Needless to say, it’s ultimately up to you and what you choose to do with the cards you are dealt. Anybody who wants something is going to go for it, no matter how it played out or what it comes with. I’m just grateful to have such a supportive husband and easy going son that I’m able to get what I need done.”

And the grind doesn’t and won’t stop, because Nana has no plans of slowing down. When asked if she would ever leave her full-time job to pursue BUSSDOWNMAMÍ full-time, she broke it down plain and simple. Her small business means everything to her, it is her creative outlet, her baby, her biggest flex for her and her family. As her business grows, it only gets harder for her to meet the demand of orders. Even though BUSSDOWNMAMÍ is so successful and is selling out constantly, Nana will never put her family in a position where they have to sacrifice or question if they’ll make enough to cover the bills for the month. She understands that some people have the opportunity to quit their full-time job to pursue their dreams, but she also sees that those aren’t the cards she was dealt. She prioritizes her family and their well-being, and even though BUSSDOWNMAMÍ is successful, and she bets that she could probably make a living entirely on her small business, she prefers to keep her full-time job. Her job in the medical field provides her and her family with great benefits and sets her up for the future with a retirement plan. Nana’s mentality is simple, if she can manage both a full-time job and her small business, why not continue with both?

When people think of BUSSDOWNMAMÍ, they think of Nana, the one woman show doing it all! But Nana really stresses the importance of her husband helping her fill in the gaps when needed to maintain a smooth flow of the business. Her husband helps her run errands, do pick-ups, and even helps throw down in the kitchen if needed. She is thankful that he can keep her grounded when she is folding under pressure, which usually results in her not speaking very kindly to him in the moment. Her husband doesn’t hesitate to stop what he’s doing to tend to a stressed out Nana to help a lending hand. And when it’s food sales and pop-up days, her family really steps in to help her with the whole process. They have come up with a system where they all have a certain task to tend to without her having to ask or manage, which is a great help on those chaotic days. She is so grateful that she has her husband and family that tolerate her breakdowns and attitude when she’s under pressure.

Even though BUSSDOWNMAMÍ has seen a tremendous amount of support and sales, Nana still has her moments where she feels overwhelmed and discouraged. She has been doing this for years, but she is not prone to making mistakes. There have been many times where she has had hiccups on the day of pick-ups and gets overwhelmed with frustration. There are times when the “baking gods” aren’t on her side when she has a large order to fulfill, or her chocolate isn’t the right consistency it usually is, and other bumps in the road on prep days. What keeps her going and not just deciding to give up right then and there is knowing that there are people on the other side of those orders that are counting on her to execute what they requested. Times likes these, Nana has to take a deep breath, keep working, and remind herself that she has to deliver to her customers.

In September 2020, Nana’s grandpa passed away, and she lost all motivation to cook, bake, or tend to her business. It got to the point where she couldn’t complete a task without getting anxiety or having mental breakdowns. The passing of her grandpa was something she was not prepared for, and it turned her world completely upside-down. During this time, Nana thought it was best to take a break from BUSSDOWNMAMÍ until she was up for it again. She canceled orders that were pre-booked in advance because she mentally could not handle it all. Nana admits that canceling orders is very out of her character, since she goes above and beyond to deliver to her costumers no matter how tired, busy, or booked she is. But she had to put her mental health first to give herself a break and a time to mourn. She took a few months off of BUSSDOWNMAMÍ, and the whole time she questioned if she had made the right move. By this time, so deep into the quarantine, there was so much competition that Nana was unsure if her customers would return back after her break. When she got the courage to start back up again, her clients picked back up from where they left off.

“The thought of the market being so competitive and questioning if  people will still order from me after being gone for so long raced back and forth in my head,” Nana said. “But my first pop up back, my clients did not fail to prove to me why I continue to do what I do. With that being said, I’m just honestly so so so blessed to have such solid and loyal client base. They are the ones who truly keep me going with this entire business.”

Since Nana started BUSSDOWNMAMÍ prior to the pandemic in 2018-2019, she definitely had to switch up her pop-up dynamic because of COVID. Her family and costumers’ safety is so important to her, and she doesn’t want anyone to be at risk. Because of COVID, BUSSDOWNMAMÍ has cut down on their pop-ups. But as the pandemic persisted, Nana had to come up with a new routine to ensure that she could serve her clients, but at the same time keep everyone involved safe. Clients are required to use electronic payments for orders, must be wearing a mask, and must remain in their vehicle for pick-ups. Since Nana also works in the medical field and is handling food, she gets routinely tested. By following these protocols, Nana hopes that it brings her family and costumers some peace of mind.

“I had to put a lot of my plans and pop-ups on hold,” Nana said on behalf of BUSSDOWNMAMÍ. “I wasn’t able to operate as often as I was and that overall just kind of set me back. I know it’s easy to just keep selling but I have a family to protect and wouldn’t want to put my family in any position to be exposed.”

COVID also brought some other hurdles. When COVID hit, Nana started to see a lot of new Instagram businesses starting up. Suddenly, there were a lot more strawberry dippers, dessert pages, and food pages. At first, Nana felt some type of way, she felt that she put a lot of hard work into BUSSDOWNMAMÍ years prior to the pandemic, only to see competitors show up at an alarming rate during COVID. She had to remind herself that this is just a part of the business – there will always be competition. Nana quickly got over it, and realized that the pandemic hit people differently, a lot of people lost their jobs and the government isn’t being helpful with resources and financial assistance. She realized that she never knows what a person is going through during these tough times, and isn’t bothered by other businesses selling similar food items, because at the end of the day, “everyone can eat!”

“With a successful business, it’s going to get competitive, and you have to learn to adapt and understand that,” she said. “I’m the type of person that doesn’t like doing the same things others are, that’s why I’m just ultimately so thankful that I shaped my business to be a one-stop-shop so I don’t do just desserts or I don’t do just food, so it’s definitely a huge perk being so universal.”

Nana admits that she felt some type of way in the beginning, but that quickly changed. She laughs and says it’s because she’s an Aries and gets over things quickly. She knows that other businesses popping up will ultimately not affect her business, so it shouldn’t be any of her concern. In fact, Nana welcomes other small businesses to reach out to her. She loves to connect with others and come together as a community to collab and do giveaways. When she is completely booked with orders and costumers inquire about wanting to order, Nana will refer them to other businesses that sell similar items. And these small businesses refer BUSSDOWNMAMÍ as well. Nana appreciates that she and other small businesses help each other grow and succeed by being supportive and keep word going of the other business. She hopes to work with more small businesses in the future.

