Business as (un)usual: Mambo International Kitchen

The coronavirus pandemic is affecting small businesses in a plethora of ways. Businesses are being forced to adapt quickly amid changing guidelines and adhere to extensive safety protocols. The “Business as (un)usual” photo series highlights local small businesses near CSUN and dives into how they are navigating through the challenges they have to face in these times.


Sonia Gurrola

Raymond Magsaysay, the chef and co-owner of Mambo International Kitchen, takes the pork adobo off the stove and gets ready to serve it to a customer.

Samantha Bravo, Assistant News Editor

With a dining room usually filled with students, families and local residents, Mambo International Kitchen satisfied everyone’s cravings in one place by offering a menu filled with a variety of international food options — a goal shop owners Raymond and Donna Magsaysay had in mind as they wanted to provide the local community with authentic international dishes they cook in their own home.

“If there’s five different friends wanting five different cuisines, you go here, you can all be happy,” Raymond Magsaysay said. “They want Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, we have it for them. Everything on the menu is what I cook at home. We made it our own kitchen.”

Donna Magsaysay, the co-owner of Mambo International Kitchen, checks the sales for the day during closing time. She said they had to close the dining area because of COVID-19 restrictions. (Sonia Gurrola)

However in March, the COVID-19 pandemic forced restaurants to close its doors and provide take-out and delivery only; the communal dine-in experience has become a thing of the past.

The shop, located on Tampa Avenue and Roscoe Boulevard, serves rice bowls, tacos, wings and more, while combining homestyle comfort food with a creative twist. Their authentic Filipino and Korean bowls are their staple dishes and their tacos provide an explosion of flavors that can satisfy one’s cravings.

“Most of the rice bowls are basically like staple dishes, so we tried to stick with the original and play around with it in our tacos,” Raymond Magsaysay said, adding that the shop’s tacos are a good way for customers to try their fusion cuisine.

“The tacos are pretty unique, they’re internationally flavored. So we have Filipino, we have Korean, Indian — so [flavors] from different countries, that’s how we base the flavors of our tacos,” Donna Magsaysay said.

Since the pandemic started, Raymond Magsaysay said their sales have dropped more than 85% as customers who dined in provided most of their revenue. Mambo International Kitchen was able to provide outdoor seating in July.

“The business is really suffering because we just opened, we’re almost in our second year now, so normally it takes time for the restaurants to make income, but just when we were starting to have customers coming in, the pandemic happened,” Donna Magsaysay said. “We have a big restaurant. We usually have parties here, baby showers, we rent out the venues, we cater for them. But since the pandemic happened, it really slowed down the floor.”

When opening a new restaurant, building an engagement with the community is important. Raymond Magsaysay said they felt like they built their momentum at the beginning of this year, but that changed in March.

“Once January came, we said, ‘Okay, at least I think we’re going to be better this year because it just builds up, that’s just how it is.’ But then COVID happened, so it was like starting from zero all over,” Raymond Magsaysay said. “I feel like our sales are how we started in our first few months of opening.”

When the stay-at-home orders were mandated, restaurants were one of the many businesses that were impacted greatly.

“We had regulars, I think their offices are just around the area, but since the pandemic happened, we don’t see the regular people who would come in for lunch, so they might be probably working from home,” Raymond Magsaysay said.

Since the restaurant had to close its indoor dining area due to Los Angeles County’s COVID-19 restrictions, Mambo International Kitchen is currently open for outdoor dining, curbside pickup, and delivery.