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Meet Trailblazer Carissa Ortega

Today we’d like to introduce you to Carissa Ortega.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Carissa. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
My family bought a small deli in Granada Hills, CA in 2008 and our intention was to turn it into a Filipino Bakery/Cafe. In October of that year, Ninong’s Cafe was officially open with a mission to share our family’s Filipino food and culture with the world!

In 2012, we began selling what became our signature product – our Ube Pancakes. Since then, we’ve become known for our ube confections. Aside from our pancakes and cafe food we make lots of ube treats like Ube Brownies, Ube Cookies, and our Ube Cookie Butter. In 2018, after being in business for almost ten years, we moved from our Granada Hills location that first seated 14 to Northridge that now seats 72. No matter how big or small our operation, our goal is still the same, to share Filipino food and culture with the world.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
There have definitely been obstacles and challenges along this journey. To be completely honest, we are still going through struggles! But I think that it’s part of any growing business. There will always be ups and downs, it makes you and your business more resilient!

My advice for anyone thinking about starting a business is to go for it! Do your research, think it through, surround yourself with people you can learn from, can lift you up, make you better, and believe in you. You will learn along the way to jump in and give yourself a chance, you will never know until you try!

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Ninong’s Cafe – what should we know?
Honestly, I never had a plan of owning a restaurant but I was very entrepreneurial at a young age. But a huge part of my heart is my family. Originally my mom, dad, aunt, and uncle started our business. In 2013, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and it changed everything. My family needed me, and there was no way that I would say no. On top of that, my husband Charlie has a passion for cooking. We both knew that it was destiny when I needed to come on board. Charlie and I now work at the restaurant full time alongside our family and team.

I actually come from a marketing and branding background – I studied graphic design in college. Aside from that I have held many different jobs and opened various businesses. In the past, I’ve been an executive assistant, graphic designer, office manager… I’ve worked in retail, freelance, temp, and full time. I’ve owned a print company, an event planning business, an e-commerce business, a media company… I’m a Realtor, operations manager, and a business coach…the list goes on! Each job, business, and venture has taught me a lot about myself and has contributed to shaping my career. What’s funny is I used to think that holding so many jobs was a bad thing. I used to be ashamed of telling people about my hustle in fear of seeming inconsistent or unreliable. But I see now that it’s an immense strength to be able to have knowledge of so many industries and to be able to wear so many hats!

Finding a mentor and building a network are often cited in studies as a major factor impacting one’s success. Do you have any advice or lessons to share regarding finding a mentor or networking in general?
Biggest advice – BE. YOURSELF. Don’t hide who you are behind a mask that you think others will accept. Put your beautiful self out there, share with people, be transparent, and the right people (like-minded people) will be attracted to you. Also, don’t be afraid to ask. If you meet someone that you think would be a great mentor to you, establish a relationship with them. Introduce yourself, send them a message, build rapport. Then, ask! The worst thing they will say is no.

Contact Info:

  • Address: Ninong’s Cafe
    19524-3 Nordhoff St.
    Northridge, CA 91324
  • Website:
  • Phone: 818-745-9019
  • Email:
  • Instagram: @ninongscafe
  • Facebook: @ninongs

Image Credit:
Photos copyright Ninong’s Cafe 2019

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