BUSSDOWNMAMÍ ‘s goal for 2021 is to keep growing and try new things and techniques. She wants to gain more clientele, gain more knowledge, and step out of her comfort zone. Nana hopes to have more availability so she can cater to all the customers that want to try out her food. One day she hopes to open up a physical location, and hopes to do that in the next couple of years. In the meantime, BUSSDOWNMAMÍ is taking orders through DM’s and emails because her order forms are currently under construction. She plans to launch her official website and order forms hopefully by the end of February. Nana’s advice to other small businesses is something she found on social media.

“I seen this post a couple months or maybe a year ago that changed my perspective indefinitely and I know others can probably relate as well: ‘When you feel discouraged about your business idea because there’s so many people around you doing the same exact thing, go to the grocery store & look down the bread isle. Same idea 15+ companies selling the same exact thing!‘ Everyone can eat!”

Reaux&Co

Before there was a “Bay Area Collection,” a “Vibes Collection,” an “Established Collection,” and so forth, Reaux&Co was merely a dream tucked safely in Pricilla’s heart. Since a young age, Pricilla knew she wanted to be her own boss, and she had everything planned out on how she would achieve her goal of owning and designing her own clothing line one day. So how did Reaux&Co go from just being thoughts and ideas jotted down on Pricilla’s phone to becoming a full blown business with over 1,300 sales and being sold in 2 physical store locations in just a little over a year? It started with an acceptance letter to FIDM, the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.

Pricilla was so thrilled that she got accepted into her dream college. Going to FIDM was always the plan she had set for herself. She loved designing clothes – cutting and sowing fabrics on the dress form and letting her mind run wild with what she could create. Her mom had other plans though. Due to the cost of tuition, her mom encouraged her to go the junior college route instead. Pricilla was devastated, she was certain that FIDM was her next step after high school. Still, she took her mom’s advice and went to San Francisco City College. She didn’t resent her mother for encouraging her to go to a junior college, but she was still headstrong about FIDM. She couldn’t let it go, and in turn, it made her lose her drive to go to school.

“I wouldn’t say resentful, but definitely stubborn,” Pricilla said remembering how she felt when she appeased her mom by going to a junior college. “I just had my mind set on it for so long. So when it didn’t happen, I was just so disconnected from even wanting to go to any other school. Even though SFCC had a fashion course and major, which I did take a couple of those classes, I was stubborn and wanted it how I always envisioned it.”

While in community college, she found herself very unmotivated. She had no idea what she wanted to do, or what she was even interested in outside of the fashion route. Pricilla started to feel like she was just going to school because it was something she was supposed to do because that’s what’s expected of everyone right after high school, but it wasn’t something she really wanted at the time. She decided to stop going to college and start working instead. Of course her mother wanted her to stay in school, but her mom also understood that she was an adult who could make her own decisions. Therefore, Pricilla believes her mom didn’t feel personally responsible for her dropping out. FIDM or not, going to school was her choice.

Pricilla felt really stuck in life. She didn’t know what direction to go, what career move was next, or where to even start. And then, she had her “saving grace,” her son, Ronin. She discovered soon after he was born that he was the push she needed all along to pursue her life-long dream of being a business owner. Pricilla knew it was finally time to put all of her marbles in her small business idea because she couldn’t afford childcare and had to find something she could do while still working from home and tending to her son. It only seemed right to name her clothing brand after the person that motivated her the most, Ronin. She took his nickname, “Ro,” and decided to put a spin on the spelling. She liked how aesthetically pleasing “Reaux” looked and rolled with it.

“He just made me look at life from a whole different perspective,” she said, revealing why having her son was so eye opening. “When you become a mom you really feel this weight of wanting to be so much better for this other life you’re now responsible for. I was so stuck before I had him, in terms of what I wanted out of life and the direction I should go in. After I had him, I knew I just had to go for it, for what I always wanted.”

Pricilla was very hesitant to launch Reaux&Co because she didn’t know how people would react to her line. She admits that her self-doubt was just her overthinking it, being scared to fail, and just overall being too hard on herself. After all, she has had these collection ideas in her phone for over a year before Reaux&Co actually launched. She already had the ideas, she just had to finalize her business. But Pricilla knew she had to start, and start it soon, because it wasn’t about just her anymore, it was about Ronin. She even went back to school the same time she dropped the brand as her back up plan and safety net.

Representing the Bay Area was so important to Pricilla, that she decided to have her first collection drop be the “Bay Area Collection.” She is so proud to be from the Bay Area, and wanted to capture that in her clothing line. To her, there is no place like the Bay, and only those that are from here know that. She loves that there is nothing like the Bay Area culture, and really wanted to project that vibe in her first collection and brand as a whole. Luckily, Pricilla never had to go to her backup plan because Reaux&Co‘s launch was a hit! She advertised the “Bay Area Collection” through Instagram and gave teasers on what products she would be selling. Instagram was a great tool to help get word around that she was going to launch Reaux&Co.

From there, Reaux&Co took off. The brand is known for their matching and personalized clothing items for parents to match with their minis, specifically moms. Pricilla knew that she wanted to focus on clothing for moms and their minis because it’s what she liked as well. She is forever matching with Ronin, taking full advantage of it now since she knows he won’t want to match with her forever. That’s how she gets most of her ideas – she thinks about what she would dress Ronin in, and tries to put her own spin on things. Her “Vibes Collection” is especially popular for their mom tees and crewnecks, and she plans on dropping more “Mommy & Me” lines soon. She knows that matching clothes is a customers favorite on Reaux&Co for sure.

Pricilla was so happy that Reaux&Co was doing well. In the beginning, she was so worried about how people would react to her small business, and to her surprise, she suddenly had supporters and customers that loved everything she dropped. So much so, that she had a copy cat. Her “Mom Vibes,” clothing is very popular, it is one of her best selling items. So Pricilla was shocked to see another small business using the exact same font, wording, and shirts as hers. She couldn’t believe that her original idea was being copied, but took the higher road. She knows ultimately, there is nothing she can do about other businesses imitating her products. She takes it as flattery, but knows that she would never try to purposely copy another small business’ work. Reaux&Co does use other brands in their clothing, and Pricilla knows that that’s when things can get a little tricky.

“I know it’s a thin line some brands walk when we use certain logos of high brands like YSL, LV, Nike etc.,” she said. “You just really have to make it your own, and put your spin on it.”

And customers have definitely loved Pricilla’s spin on those high end brands. What surprised her going into the business is the tremendous amount of support she gets from acquaintances and complete strangers. She has met and built relationships with a lot of her customers who have supported her business venture. She also didn’t expect to connect with so many moms through Instagram. Some have reached out to Pricilla, telling her that she inspired them to go for what they want, that she was that “push” they needed to just get started. And Pricilla appreciates those moments because she looks back to the tine where she was in that exact same position.

