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Check Out Charlene Lopez Young’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Charlene Lopez Young.

Hi Charlene, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
It all started with game nights. Darren became obsessed with smoking meats in his new Traeger and we had to find a way to share all the food he was making. Pulled pork, smoked chicken, rib tips — the whole shabang. One day I (Charlene) decided to tell him about Filipino BBQ and how he should try making that for one of the game nights. And he did and never looked back. Our friends loved the food and would joke around about us opening our own restaurant. Soon, friends would ask us to cook for their parties, then their friends who tried our food, then their friends. It got a little out of hand since we both still had our full-time jobs (Darren is an executive director for a nonprofit in the city, and I was a data analyst). After about a year of cooking for friends and family, we took a trip to the Philippines and came back with a business name, idea, plan, concept — everything you can think of. The day after we landed back in Saint Louis, we filed for an LLC and EIN and the rest was history. Soon we signed up to vend at the Cherokee Farmers Market, applied to get a business grant through the BALSA Foundation, and eventually got a residency at EarthBound Beer. It was like a wheel that just kept spinning and we were happily riding it. Today, you can find our housemade longganisa is 67 Schnucks Markets and are still continuing our residency at EarthBound. We are continuing to enjoy the journey and all that we are learning along the way. Darren has graduated from a Traeger now and has long since learned to grill and smoke in his 1600 lbs all wood smoker and I have begun to include some Filipino desserts in our menu. We also have a toddler in tow all the time. The Fattened Caf continues to grow as well as our lives.

Alright, 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?
I would say the hardest part of the journey was how badly the pandemic hit the service industry. We lost 50-60% of our revenue and had to pivot our business to include consumer goods and manufacturing. In comes our Filipino sausages called longganisa — it was honestly what saved us. Around June 2020 Schnucks invited us into their local restaurant initiative. Through this program, we put varying kinds of ready-to-eat Filipino foods on their shelves in 9 local stores. Out of all the items we stocked, the longganisa was the most promising. Not only did it have a longer shelf-life, it was also much easier to produce in bulk but, it meant really late nights/early mornings for us in the kitchen. The demand grew so quickly and we found ourselves making over 80lbs a week of the sausage to partially meet the consumer demands. It was so tiring and we felt ourselves getting really burnt out. When we finally decided to sell our sausages at a larger scale, Darren led the charged and did the very tedious work of finding a co-packer, getting an NDA formalized, and working with the USDA to approve our label. All of which took over six months to finalize. It was such a huge learning curve for us.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
The Fattened Caf is a smoked meats and Filipino BBQ pop up restaurant and consumer goods business. We specialize in Filipino BBQ – cooked over charcoal, direct heat. We like to say that we taste just like the Philippines. We are really proud of how far we’ve gotten. We have put a lot of love and hard work into The Fattened Caf as we hope we are building a legacy for our family. We are proud of the representation The Fattened Caf brings to the food scene in Saint Louis City and that you can now find Filipino food in the aisles of a mainstream grocery store because Filipino food also belongs there.

In terms of your work and the industry, what are some of the changes you are expecting to see over the next five to ten years?
In the next 5-10 years, we hope to expand our grocery line. We want more local Filipino-style products in mainstream grocery stores. Our mountain top is definitely Costco. We will make it there in five years time!


  • Longganisa is 9.99 at Schnucks

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Image Credits
Miranda Munguia Paige McDonald

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