Today we’d like to introduce you to Cara Haltiwanger.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Cara. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I moved to LA almost 18 years ago, from Alabama, and hadn’t really been anywhere else. I was working as a bartender and a makeup artist in my 20’s, trying to figure out my place in life, living in LA, and what I wanted to do with my life here.
I was bartending and designing cocktails for menu’s at work and became more interested in food as I was working with the chef there to make the cocktails. I asked him if I could intern in the kitchen and he said yes! I then went on to become a line chef in some great restaurants here in LA and eventually decided I wanted to cook my family recipes and not someone else’s. That was back in 2008, in 2009 I bought a grill and started cooking on the patio at yet another bar I was working at. Once a week, I would set up my pop up restaurant and try out recipes on people, I used it as my test kitchen. I kept that up for years, doing pop-ups 3 to 4 times a week, and went from night bar life to morning coffee shops. My breakfast sandwich and hot sauce took off and became my only menu item. A one item menu and hot sauce bottles for sale. Now I have a cult-like following for the sandwiches and sauce and it has become my full-time gig.
I have been lucky enough to be featured in Eater LA for the last 3 years and I would say 2018 to present have been my best years in business yet! When COVID hit, and I couldn’t do my pop ups because of stay at home orders, I came up with a bucket and pulley system to lower sandwiches and sauce down from my 4th-floor fire escape at my apt in Hollywood, keeping social distance and no contact rules in place. I have been doing that for almost four months now and have made it on Kimmel, ABC& and Spectrum news. I am grateful and happy to be able to still serve my community and do what I love. I am very much anticipating the future!
Has it been a smooth road?
Nothing about my journey has been smooth! I just quit bartending in Jan of this year. So for the last ten years, I have been bartending late nights full time, and then getting up and doing early morning breakfast pop ups back to back. Sometimes I would cry while setting up my pop up, just from pure exhaustion. Other struggles have included financial ones, trying to find my place in the food world here in LA, maintain relevancy, manage social media, etc. I work alone, and it is very hard to constantly manage and self motivate LOL, but that’s real. That struggle is real.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Calabama story. Tell us more about the business.
Calabama was born from the desire to work for myself and build a legacy for my family based on our family recipes. I specialize in southern comfort food, southern breakfast, biscuits, breakfast sandwiches, fried chicken and of course my hot sauce. I don’t really try and reinvent the southern classics, I keep them classic.
I think what I am most proud of is the community I have built around myself and my food/business. Community is super important to me and the service I provide is centered around food, but also conversation, comfort and an all-inclusive community vibe and feel. LA is a hard place to make even a tiny print upon, and I feel like my community has supported me to get me to that point.
How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
I said back in 2008 that pop up restaurants are here to stay. And I was right! Especially now, with the current climate, people that can move around, don’t have a spot the are tied down to, can collab with and support others doing the same. More freedom, more opportunities. Its a really cool community to be a part of and I definitely think that kind of business is only going to become more popular.
- Breakfast Sandwich $12
- Hot Sauce $7
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: @calabama
- Twitter: @calabamaLA