“It still blows me away to be honest,” she said when asked about people she doesn’t know personally support her in everything that she drops. “I have strangers I don’t know in real life, that will support each and every collection and for that I am so thankful for. The support is everything to me.”

The support she gets from her customers motivates her to come up with new ideas and not be so hesitant with creating. Pricilla explains the process of dropping a new line as hard, but still fun. Most of her ideas come about when she thinks about what hasn’t been done or what she hasn’t seen for kids clothing yet. She knows what will set Reaux&Co apart from other clothing lines is how much they can stand out. Reaux&Co‘s goal is to go against the grain and be the leader at creating trends, not follow them. And when she gets that idea, the next step is to create a mock up on the computer, and make a physical sample. If she likes the physical product, she will take high quality pictures of every item in that line, on models and by itself. Pricilla stresses the importance of marketing, and building anticipation for your drop. This means posting teasers and countdowns 2-3 weeks before you intend to drop the line so your customers can get excited. The last step is to drop the items and make them live, crossing your fingers and hoping it’ll do well.

Thankfully enough, Reaux&Co‘s experience with dropping new lines has always been fairly successful. That means Pricilla is making trips to the Post Office about 5-6 days a week. She’s made friends with all the employees at the Post Office at this point, since she is such a frequent customer. Shipping has definitely been an issue since COVID. When the pandemic hit, Pricilla noticed that that’s when Reaux&Co really started to take off, about 3 months into launching the business. She admits that she still doesn’t completely know why that was – more time for people to be on their phones, being at home with extra time, making a conscious effort to support small businesses during a pandemic – whatever it was, she’s grateful for it because Reaux&Co started to flourish. That meant more shipments with many delays. With COVID, the postal services are delayed and that means a headache for trying to get things delivered and shipped on time.

During these times, Pricilla can get overwhelmed and discouraged, but has never thought about calling it quits. She understands that there are some things that are just completely out of her control, and the best thing she can do is to just stay organized. Things can get hard, like shipping and getting the wrong number of products, but she knows that at the end of the day, it’s all part of the job. She pulls herself out of that stressful funk by allowing herself to take time to rest. Pricilla will do activities with her son, like taking him to the park, order food, and spend quality time with him to get herself out of that hectic headspace. It’s all a balance.

And Pricilla admits that sometimes there isn’t much of a balance when you’re trying to be a full-time mom and full-time business owner at the same time. There are times where she has to work while Ronin is watching Cocomelon, eating his lunch, or going down for a nap. Most days she will set aside time for Reaux&Co so she can give her son her undivided attention. She is a one woman show holding down her business, but she appreciates that there are so many people that help her outside of the business to make sure she has time to work. And staying organized, making sure everything has a place, and ordering from her vendor in time is all a part of keeping the balance and making her life easier. Especially since she does all the creating at home.

All the hard work and the struggle to balance being a mom and her own boss is starting to pay off. Pricilla is starting to see the fruits of her labor, putting in her all into Reaux&Co for over a year. She has seen over 1,300 sales, and is selling her brand in 2 physical store locations. Haven Kiyoko Kids reached out to her to have her clothing be carried at their location. She is especially grateful for Kirsten for seeing the potential in her then small brand. The second store location came to her as a referral from a family member who knew the owner of a shop in Oakland, and now Reaux&Co can be found in “E14 Gallery.”

Reaux&Co‘s goal for 2021 is to continue to reach and connect with more people. They are pushing to try to have Reaux&Co be in another physical store location, and overall just want to keep making improvements to give their customers a great experience. Pricilla hopes to have her own store one day, for that is the ultimate dream goal. And she would want to carry other small brands in her future boutique, as others have done for her. She doesn’t put too much pressure on the idea, and knows that this is an end goal that will take time and hard work. In the meantime, she continues to pray on it.

Pricilla wants her customers to know that she was a mom who decided to go for her dream. When she didn’t attend FIDM, she found herself lost and having no sense of direction. She envisioned her school and career to go one way, and couldn’t reroute her plans when things didn’t go the way she had hoped. Ronin was that saving grace for her. When she had her son, she knew that she had to do it not only for herself, but for him. He was now her reason and motivation to go for her dreams. Without the Ro, there would be no Reaux&Co.

Her advice to other small businesses in her field is to stay creative and stay true to yourself – when people know and see that you’re authentic, they will notice and gravitate towards your business. Pricilla is excited and hopeful for what’s to come for Reaux&Co. She wants her customers to know that they can expect more unique lines for themselves an their minis. Pricilla is content knowing that so many mothers have found happiness, inspiration, and fashion through her small business. What started as just ideas on her phone, quickly turned into her empire in a little over a year. And she knows that she wouldn’t have made it this far without the people that continue to support her and Reaux&Co.

“Thank you for believing in us!” Pricilla said on behalf of Reaux&Co. “Thank you for always showing so much love and support with each collection. None of this would be possible without the support. Every like, share, repost, and purchase means the world to me, truly. We will continue to deliver as long as you will have us. Thank you so much for being here.”

Melonaire Juice

Growing up, Justine remembers going to picnics, birthday parties at the park, barbeques, and other social gatherings on warm sunny days. At these parties, there was always one item that was on the menu – her parents’ melon juice. The ice cold melon juice, with the freshly shredded cantaloupe strings, and square jellies dancing at the bottom of the cup, was the refreshing drink that she craved being in the sun all afternoon. The melon juice always quenched everyone’s thirst at these type of gatherings. She remembers her parents bringing the melon juice to her little sister’s volleyball fundraisers, and it would always be a hit. A lot of people would tell Justine’s parents to sell the melon juice and make a business out of it. They were flattered, but shied away from the idea. To this day, Justine associates all of these happy and fun memories with her parents’ famous melon juice. For as long as she can remember, making the melon juice has always been a team effort amongst her parents.

“It was like team work between my parents,” Justine said reminiscing. “It was their thing. Sometimes if my mom was at work, my dad would make it himself, but for the most part I always think of them together. And then my sister and I would… you know… enjoy the fruits of their labor,” she laughed.

When the pandemic and Shelter in Place orders hit, Justine, like many others, saw small businesses pop up from left and right. She described it as a new age – a Renaissance. She was thoroughly inspired by all the people she saw starting up their own business ventures and running with their ideas. Justine was in awe, she wondered how much courage it took these small business owners to pursue their passion projects and side hustles. She admired how brave they were to not care about the judgements of others and stepping out of their comfort zones. Justine wondered if she would ever have that kind of courage to go after a business venture for herself.

