Jeff and Nanette Rono were raised on Filipino cuisine, each learning recipes and cooking techniques from their respective families long before they met each other and got married. It was a no-brainer then that when dreams of opening their own restaurant started to flutter in their minds 17 years ago, cultural staples like lumpia and pancit guisado were included in the would-be menu.
“It’s been passed down by our families. My wife was taught her parents and I was taught by my parents,” Jeff Rono said. “We’re very passionate about our cooking. We’ve tried to perfect every dish.”
After nearly two decades of preparation, which included Jeff studying accounting and business at Stanislaus State University before joining the U.S. Army and being deployed to Iraq, the dream was finally realized with the opening of Jeff’s Cuisine in Atwater on Feb. 1.
“Being deployed, it gave me the strength to finally open a business. Not only did I have the education, but I had the courage to do it,” Rono said.
According to Rono, business boomed in the restaurant’s first couple of weeks. Unfortunately, less than a month after opening the doors to their dream restaurant a shelter-in-place order was given to all Californians in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic. What had begun as a promising start was quickly tamped down as residents in Atwater followed suit with the rest of the state to socially distance and limit public interactions.
“We’re doing what we can and we’re staying open for the public, even though there’s not much activity,” Rono said. “It’s hard. Right now, my wife and I are the only ones working.”
“We were extremely busy and then all of a sudden the coronavirus hit,” he added.
Despite an estimated 90 percent drop in business, Jeff’s Cuisine is still being frequented by loyal customers with pork and chicken BBQ meals ringing on the favorite’s list.
With an emphasis on preventing as much personal contact as possible, the restaurant is currently taking orders via phone and giving customers specific pick-up times to prevent overlap.
While the timing seemingly couldn’t be worse, with a global pandemic coinciding with the first month of their business being open, the Ronos are hopeful that they’ll be able to weather the storm and keep cooking up Filipino favorites for their customers.
“We are hoping that the government will be able to give some sort of assistance for small businesses while also fixing the problem with COVID-19,” Rono said. “To all my customers I want to thank you for all the love and support. God bless you and your family.”
1135 Bellevue Rd, Atwater, CA
11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday