Name: Atlas Manuel Amante
Business/Location: Ninuno Dinners /Jersey City, New Jersey
Specialty: Recreating traditional Filipino dishes and showcasing cuisines from different indigenous tribes of the Philippines
What problem does your business solve?: My food business helps diversify Filipino food in America. We highlight, promote, and preserve the cultures and cuisines from various indigenous groups of the Philippines.
What makes your business unique?: Ninuno dinners provide an intimate dining experience that is culturally immersive and helps reconnect the Filipino diaspora in America.
What’s your story?: I was born in the Philippines and immigrated to New Jersey at the age of 12. First, I lived in Somerville and then moved to Jersey City in 1997. For years, I worked in the healthcare industry and in 2013, I found the courage to quit my job at a national long-term care pharmacy. It was one of the scariest times in my life, amidst other challenges. At that point, I made a promise to myself that I will only do things that are meaningful to me. I went back to the Philippines with my grandaunt Felina whom I fondly call Ninang, which means Godmother in my language, Tagalog. She was in her late stage of dementia. While I cared for her, I took the opportunity to go back to the things I used to love - painting, hiking, photography, writing and cooking. I also took the chance to learn new things, such as website development and videography. After my Ninang’s passing, I was lost again. I climbed and hiked mountains in the Philippines, took a trip to rural areas of Japan, went to San Francisco where a bluebird taught me patience, and I just kept putting in the work to learn to embrace the uncertainties. Finally, I returned to New Jersey and decided to get a cooking job at an assisted living facility. But I was hungry to learn more. I attended the International Culinary Center while working at Maharlika (East Village) and Eataly (Flatiron), and later at Talde Brooklyn. Currently, I am embarking on this journey to start my own pop-up dining experience called Ninuno Dinners that will showcase cuisines of indigenous tribes of the Philippines. I strongly believe that this will help diversify the Filipino Food Movement in America, especially here in the east coast, and transcend beyond a trend. This also will help recognize and preserve the culture of my ancestors and a chance for the Filipino diaspora to reconnect. I am still on the threshold of things, still struggling, but very optimistic and hopeful for the future.
One piece of advice you have for other food entrepreneurs: I often feel that I don't have the merits to give advice to another food entrepreneurs for each has their own journey. What I could share is my own experiences. One of them is how I am learning to open myself to receive all that the Universe can teach me starting with connecting with nature. For instance, during my sojourn in San Francisco, I would wake up in the morning and drink my coffee on the balcony overlooking San Bruno mountain. Next to the balcony is an apple tree. One morning, a bluebird perched on a branch right above a cluster of four apples. It nipped one of the apples and let it fall to the ground. The bluebird flew away. I thought that did not make sense. After a couple of weeks, the same bluebird perched on the same branch. Then dove to the ground. I looked down and realized the same apple that fell has rotten. The bluebird then picked the worm with its beak and flew away. I pondered it and stepped back. Then I realized, how the bluebird has taught me to keep putting in the work and be patient so when the right opportunity arrives, I am ready! I also learned from a farmer that he sacrifices an apple to allow the other three in a cluster to grow more productively, a process called thinning - removing excess fruit to allow space for remaining fruit to grow large, and to allow flower initiation and development for the following year. As I stood there, blown away by this realization, then a tiny bluebird feather fell right at my feet. I was overwhelmed by gratitude!
What do you wish you had known before you started your business: I wish I had known more about the logistics and the complexities that come with ensuring your business is in compliance with city regulations and processes.
What’s your greatest challenge in your business and how are you overcoming it?: One of the greatest challenges in starting my business is learning to embrace the uncertainty and dealing with self doubt. I reiterate simple mantras such as, "no matter how far I may have descended in Life, the Universe provides twice the Space for my Ascension." I speak to my Spirit Guides and ancestors. I also share my thoughts and feelings with my best friend Maureen of Jersey City Gardens.
What are you most proud of about your business?: I am most proud of the people who have been very supportive of my journey.
What do you love most about being a food entrepreneur? I love it when I daydream something and it actually happens and I get to share it with people. I love connecting with other food entrepreneurs and sharing our stories. I love the learning process.
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