It wasn’t until her little sister started her jewelry business that Justine thought, “Maybe I can start a side hustle too.” Her little sister, without knowing it, was the push that Justine needed to dip her toe in the entrepreneur world. After all, if not during a pandemic – where she had more free time than she’s had in years – then when? COVID-19 pushed Justine to start Melonaire Juice, even though she was very anxious about the whole thing. Still, she wanted to spend her time in quarantine doing something productive, that she enjoyed, and that could make her some extra income on the side.

Justine got the idea to use her parents’ cantaloupe juice recipe since it was always a success anywhere they brought it. She remembered all the good memories that the melon juice reminded her of, and wanted to spread that same happiness to those around her. During the summer time, she asked her parents how they would feel if she used their melon juice recipe and started selling it to people outside of their circle. After all, they only shared it with family and those that turned into family, like her sister’s volleyball team. They threw that ball right back in her court and told her they would support her if she chose to do it. It was her mom that hinted closer to yes and mentioned that maybe it was a good idea because the weather was nice and still warm in the Bay Area. Justine was happy that her parents were on board with her idea, and she was excited to include them in the next steps – like designing a logo, naming the business, and how to advertise.

In fact, that was Justine’s favorite part of the process – getting it all started and deciding the aesthetics of her business. She is all about the vision, and was excited to use her creativity and bring her visions to life. Justine bounced back name ideas with her best friends and parents, and Melonaire Juice was the winner. Finally having a name for her small business made it all the more real. She teamed up with my little sister to create her logo, tweaking her ideas and tailoring them to her liking. Justine would send the progress logo photos to her parents every time she got an update. It was very important to her to keep her parents in the loop because she felt so grateful that they had her back and approved of her using their “recipe.” She wanted to do right by them and include them in the process.

Once Justine had her official Melonaire Juice logo, she was motivated to figure out the packaging. Packaging was very important to Justine because she knew she would have to take product photos to advertise the cantaloupe juice. Being a person with an artistic eye, she already had visions of what kind of shots she wanted to post to promote it. Justine’s goal was to have everything – from the logo, to the packaging, to the photos, to the color schemes on Instagram – be visually pleasing. The colors she used for the logo and Instagram page were purposely picked to have the viewer associate Melonaire Juice with warm weather, being a refreshing drink, being outside in the sun, and to have a tropical theme. Everything started coming together, but Justine’s doubts quickly took over her mind. On top of that, she was on a time clock, was she going to drop the melon juice while it was still summer time, or would she talk herself out of it and would have to wait until after winter passed?

The creating process was Justine’s favorite part of starting her small business. But in the back of her mind she always had doubts about what she was doing. Justine would try to distract herself by just pushing on to the next step to get her business on its feet. But when everything was complete and she had no more steps to take other than publicly announcing a pre-order date, her self-doubt was more amplified than ever. Justine describes herself as a very anxious person, and she went through every scenario possible on why people wouldn’t buy from her. She went back on forth on whether opening up Melonaire Juice was a good business move or not. It was a battle between Justine vs. Justine, and she either had to fight for her small business, or fall victim to the self-negative talk she fed herself. She had no choice but to confront each question of doubt head on, and convince herself that her melon juice was worth a shot. She wanted to make sure that her product stood out, and got discouraged with the idea that people wouldn’t give her melon juice a try because they could easily get something similar at a local taqueria. But she has never seen the Filipino version of agua fresca, especially a cantaloupe version served with the toppings her family recipe offered.

“I would ask myself: what makes me different, and what makes this product different?” Justine said replaying her train of thought at the time. She remembers all the questions she would ask herself, “Are people even going to buy it? What if only my friends buy it? Would it be able to travel word of mouth?”

Every time she had these doubts, she would circle back with her best friends, family, and boyfriend. Justine is grateful for the contribution they had in getting Melonaire Juice up and running. No one discouraged her more than herself. Her support system around her encouraged her to keep going and follow through to see where she could take Melonaire Juice. Justine’s boyfriend, Matt, was very supportive from the beginning and really pushed for Justine to sell her melon juice. Matt is African American, and Justine always wondered if people outside of the Filipino culture would think the melon juice, shredded cantaloupe, and square jellies was a weird combo, but he loved it. He also brought some of the juice for his family to try and they loved it as well. It brought Justine comfort knowing that other people that didn’t grow up on the drink enjoyed it and encouraged her to sell it to the public.

“I know ultimately I have the last word, but for the type of person I am and how anxious I can get, I can’t stress enough how grateful I am to have my loved ones support me,” Justine said humbly.

So, after a lot of back and forth, Justine decided to launch Melonaire Juice and drop a pre-order date. She began advertising her juice on social media, using the photos she previously took at a park. The photo shows the mason jar dripping with cold streaks of water, the orange tint of the juice pairing well against the blue logo. This photo screamed “refreshing,” and as the Bay Area went through a heatwave, it definitely caught people’s eye and attention. Justine’s closest friends shared her content on Instagram, helping spread the word that she was selling cantaloupe juice. Even though her friend group is pretty tight knit and they were each other’s main crew, each friend still had other friends and followers that could branch out the business. She was happy that just a simple post share on their stories could bring in friends of friends.

When Justine dropped the pre-order date, she anxiously waited to see if people would reach out and order. She admits that she set the bar very low for herself because she didn’t want to be disappointed, knowing that this would be her first go around with only her friends knowing and sharing her content. She expected things to be slow initially because everything would be by word of mouth. Justine thought that if she could sell 10 jars on her launch date, she would be very grateful. To her surprise, she exceeded that number by a great deal. Justine couldn’t believe it, and saying she was grateful for the overwhelming support she got from her friends and family was an understatement. She made her round of drop off’s that weekend, thanking everyone she knew personally, with a mask on and some distance, of course. Her orders from her first launch were mostly close friends and family, still, she knew that it could get bigger because each person posted it on their social media after receiving the juice. Little did she know, it was just a matter of time before she would get other customer traffic through her original customers.

After her first launch, Justine eagerly prepared herself for the second drop. To her surprise, she hit a road block she never expected to come by. Justine prepared herself for the change in numbers of people buying, knowing some weeks would be better than others, she prepared herself for people being late and not picking up their order due to schedule conflicts, she even prepared her kitchen and fridge situation, knowing it would get really crowded around pick up weekends. What she didn’t prepare for was a nationwide mason jar shortage one week after her first drop. Justine was baffled – a nationwide mason jar shortage?! She didn’t even know that could be a thing. But it was, and this was her new reality. Due to COVID, everyone was buying mason jars to pickle different items, and suddenly the once ready available mason jar was a hard item to come by. Justine went to different stores across the Bay Area, searching high and low on the internet, and ultimately deciding that she would most likely have to look for another container to house her melon juice.

It was a set back that Justine was really sad about. After all, she is the aesthetic queen. She had a vision for how her product would be packaged, and the second week of orders, that all had to change. She found herself scrambling to find a good alternative. At first, she thought about telling her customers that they can bring their own mason jars for her to fill, but that idea was quickly thrown out because of COVID. Justine wanted to make sure that she was keeping herself and other customers safe. Justine ended up settling for heavy duty deli containers, because it was about the same size as a mason jar, and could still be used after the drink was done. She laughed at the idea that her customers could get a 2 in 1 deal – Melonaire Juice and free tupperware. The packaging was a small hiccup that Justine had to get around, but once she found an alternative, she was back on social media advertising her next drop. She reassured her customers that the packaging changed due to a nationwide mason jar shortage, but the melon juice was still the same great taste.

With the container situation solved, Justine continued to promote Melonaire Juice. Her small business was doing well for being new and just starting up. Justine even started to get orders from people she didn’t know personally, proving that the Instagram promoting, with the help of her friends, was working. Still, she would get so anxious when she would post on her page saying she was taking pre-orders. It was a constant high and low feeling. Justine would be anxious to announce her next drop, and would fear that nobody would order. Once she would get some orders in, she would feel relieved and could finally breathe again. But that anxious dread would always return the next drop after, a cycle that kept repeating, putting her on a rollercoaster of anxiety. Because of this, she would try to prepare herself for orders declining and fluctuating depending on the weather, so she wouldn’t get disappointed.

Another road block she encountered was the pick up situation. Meloniare Juice offered pick up and drop off options to their customers. As Melonaire Juice reached customers that Justine didn’t know personally, she got a little concerned with giving out her address to strangers. Her mom felt the same way, and didn’t want others to know where they lived. Luckily, Justine’s house is close to a well-known park, and she would do pick ups from that location if she didn’t know a customer too well. Still, she is grateful for all the customers that she has had that she didn’t know personally, it’s just a matter of privacy and making her parents feel more comfortable with the business.

With the drops that she has done, she has found a routine that works for her and her schedule. Justine takes pride in giving her customers the freshest products, so she has a very particular system that she follows to ensure her customers are getting Melonaire Juice at its best. She will head to the store a day or two before pick up day, and carefully picks out the ripest cantaloupes available. And she always comes with the intent to be on the safe side, purchasing more in case any last minute orders come in. She does all the prep work the day of pick ups, and starts about 2 hours before the first pick up is scheduled, this way, the juice isn’t sitting in the fridge over night. The night before, Justine clears out her fridge, to make sure that there is enough room for all of her orders. And the heavy duty deli containers have proved to help with the space issue since they can be stacked on top of each other. Once Justine has all of the orders done, she stores them in the fridge, but switches them to the freezer the last 15-20 minutes before pick up so they are super chilled and ready to devour on a hot day. Justine provides a plastic for so all of that shredded cantaloupe and jellies don’t go to waste.

Justine likes to prep all orders the day of and hours before pick up so the cantaloupe is at its freshest. She does this so her customers can enjoy Melonaire Juice longer. It lasts in the fridge for about 3-4 days, and some customers have even reached out saying it was still good after 5 days. Still, she recommends that the melon juice be consumed within the first 3 days to get the freshest taste. The heavy duty deli containers definitely gives Justine the luxury to give Melonaire Juice in generous servings, so it will last more than 1 sitting. Especially on warm days, it is the perfect chilled snack to come home to.

But as time pushed on and the weather started changing, an ice cold refreshing juice wasn’t in high demand anymore. Justine had planned for this, and also worried about it before launching. She knew once Daly City and the Bay Area’s notorious fog and cold weather came around, that her small business would be affected. Melon juice is associated with warm weather, outdoor gatherings, and the summer time, her predictions were true, and she saw that less people were putting in orders as the fall came around. Cantaloupes were also going out of season, and even though they are sold year round, they are at their peak of flavor from June – August. Justine was hesitant on what to do next with Melonaire Juice.

“Since it was my first time starting a business, especially as a side hustle, I was kind of just feeling things out and seeing how people reacted to it,” Justine said. “But when I noticed that the weather had an effect on sales and also knowing it’s not really melon season, I was weighing out the pros and cons to seeing if I should take a break or not. I didn’t really have a plan to sell year round. I guess ideally that’s what I would want, but I also don’t mind taking a little break.”

Still, Justine was hesitant to go on a little hiatus. She didn’t want people to forget about Melonaire Juice since she wouldn’t be promoting it and posting about it as much. She knew that going on a break would likely be the case when fall and winter came, but she didn’t have a set plan on what to do. She didn’t want to lose engagement with followers and customers if she wasn’t selling. But ultimately, Justine made the decision to take a break and open up Melonaire Juice again when the weather permitted. It also gave her more time to brainstorm more ideas for her small business.

On her hiatus, Melonaire Juice did their first catering gig at Justine’s best friend’s COVID safe baby shower. The mama-to-be really wanted melon juice at her baby shower since everyone else would be turning up with alcohol. Justine was thrilled that her best friend wanted Melonaire Juice to cater, and wanted to fulfill her best friends wants and needs since a COVID baby shower with few friends wasn’t the ideal plan for a first time mom. The melon juice was a hit at the party, and guests started to pair it with their alcohol. Many people commented that the sweet cantaloupe juice was a great chase to go with their alcoholic beverage. This discovery gave Justine more ideas on how to promote her melon juice, and opened the doors to more opportunities aside from personal individual sized packaging. Since then, Justine has been thinking of the catering route for parties, events, and other social gatherings.

Justine’s goal for Melonaire Juice is to continue to grow the business. Since discovering that the melon juice pairs well with alcohol from the COVID safe baby shower, she has been entertaining the idea of catering once COVID calms down and more parties and gatherings are taking place. She still has to figure out small things like the container which she will transport the melon juice in for parties, but she’s excited to see what Melonaire Juice will evolve into in 2021. She also wants to experiment with pop-up sales at local parks when the weather permits. Justine’s goal is to open Melonaire Juice back up at the end of February, when warmer weather is expected to make its appearance back in the Bay Area. Customers can expect to see Justine and her famous cantaloupe juice at packed parks like Dolores Park, Gellert Park, and other picnic areas.

Justine’s advice to other small business owners is to be open to the journey. She knows it’s a lot easier said than done from experience, but try not to focus on worrying too much about the outcome. She explains that starting your own business should be fun, and it’ll be something you’re proud of once you push yourself out of your comfort zone. Speaking up about your small business will help get the word around that you are selling and advertising a certain product. If those closest to you don’t know about your small business, how will others hear about it? Also, asking close friends and family to share and repost your content will really help bring in new customers.

