My own entrepreneurial endeavors selling Guam and other island-themed home and office decor through the Gerard Aflague Collection over the last three years have brought about wonderful opportunities learning about Chamorros and Guam connected folks across the world and actually meeting them. I’ve meet literally thousands of people over the last few years, and I’ve been part of many peoples own lives, and heard of their stories being shared. One special story is that of Terese Mesa, originally from Guam, and now a resident of California. She is from the Mesa family and is sharing her story of their Chamorro restaurant called “Keepin It Island”.
This article is an interview between myself and Terese Mesa. I hope you enjoy reading about her story and how she is making a difference in people’s lives across the world.
Tell me all about your family, and your Chamorro restaurant.
My family migrated from Guam in 1978 and relocated to Long Beach, California. In 1980, we moved to Vallejo, California where we lived the rest of my childhood. I remember my mom always enjoying baking and cooking for family events and it was her dream to open a restaurant. And that one day finally came January 4, 2014 when we opened “KEEPIN’ IT ISLAND” in Vallejo at 3730 Sonoma Blvd. Vallejo CA 94589. We are a family owned Chamorro restaurant and everything we make is from our parents’ recipes. We are growing, and as such we also cater events and open up our culinary skills to share our island favorites. For those who are interested in contacting us, we can be reached at (707) 552-7500.
What are the demographics of your customers?
We get a variety of customers that come into the restaurant from everywhere you can imagine.
What are the most popular entrees, sides, desserts, etc.
The most popular entrees are the Tri-tip and Rib combo plate, which is served with red rice, a side of cucumber and potato salad. The chicken kelaguen and chicken empanadas are also another of our customer favorites.
What are the average prices of your offerings?
Our prices range from $6.50 for our “Neni” small plate, to $11.00 for our regular two-meat combo plate.
How is the food you offer different from Chamorro fiesta food?
The food isn’t different from Chamorro Fiesta Food. We serve traditional Chamorro fiesta food.
Is your chef professionally schooled?
No, he just has years of cooking experience and enjoys perfecting it.
What is the owners most favorite entree and why?
We can’t really pin-point a favorite entrée because we love it all. But if I had to pick something I would say the chicken kelaguen and my mother’s chicken empanadas. There’s a lot of love and time that goes into making those items between the grilling, chopping and making the dough. You can instantly tell how much love goes into making it once you take that first bite.
What makes your restaurant different from the rest?
We are a family owned and operated establishment and the environment reflects that. Everyone one that works here is family.
What menu items are inspired from other countries and from where?
None. All our menu items are Chamorro recipes.
What moments can you recount that make you feel that venturing into this type of business is worthwhile?
When we started having regular customers that come in every week. Their repeat business has allowed us to get to know them personally. Also when Customers that travel from far come in just because they heard about our restaurant. This is really encouraging.
Describe any challenges you experienced in running this type of restaurant business.
Well, starting restaurant business in general is tough, but with family teamwork we manage to stay strong. We appreciate what our culture embodies when it comes to working together and helping out each other.
Are there plans to diversify?
One day we hope to branch out. We haven’t really changed the menu but for now we have weekend specials and we change those every weekend.
Do you cater for parties? If yes, what are the maximum number if people you cater for?
Yes we cater, we can feed folks for specific events that number in the hundreds up to five thousand people.
How many miles away is the nearest Chamorro restaurant?
I believe there is a Chamorro restaurant in San Francisco, which is about 31 miles from our restaurant, but it is a fusion-type of menu that is framed as a Chamorro restaurant.
How many Chamorro restaurants do you now of that are located in California?
I want to say there are about four in total. There are two down south in San Diego, and one in San Francisco, including ours which is located in Vallejo, California.
How can you explain how your restaurant is different from other Chamorro restaurants in the state of California?
I know we are the only traditional Chamorro restaurant in the North Bay, so we have different menu items to offer. You can consider us a very niche restaurant with flavors that one will enjoy, especially if they are longing for the flavors of Guam and the islands.
Are there any food products that can be ordered and shipped across the USA?
We haven’t considered offering any just yet, but it is an interesting idea.
If you know of someone that is Guam connected and you think we should know about them, let me know. I’d like to be able to feature them right here. Be it a lifestyle angle, a career angle, a tear-jerking story, or something that makes them special, I want to share it right here. Maybe this someone is so in love with the island culture and wants to share their story, we want to know. How is this Guam-connected individual making an impact in our world? Tell us! Our newsletter goes out to over 3,000 Guam and Mariana Islands connected folks. Some of these folks are residents of the islands, former residents, extended family, military members, and even transplants. We love sharing stories and being a part of something bigger.
Thank you Gerard! We appreciate you and taking the time to interview us for your blog! \m/ ~ The Mesa family