The couple behind Calajo Catering, Carlo and Jennifer Avanceña | Photo courtesy of Calajo Catering

WHEN the pandemic began earlier this spring, national lockdowns were imposed around the globe in an attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. Several safety measures like washing hands, wearing face masks, and social distancing were also put in place to prevent the public from getting infected.

Months later, and it’s still pretty much the same. The economy might be easing up, and industries are slowly opening again, but people are still quarantined in their houses. Going to the mall, eating at a restaurant, or even hanging out with friends, have stopped being everyday normal occurrences.

Surviving during this unprecedented time is no easy feat. With no vaccine in sight, everyone’s lives and livelihoods continue to be at risk. But still, more and more people are finding ways to thrive in spite of it. Quarantines and restricted movements have driven business-minded people to be more creative and wise with their time — take Filipino American couple Jennifer and Carlo Avanceña, for example, who decided to open a catering company during this pandemic.

Jennifer, raised in Southern California by immigrant parents with Igorot roots, has more than 20 years of professional experience in the hospitality industry, food and beverage, catering sales, and event management. Meanwhile, Carlo, born in the Philippines, is an accomplished chef who is skilled in catering, hotel management, cooking, food preparation, and the hospitality industry.

When the pandemic hit and both were furloughed from their jobs, they launched Calajo Catering.

Cakesicles, which come in 15 different flavors, including ube. | Photo courtesy of Calajo Catering

“Calajo” comes from Ibaloi, the native dialect of Jennifer’s mother from Benguet, Philippines. Growing up, Jennifer experienced having countless family gatherings and events, and she often heard the phrase “calajo mengan,” which translates to “come and eat,” whenever it was breakfast, lunch or dinnertime. Now, she and Carlo are inviting the public to their table, so to speak, so everyone can enjoy their food.

Their menu consists of made to order take-home creations that celebrate Igorot-Filipino-American influences.

Among them are Filipino-inspired sweet and savory baked goods like chicken empanada, longanisa milk bun, lumpia, and ube sweet rolls. Their most popular offering is the cakesicle, which looks more like an aesthetically-pleasing popsicle than a slice of cake.

“Cakesicles are more of an elevated cake pops,” said Jennifer, who got the idea from Instagram and learned how to make the sweet treat by watching videos online.

Calajo Catering’s “Baon Box,” which includes a longanisa milk bun, chicken empanada, ube rice cereal bar, ube crinkle cookie, a seasonal cookie or bar, and their famous cakesicle. | Photo courtesy of Calajo Catering

Social media helped lift their newest venture off the ground. The internet has become more important than ever; not only are people using it to connect with their family and friends, they are also using it to check out new food and beverage establishments for in-store pickups and online deliveries.

“It’s like when people refer, and now, it’s all word of mouth through social media,” Jennifer said.

She added, “It’s definitely helpful…to the state that we’re in now because it’s hard to get out there to be in front of people like I would be in a sales position.”

The couple also recently joined the Filled Market at Manila District in Downtown Los Angeles, where they set up shop every Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and offer their popular items by piece or pack. Starting October 24, the market will expand to Saturday service during the same time frame.

If there’s one thing to be grateful for during this time, Jennifer admitted that it has given her more time with her family. Before the pandemic, she and Carlo worked on opposite schedules, and found it hard to have time all together as a family.

“I don’t want to take away from the bad things that have happened, but in my family, this pandemic has been, in a way, a blessing in disguise. We never had this much time together [before], we couldn’t be doing then what we’re doing now,” she said.

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