Justine decided to start Melonaire Juice during Shelter in Place, a time where she, and many others, struggled with finding something that kept them occupied and brought them joy. COVID slowed down a lot of people’s work, and being cooped up in the house with restrictions was very gloomy. Justine always had the entrepreneurial mindset, but could never find the time to take it seriously because of her busy schedule. Suddenly, COVID gave her the opportunity to test the waters with a business venture she had given much thought to, but never thought of pursuing. She loves that she gets to pass on her family recipe that has brought her so much joy over the years. And even though she plans on having different variations and experimenting with flavors and toppings, she is content knowing that Melonaire Juice was inspired by the fun memories associated with her parents’ original melon juice.

“My work slowed down,” Justine said remembering how COVID and the Shelter in Place disrupted her life. “It gave me something else to do, focus on, put my energy into, and grow it into something I’m passionate about. And I’m excited for people to try it… Plus there’s also the emotional attachment to it, knowing it’s based off my parents’ recipe… I had the opportunity to put out a food item that brought my family together and would start conversations when they would bring it to events where there were people who weren’t familiar with this Filipino food. And also just rep the Filipino culture, I think that’s really dope.”

Kapwa Baking Company

Faye remembers it fondly – using a big fork to mash all the ripe bananas that were in a huge white plastic bowl her mom handed her. Smashing the bananas was Faye’s special job every time they made banana bread, and she was happy to do it. Her mother would eyeball the recipe, adding a splash of milk, mixing in flour and sugar, and somehow getting it perfect every time. Making banana bread with her mom are the earliest memories Faye has of baking. And now with her own children, Faye has passed down the banana smashing torch to them – remembering how excited she would get to help her mom in the kitchen.

Growing up, she had always watched both of her Lolas cooking, and her parents were pretty nifty in the kitchen as well. Faye has always felt like baking was always in the “background” of her life, and didn’t realize at the time how much baking meant to her. With time, Faye saw it clearly – baking was her passion that lit a fire in her soul. With the help of her husband, Ryan, and COVID, Kapwa Baking Co. was born. And now, Faye and Ryan are serving classic Filipino desserts, selling out almost every time, while balancing their full-time jobs and raising their 3 children.

It has been a journey to get Kapwa Baking Co. to where it is today. The business was formerly known as Bake Me Happy SF, but with the help of COVID, it took on a new look, menu, and name in 2020. Faye shares her small business’ story, but Kapwa Baking Co. is so much more than a business to her. It has been her dream for years, and her and her husband are finally laying down the foundation of their business. Her goal is still the same – to one day have a café or bakery where she serves her regulars their usuals, a place where the community can gather and enjoy her delicious food. This is why she named her business “Kapwa,” the Tagalog meaning for “community / neighbor.” She was 9 years old when she left the Philippines for the US, and the desserts she offers are some of her favorites that remind her of home.

“My family moved here when I was 9, so I was still pretty young,” Faye said. “But I was old enough to have some concrete memories from the time time I spent there. I admit, a lot of my memories revolve around food haha!”

Ironically, the baking dessert connoisseur’s dream growing up was to be a dentist. Faye’s mom had a dental practice in the Philippines, and for as long as she could remember, she wanted to be just like her mom. Faye wanted to make that dream come true, so she went to college to pursue being a dentist. At the time, she didn’t even think twice about baking and owning a business. She continued with her studies, but found herself spending every break – before and after school – in the Culinary Department’s library. Every time Faye stepped foot in a bookstore, she would go straight to the cookbook section. She wanted to learn more about everything and anything related to desserts and baking. And when she wasn’t reading about food and baking, she was watching it on the Food Network.

Faye knew that she probably loved baking more than the average person, but didn’t give it much thought, other than being a hobby she really enjoyed. Baking was a stress reliever for her during her high school and college days. Faye would bake cookies pretty consistently, and just give them away to her classmates in college. When she started becoming aware of her new found passion in baking, she still continued with her original plan – she never switched her major to pursue the culinary arts. Faye has no formal culinary or baking training – everything she has learned has been through cookbooks, Food Network shows, other cooking channels she would religiously keep up with on YouTube, and of course, trial and error. She is 100% self-taught and humbly acknowledges that she is learning new techniques and information everyday.

“I never really looked at the underlying interest I had in sweets and desserts,” Faye said reminiscing on her college days. “I spent a good chunk of my college life working towards a career that I thought was my dream. In the end, I finally realized that baking and creating fed my soul and that it was what I was most passionate about.”

So, Faye fed that passion when she could. She felt as though baking and creating desserts was just the natural path for her to take. Her very first official “order” came from her dad. He ordered a Shako chocolate cake. If you look it up, a Shako is a cylinder shaped military hat that has embellishments and pompoms and feathers coming out of the top. Faye’s dad took her to get all of her materials to make the Shako cake, and she felt a little overwhelmed. At that point, she had only worked with American buttercream. In the end, she completed the chocolate Shako cake – decorated with fondant, a Styrofoam feather pompom decorated with royal icing, and edible gold dust for the embellishments. This tough first order of hers really opened her eyes to all the different mediums she could use in her dessert making. She started researching all the different ways she could use edible decorations and mediums.

From there, Faye started baking cakes for her friends and family’s birthdays or for special occasions. And usually she would give the cake as a gift. With time, she started experimenting with cake pops, personalized sugar cookies, macarons, and other small desserts. Faye jokes that the time she spent in the Culinary Department’s library finally came in handy! But it wasn’t until she had her son that her business started to slowly take form, about 8 years ago. This is when dessert tables started to gain popularity for being the highlight of parties.

When Faye’s son had his 1st birthday, she wasn’t working at the time. They couldn’t really afford to pay someone to make the anticipated dessert table, so Faye put her baking skills to the test and made all the desserts herself. Friends started to ask about all the desserts that were at the party, so Faye gladly started to take orders. A couple years later, Faye and Ryan welcomed their daughter into the world, and that’s really when the ball started rolling. They started their first small business, Bake Me Happy SF, where Faye catered desserts for birthdays, parties, showers, weddings, and any occasion that required treats.

Kapwa Baking Co. has been an idea that Faye and Ryan sat on for some time, but never pursued. It wasn’t until they took a trip to Portland 3 years ago that re-sparked their interest in having a small business that they could one day have a physical location for. When they were in Portland, they were inspired by all the mom and pop shops that they saw. Still, Bake Me Happy SF was doing well, and they were content with what they were doing for the time being. That all changed when COVID hit. When one business fell through the cracks, another business was born.

