Jerico Raro, a professional chef and caterer, has been in love with his kitchen for most of his life, even though he only moved to his current address a few years ago.
“I moved to this house specifically because of the kitchen. I’ve always loved this kitchen. You know how in Jersey City most homes and apartments have really small kitchens? Well, this kitchen is huge compared to most kitchens.”
Raro, who spent a lot of time at his cousin’s home next door as a teen, would often visit his cousin’s friend, who lived in the house where Raro currently resides. It was then that he fell in love with the beloved kitchen.
“My mother was a caterer too. And even she would talk about this kitchen and how nice it was,” he added.
“I have a few cops who will call me late on a Friday and say, ‘Can we come by for a dinner?’” – Jerico Raro
“I have two ovens, two outdoor grills in the backyard, I have an island where I can do my prep work and put together trays,” he said. “I have every appliance.”
It’s hard to imagine, but it is from Raro’s humble kitchen that a thriving catering and take-out business has grown and become popular, thanks largely to word of mouth, social media, and a little old fashioned marketing.
Each Wednesday Raro comes up with a weekly special that he posts on Facebook. Specials often include filet mignon, pasta, or shrimp as a main course, a drink, and some type of a crème brulee for desert. But A.C.E regulars say Raro’s spin on these common dishes – and his late hours – are what keeps them coming back. His customers include local police officers, Jersey City Medical Center staffers, and others who often work the late shift.
“I’m Filipino, and I learned how to cook from my mother,” said Raro. “So, I add a lot of seasoning and spices that we typically use in the Phillipines and that makes the dishes unique from other Asian foods that people are more familiar with.”
A former hotel and restaurant chef, Raro said he walked away from a restaurant job two years ago to open ACE so he could “spend more time with my son. I’m a single father and restaurants generally want you to work nights on weekends. I was missing too much time with my son and I wanted to change that. Now my hours are my own.”
But that isn’t to say Raro doesn’t keep busy. He often spends two days doing his weekly grocery shopping so he can find the best deals on vegetables, meats, and other items.
“I may need to go to Lodi for beef, Manhattan for my bread, someplace else for my seafood,” he explained. “I want the food to be as fresh as possible. I don’t want to buy a lot of products and then have then sitting around in the freezer or fridge. So that means I’m constantly shopping for my supplies.”
Since branching out on his own, Raro has catered small parties and events for local companies and family events. Most of his catering work is for groups of 40 to 80 people. But his core business is comprised of take-out customers who want dinner for six, or even just dinner for two. Raro will deliver to local addresses, although a few trusted customers come by his home to pick up their orders.
“I have a few cops who will call me late on a Friday and say, ‘Can we come by for a dinner?’ ” he stated. “My food is fresh and made to order. So, I think it’s a lot better than eating fast food, or going into the city for some overpriced dinner.”
Raro’s catered events are priced according to the selected menu and the number of guests, but his smaller take-out and delivery plates are $10 a piece.
While he insists his schedule is more flexible now than when he worked for restaurants and hotels, he admits that it can be difficult being a one-man show.
“It is a little more challenging now that everything is my shoulders,” he admitted. “I do the shopping. I do my own prep work. I do the cooking. I do the deliveries. So, there are times when I know I can’t take orders because I don’t think I’ll be able to fulfill the order. I recently tore a tendon in my heel and I had to stop taking orders because I couldn’t walk…But I’d still make the same decision again. No question.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.