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Courtesy of Miranda Munguia
These bad boys are for sale now.
Charlene Young is trying to dismantle the stigma that plagues school cafeterias: A child opens up a lunchbox – one that doesn’t have a baloney sandwich but instead rice and chicken – and another looks at what’s inside and asks, “Ew, what is that?”
Young knows this scene all too well because she experienced it herself growing up as a first-generation Filipino-American in Los Angeles, California. Now, alongside her husband Darren, they are determined to bring Filipino food into the mainstream with their a new sauce and condiments line
that builds upon their St. Louis-based barbecue brand, the Fattened Caf
, which launched nationwide on March 11.
Two products will take center stage with the launch: A Filipino barbecue soy-based marinade made with real bananas – something that makes it “uniquely Filipino,” Darren says – and a spiced vinegar dipping sauce, another staple in Filipino culture. Darren notes that the spiced vinegar pairs well with grilled meats, veggies, lumpia – a Filipino take on egg rolls – or really, anything you want.
“It feels good. It feels scary because we're scaling up so much further beyond just our local St Louis reach,” Darren says. “I'll be honest, we're nervous, we're a little scared, but we are very, very, very excited for what's to come.”
Additional products will come later this summer, but the Youngs are keeping them under wraps for now. The sauce line joins The Fattened Caf’s venture into 67 Schnucks stores with their four Longganisa flavors
, part of their Filipino sausage brand.
The road to this point has been a long one, Darren explains, as the Fattened Caf originally worked toward a brick and mortar store with several pop-ups in the St. Louis area. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the Youngs were forced to adapt their brand for at-home enjoyment, shifting their future into a different path. As they packaged to-go boxes during the pandemic, they also started working on their sausage line and selling one-pound packages to St. Louisans. Schnucks then approached them about putting the food on their shelves, and Darren and Charlene were blown away by the response as customers caused the Longganisa to fly off shelves. This is where Darren says the “unique pivot” of The Fattened Caf began.
The Youngs received a $50,000 grant from UMSL’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Accelerator which helped the couple grow and leverage their business, particularly in manufacturing. Since receiving the grant, the two have learned as much as they can about the manufacturing process.
Charlene says that while other online stores have tried to court the Fattened Caf, the opportunities would pose different challenges.
“I think at the heart of it is that we're still a small business, and now we're taking on this large-scale sort of feat,” Charlene says. “We don't fully understand what nationwide actually really means yet. And we don't know if people are going to order nationwide. We do know people from California want our products. We do know people from New York want our products, and this is the best and most tangible way that we can provide the product lines that we have in these areas. So we're still trying to operate as a small business, but provide our items on a larger scale. There's a lot there that we still don't understand. But we're going for it.”
The current products available to ship nationwide don’t require the expenses of shipping goods that need to be refrigerated, so they’re excited to start with the sauces and expand on the brand.
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Courtesy of Miranda Munguia
The barbecue marinade is also available.
Charlene says that a brick and mortar restaurant doesn’t seem like it's in the cards for them anymore, while Darren adds it’s not that they gave up on it but that pop-up events give them more flexibility with what they want to do with the Fattened Caf, whether that’s specials or more time with their growing family.
Overall, the goal for the Youngs is to get Filipino food to be as easily accessible as other Asian cuisines; people know, off the bat, what chow mein is, Charlene says, and she hopes to get adobo – and all of the dishes Filipino culture has to offer – to that same level.
The Youngs' new sauces are available to order on TheFattenedCaf.com
. They pair also plan to be sell their wares at Soulard Market, as well as one of their semi-regular pop-ups at Earthbound Beer. Regardless of where people find their products, whether online, in stores or at a farmers market, the Youngs just want to inspire people to be more aware of Filipino food — and they hope that the nationwide launch of their sauces will help them realize that vision.
“I really hope that it gets the glory that it deserves,” Charlene says. “I genuinely believe that Filipino food is good and there's a place for it, a more significant place for it, in the food scene throughout the United States. And not just in those large cities that we think of like New York or Los Angeles, where there are large Filipino populations. Filipinos are everywhere. Filipino food has hit every corner of the globe, and it should just be accessible because we're around.”
Follow Jenna on Twitter at @writesjenna. Email the author at [email protected]