Faye admits that COVID and the Shelter in Place orders were the catalyst for starting up Kapwa Baking Co. It was the push that the needed since a lot of events that Bake Me Happy SF had were canceled due to the pandemic. Faye and Ryan had no choice but to pivot their business. That’s when the couple decided that Bake Me Happy SF would change into Kapwa Baking Co. Faye closed down Bake Me Happy SF ‘s websites and Instagram account since she was no longer going to offer the same desserts as she used to. Faye was very hesitant when they were going to launch Kapwa Baking Co. because she didn’t know how her followers would receive it. Her dessert menu was completely new – serving classic Filipino desserts, and some with a new twist, like her Pastillas Milk Jams. Since these were products that were different from what Bake Me Happy SF was originally known for, there were some doubts about how successful the new menu and business would be.

“The first week of our launch, I was fully prepared to only receive 1 or 2 orders from family members because our first product was something completely new,” Faye said.

To their surprise, Kapwa Baking Co. launched successfully! They have only been in business for about 6.5 months, but have already received so much success and support. They consistently sell out of their items, and can get booked pretty quickly. The max amount of orders that Kapwa Baking Co. can take each week varies based on Faye’s work schedule. She works as an administrative assistant at an elementary school, and even though there are no kids present because of the pandemic, COVID has made the job more demanding. There are weeks where they sell out pretty quickly, and that can be due to the limited orders they can accommodate, and then there are weeks where they can take a lot more orders because her work load isn’t as bad. It really all depends from week to week.

Kapwa Baking Co.‘s menu includes: Pastillas Milk Jams, Ube Monster Bread Pudding, Ube Cheesecake Fudge Brownies, Ube White Chocolate Cookies, Cookies and Cream Bread Pudding, and their most popular item – the good ‘ol classic Pastillas. Pastillas are a milky sweet candy that’s very popular in the Philippines. The recipe Faye uses is the same recipe her sister taught her over 10 years ago. When her customers drive by to pick up their orders, their pastillas are soft and fresh. Around the holidays, Faye was selling out of their milk jams because people were buying them to give as gifts. And usually one person will order on behalf of other people like their coworkers, family, and friends, and Kapwa Baking Co. will be greeted with a hefty order. This isn’t something Faye and Ryan complain about, though. They are just happy and grateful that their products sell out and that a lot of people enjoy them.

It’s definitely a blessing to have your products be so popular and selling out very often. Because of the business’ success, Faye and Ryan are still trying to find the middle ground of balancing Kapwa Baking Co. , their 9-5 jobs, and spending time with their 3 children. COVID has brought its own level of craziness to her full-time job, so Faye does all the work for Kapwa Baking Co. after hours. It is chaotic to say the least, but Faye thanks Ryan for having her back, because without him she wouldn’t be able to manage it all. Their daughter has commented on how busy her parents have been, and how they aren’t spending as much time together. Because of this comment, Faye has made a point to have “break” weeks where they don’t take any orders so they can have quality time with their children. Thankfully, her two eldest children are very helpful and self-sufficient, and love to help their youngest sibling, so when it is time to get down to business, all hands are on deck.

And that is exactly what is needed on baking days. That is the most chaotic time of the week – when it’s time to make and bake all the orders that came through. Faye does prep work throughout the week, like measuring out ingredients, prepping packaging, and tiny steps that can be done ahead of time. But all the baking and food preparation are done the night before the pick ups / deliveries. It may get crazy, but Faye does it to make sure that her customers have the freshest products from their company. Faye handles all the bookings, communications, and baking, while her husband, Ryan, handles the packaging aesthetic and deliveries. They have been meaning to find a time where they can have official “business meetings” between the two, but haven’t had the time to pencil that in permanently yet. For now, the flow and balance that they have now is working well.

There are days when Faye feels discouraged, exhausted, and like there aren’t enough hours in the day, but it has never gotten to the point where she feels like throwing in the towel. Faye admits that there have been a handful of nights where there were some tears and a lot of frustration because things didn’t go as planned. She deals with it by letting herself feel the emotions, but letting it go after. Faye knows that for the time being, she has to hustle to get Kapwa Baking Co. to where they want it to be. There are days where her full-time job drains her and she is overwhelmed with her “to do” list, but she knows that this business has been her dream for a long time, so she has to push through those difficult days. This mentality is part of the reason why Kapwa Baking Co. is so successful.

Faye has also been successful when advertising her small business online. When they were planning to launch Kapwa Baking Co., Faye made an Instagram and Facebook account for the business. They have gained a lot of their followers through friends and family sharing their page and posts. Faye recognizes that this is why Kapwa Baking Co. has been so successful – because of the support of friends, family, and customers sharing their content online. Faye makes it a point to add a personal touch to what she posts on the business’ Instagram and Facebook page because she doesn’t want to just post their menus from week to week. She tries to switch it up and have that personal connection with those who interact with the business page.

The positive feedback that they have been getting from customers and those around them is what surprised the couple the most. The support that they get from other small businesses is very heartwarming and encouraging. That’s why Faye’s advice for other small business owners is to support one another. This builds connections and awareness of other small businesses, especially during a time where small businesses are most at risk. She believes that supporting other small businesses will shed light on what’s important – raising up the community, her “Kapwa.”

“We are also looking forward to working with many many other small businesses and doing our part in raising our kapwa business owners up,” Faye explained as she went into collabing with other businesses.

When Bake Me Happy SF turned into Kapwa Baking Co., they revamped their whole menu. Faye was inspired by her favorite desserts and foods that she ate when she was a kid living in the Philippines. Their very first product, Pastillas Milk Jams, were inspired by her favorite candy – pastillas. Instead of having the pastillas in candy / solid form, the Milk Jam can be served on top of bread, ice cream, or even by itself! Faye and Ryan do a lot of experimenting with flavors and testing their recipes. Taste testing is Ryan’s primary job, and though they let their kids in on the tasting fun, they are aware that anything sweet is good to them! So, they will sometimes ask friends and family to taste their new treats. For now, their dessert menu is centered around them taking their own spin on traditional Filipino desserts and food.

Faye laughs and says she wants her customers to know that she is “extremely shy and awkward.” She wonders if people at curbside pickup notice how “awkward” she can be, but wants people to know that despite her shy demeanor, she loves to meet new people! A lot of their customers are friends, or friends of friends, or somehow know a mutual connection, and Faye enjoys building friendships with those who buy from Kapwa Baking Co. There are times where she is very hard on herself, and is working on celebrating her own victories, since she loves to celebrate others’ victories.

