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Meet Jennifer Catanes and Carlo Avancena of Calajo Catering in Santa Clarita

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jennifer Catanes and Carlo Avancena.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Hospitality is our passion and culture! As young as I can remember, through big family gatherings and community parties and events, I knew my career path would be in hospitality/food & beverage. Being part of a big family, we would host parties and gatherings-for what I felt like- every weekend. And being involved with our community organization, BIBAK Los Angeles, through dinner dances, performances and workshops, I discovered how much I love bringing people together and making sure they have the most memorable time. Through my upbringing, I applied this passion and dedicated my profession in food & beverage and hotel sales for over 20 years.

Carlo was born in Makati, Philippines. His family immigrated to Los Angeles, California when he was a young child. At an early age, he was able to find a love for food. Through his Grandmother and Mother, he was exposed to a variety of Filipino and Spanish mixed cuisine. He decided to pursue his dream and passion, so he enrolled himself in a culinary program at the Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena, California. After he graduated culinary school, Carlo did his internships at hotel/resorts, restaurants and eventually was able to secure chef jobs within the industry. Now with his experience, knowledge and training, Carlo is able to start his next step of his career and build a new brand with his family.

Carlo and I met working at the Hilton Hotel in Glendale; he was a Sous Chef and I was a Catering Sales Manager. One evening after work, I asked if he wanted to hang out and have a drink… and we’ve been together ever since- which was over ten years ago! We grew to love each other through our similarities, and through our differences we learned and grew as individuals and as partners. Because we share the same dream of owning and operating our own food & beverage business we are creating the perfect partnership.

Fast forward to March 2020… the pandemic hit the U.S. and as we all know, the hospitality was hit hard! I was furloughed from my position at a DTLA hotel and Carlo was furloughed from his position at a Santa Monica Hotel. Being on opposite schedules, commuting from Santa Clarita to DTLA and Santa Monica five days a week while raising three children it was difficult to have time all together as a family. Being hunkered down at home due to the pandemic was the first time in many years, we’ve had time together as a family. And as scary as it was, we did it… we launched Calajo Catering! As Calajo Catering, we want to provide Filipinx inspired catering services that fulfills everything from menu planning, setup of buffet equipment, food service, and tear down. We know how important it is when families gather. So as a host, we understand how setting up, cooking, cleaning, etc. takes time and energy away from spending it with guests, thus we want to be the team that handles the food and food setup so that the host(s) spend their time enjoying their guest. With restrictions on gatherings, we had to pivot to take-home, made to order, sweet and savory, baked goods. This includes custom cakes, cookies, bars, empanadas, milk buns, pies, cheesecakes, and cupcakes highlighting Filipino flavors while also offering classic American flavors.

We’ve been fortunate to join the DTLA Sunday pop-up family at Manila District LA where we set up shop every Sunday from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM. We offer our most popular items by the piece or pack (versus by the dozen on our website). Angelenos can pre-order from our website and pickup in DTLA on any Sunday! We’ve grown so much by being part of this family and we look forward to every Sunday at Manila District LA because we truly enjoy (safely) meeting and serving the community.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It certainly has been a road of trial and error which we gracefully take as learning lessons. Launching at the beginning stages of shelter-in-space (and with restrictions on gatherings), our original concept of catering services was challenged therefore we had to adjust to accommodate the new market by offering our take-home, made-to-order baked creations. We learned a lot about the process of packaging and shipping food products and discovered we are able to ship as far as the east coast- but again after many experiences of trial and error. The new challenge now is how courier services are not guaranteeing delivery times. Thus we now have to limit what items we can ship to ensure they are delivered fresh and intact even if there is a slight delay of arrival.

And being in hospitality sales, I was all about in-person connections and with social distancing, I had to learn the world of social media marketing. It’s new to me but certainly a great experience as I’ve always celebrated learning something new.

Please tell us about Calajo Catering.
Our name “Calajo” is from my mother’s native dialect, Ibaloi, in the Benguet province of the Philippines. Growing up with a big family and community, we would have family and friends over our home almost every weekend. So when it came time to eat lunch or dinner, I would always hear “calajo mengan” which translates to “come and eat”. Gathering and eating are very much part of our culture as being with family, friends and people is something very near and dear to us. As human beings, we feel that human connection and being with one another is something we all cherish- and we just want to make that process of gathering easier and delicious by providing memorable food and giving more opportunity for the host(s) to spend time with their guests.

With our take-home creations, we are making food in flavors that we grew up with and enjoy now. Myself, being an Igorot Filipino American- Igorot are the indigenous people of the Cordilleras in Northern Luzon in the Philippines- I am sharing the best of both worlds with my sweet treats. And Carlo, also Filipino, is sharing his childhood flavors that are more of Portuguese and Spanish influence. Although we are both Filipino Americans, we grew up with differences in culture and flavors. Therefore we combine the best of all of our worlds as Igorot Filipino Americans.

We take our combined 40+ years of professional hospitality experience in food & beverage, add in our culture and passion, and present to you Filipinx-inspired sweet & savory baked goods plus event planning and catering services so that you, as the host, can spend more time with your guests and enjoy your time with them while we do the work. We want to be your go to bakery and catering service for any occasion and a resource to our community to help raise funds for non-profit organizations and admirable causes. We want to give back in any way we can to ensure our community thrives and progresses in the ways our communities and families helped us.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
We are firm believers that everything happens for a reason and we can only learn from the lessons we experienced. There really isn’t anything we would have done differently because all that has happened, and hasn’t happened, are only blessings for us.

Pricing:

Pricing at our Sunday pop-up shop (only):

  • Chicken Empandas and Longanisa Milk Buns: $3/each
  • Ube Cheesecake Bar: $3/each
  • Ube Macarons: $10/4-Pack
  • Ube or Mango Cakesicles: $4/each
  • Baon Box: $20/each

Additional pricing:

  • Savory Baked Treats (empanadas and milk buns): $36/dozen
  • Cakes starting at $44
  • Macarons: $25/dozen
  • Baon/Gift Boxes (variety of items) starting at $20
  • Catering Packages starting at $39 per person
  • Catering Dishes (a la carte) starting at $32 each

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
First Photo: IG @raisondetre.us, Cake Photo: Jodie Hong

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