Women of Impact:  Kissa Ortega, Owner of Ninong’s Dessert Lab

 

Women of Impact:  Kissa Ortega, Owner of Ninong’s Dessert Lab

 Ninong’s Dessert Lab Photo by Ninong’s Dessert Lab
Kissa Ortega has worn many hats over the years—executive assistant, graphic designer, office manager.  But being the owner of Ninong’s Dessert Lab, formerly Ninong’s Café, was the hat that embodied her two loves:  family and community.

In 2008, her family bought a small deli in Granada Hills and turned it into a Filipino bakery/café.  Their mission was to share their family’s food and culture to the community and beyond.  It wasn’t until 2012 when they began selling their signature product—bright purple pancakes called ube pancakes.  (Side note:  ube is a purple yam from the Philippines used in many desserts.  Think sweet potato but bright purple and a bit sweeter.)  From then on, their corner on Chatsworth and White Oak became a community favorite.  An hour wait for seating was standard on a Saturday or Sunday morning.  And, they didn’t just introduce ube pancakes, they made a whole line of ube desserts from brownies to cookies and yes, even cookie butter.  They also introduced a variety of signature Filipino breakfast dishes as well as other pancake flavors such as mango, plantains with jackfruit, and buko pandan.

Due to demand and popularity, Ninong’s moved to Northridge on Tampa Ave—at the same shopping complex as Guitar Center—in May of 2012.   But their goal remained the same, sharing Filipino food and culture to the world. 

“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 worked at the restaurant full time alongside our family and team,” shared Kissa in an interview with VoyageLA.

For 12 years, Ninong’s was a community staple.  The restaurant drew in families, not just from the San Fernando Valley, but people would drive from Carson or even fly from Canada to have a meal there.  After hours, the restaurant was a space for celebrations: birthdays of all ages, debuts, family parties, and any other milestone event.

Unfortunately, during the pandemic, Ninong’s Café closed their doors in November 2020.  Kissa was faced with pivoting and rebranding almost instantaneously.  Thankfully, she was already shifting their orders online when the pandemic hit and had the framework of a system in place. 

 Ninong’s Dessert Lab

Photo by Ninong’s Dessert Lab
Photo by Ninong’s Dessert Lab

Photo by Ninong’s Dessert Lab
“When we closed our restaurant in 2020, we had to rebrand and create a whole new business. That’s when we changed to Ninong’s Dessert Lab. Though we miss seeing our customers on a regular basis and having a physical location to call home we’re happy that we’ve found a good compromise. We do monthly pop ups on top of selling our products online and through retailers. This gives us the flexibility we never thought we could have while also being able to serve our customers in a safe way.”

Aside from operating and managing Ninong’s Dessert Lab, Kissa shares her experiences as an entrepreneur and restaurant owner in a coaching program she started in 2019, Coaching with Kissa.  Her coaching program aims to help food and product entrepreneurs to start up their business and make it profitable through branding, outreach, and streamlined processes.  Because she believes in uplifting others, she offers her knowledge and her expertise to help other succeed in their endeavors as well. Follow them on Instagram and Facebook @ninongsdessertlab.