Their goal for 2021 is to partner with more local businesses and possibly expand to Farmer’s Markets. Faye wants to dedicate more time to Kapwa Baking Co. so she can consistently take more orders. They are really hoping that opening a physical location will be in their cards somewhere down the line. It has been Faye and Ryan’s dream to one day open up a brick and mortar for their small business, and that’s where the conversation always leads to when they talk about their dreams and goals. Faye loves that she has her husband’s support through it all. She describes him as her #1 supporter, business partner, and all around helper. This is their dream, their goals are aligned, and they are keeping their eyes on the end goal.

“That’s always what it came down to – to own a place where people can come together, share their talents, and enjoy our treats,” Faye said. “A place where people came in as strangers and left as family, where we would know our customers by name and serve them their ‘usuals.’ We wanted a place where we could feature other small businesses and their hustles, hold open mics and art shows for local musicians and artists. Hence the name we chose… Kapwa.”

Love Your Choices

I snapped this photo when I was walking to the grocery store a few weeks back. Everytime I see artwork, a sign, a quote, or anything on the street that speaks to me, I take a picture of it. I always know that somehow, it’ll be used one day for one of my blog posts. This sign was no different, except this time it was very relevant to my current situation. I’ve been meaning to write about this topic for a while, but never found the words for it.

A great theme for 2020 in my personal life has been change, growth, and being “confident in my choices.” I put that in quotes because sometimes I wasn’t even close to being confident in my choices, but I had to front like I was because the slightest inclination of doubt would turn into others, or even myself, talking me out of a decision. That was probably the hardest part about deciding to move – being so doubtful and scared, but not being able to talk to certain people about my doubts because I knew they’d just try to sway me in their favor. All out of love, of course, but not really taking into mind the opportunity to grow and learn.

Growing up, I was taught that whatever I do is a reflection of my parents. How I act and what my life choices are is because of how my parents raised me. And that always annoyed me. I didn’t understand the root of its importance. “Who cares,” was my response to everything. I’ve had the rebel mindset since a young age. When I was growing up, I didn’t care what people thought, I didn’t care if I was looked at as the “bad” kid, I didn’t care that I had the mouth of a sailor. That’s probably also because as a kid, there’s not much I could fuck up and make my parents / family look bad. I mean, I got good grades, made the honor roll, and I wasn’t doing anything illegal.

It wasn’t until I reached young adulthood that this took on a whole new meaning. Who I dated, what crowd I hung around with, whether I went to college or not, if I was married or not, what I posted online, all reflected back on my family and parents. This is something that I have talked extensively with close family members and friends – how the Filipino culture really values how others see them. To an extent, I get it – the need to look like everyone in your family has it together and is successful. I mean, who doesn’t want to be seen as successful and always making the right moves? But these fears of worrying about what others will think is really detrimental to young adults who are trying to get the gears turning for their own life.

“What will your _______ (insert the name of a prominent family member / or whole family as a whole) think?!”

“What will people think of you?!”

“How does that make us look?!”

These are phrases that so many Filipinos have heard from their elders.

This is something that I still struggle with. Because at the end of the day, I don’t care what other people say about how I live my life, but I do care that my parents care. And that’s where it gets conflicting. I find myself trying to do what I want to do in my life, but do it the “right way.” I find myself trying to find loopholes and justify my actions like, “well it’s okay if I move in with my boyfriend who I’ve been with for over 5 years because eventually we’ll get married, so it’s okay. And others should understand that.” But why do others have to understand that? They don’t need to understand anything. Especially choices that don’t concern them or put anyone in harm’s way.

“What will people think and say?” It’s so generalized. Who are these people I should be concerned about? And why should I care what they think about me? It’s ironic, because I was taught to not care what people think about me, in terms of classmates and peers. Oh, you’re embarrassed that you have on Payless shoes? Who cares, you shouldn’t care what people think about your material things. Oh, you’re insecure about going out in your pajamas? Who cares, nobody’s going to see you, and if they do, so what? Oh, you want to drop out of college and pursue music? What will your aunties think?! Of course, the last is a fake scenario, but you get the jist.

And even if it is not generalized and there’s a specific family member, or family friend that your elders are trippin’ about, why does it matter? I feel like there’s such a generational gap, where our elders feel the need to uphold an image of the family, or themselves. And I get it. But at the same time I think it’s so dumb and pointless. Especially if you have to tiptoe around certain people with your life choices – life choices that aren’t even bad, but that some people don’t agree with. All the while, people should just mind their business and not really care what others are choosing to do with their lives. If you don’t agree with a choice, just don’t make that choice for yourself and move along.

Choose your love. Love your choices.

This came to me at a time where I was very conflicted and needed that reminder. Sometimes in life it feels like you have to choose between pleasing those around you or choosing yourself. And is it worth keeping the peace while you are in conflict with yourself? Sometimes you have to remind yourself that you are in control of your life. And people – whether that be family members, peers, friends – will talk regardless. So what is the point of changing the route of your life to please others? I’m glad that I have taken the road less traveled by, in terms of being traditional and abiding by standards. But sometimes it’s really hard.

I find this quote relevant to other parts in my life – like who I choose to be around, hangout with, and give access to the “real me.” And I shouldn’t be apologetic for distancing myself from people or situations that disturb my inner peace just to keep the outer peace and external noise at bay. This year has been the year in realizing that I don’t have to react to some situations anymore. I can just remove myself, keep a mental note, and keep it moving. It sounds very detached, but that’s life. Can’t stop the show for nobody, the show must go on. Especially being at the age I’m at now, I got more important things to worry about, like how I’m almost 26 and getting the boot on health insurance soon. I don’t have time for petty drama, hear say, gossip, or things that don’t concern me.

I choose me. Even if sometimes it’s hard to do. I try to front like choosing me is an easy decision, but it does stir some feelings inside of me sometimes. At the end of the day, I want to please my parents, their opinion of how I live my life matters to me, but they also understand that I have my own life and need to make decisions for myself. I don’t care about the extra noise of others who haven’t raised me. As long as my parents are content with my choices and trust me to make the right choices, that’s all that matters. Luckily, my parents know that at the end of the day, it’s my life and I have to live with the decisions I choose to make. So they’ll give their 2 cents, but will support me in what I choose. I think that’s a beautiful thing. To know that they still come from the generation that “cares” about what others may say, but still give their silent blessing for me to do as I please.

Choose your love. Love your choices.

So much easier to read than to live by. Choosing my peace is more important that upholding an image of myself for the sake of family or for family image. Being confident in my life choices and what direction I choose to take in this life is something I still need to work on. I need to love my choices and know that I chose it for a reason.