Dancer turned nurse Justin Foronda expresses creativity through LA restaurant

This story is published in partnership with SoJannelleTV, a magazine show about Filipinos in North America.

Creativity has been running through Justin Foronda's veins since he was a young boy seeking to express himself through breakdancing. The Filipino-American, who grew up in Los Angeles' Historic Filipinotown neighborhood, had been "breaking" since age 11, traveling the world for competitions, but the influence of his parents eventually steered him to the nursing unit, where he has worked for the past several years.

"They got me on the, 'You can just work full time as a nurse [for] three days, and then dance four days out of the week.' I was like, 'OK, that makes sense,'" Foronda said in an interview with Filipino-American media pioneer Jannelle So Perkins for the latter's SoJannelleTV show.

The demands on nursing school took their toll on Foronda, and he was unable to return to dancing at the high levels he had once competed. That's when he went searching for another outlet.

"I was really just looking for something to be creative in and that I could exercise that creative autonomy and still share my creativity with others. That's how cooking came along," said Foronda.

Foronda opened up HiFi Kitchen (named after Historic Filipinotown) in February of 2019, curating a highly personalized menu himself. The most popular dish on the menu is the vegan laing, which substitutes a seaweed/black bean base for bagoong. The restaurant, which is open from Thursday through Sunday, also serves a chicken adobo dish that has Japanese influences, a homage to Foronda's partial Japanese heritage.

In addition to more traditional Filipino fare, like lumpia and sisig, there is also the Tocino Pastor, which is inspired by LA's taco truck culture.

"I love to identify intersections in our recipes and our cultures and then find a way to connect from there," said Foronda.

Foronda had been working as a nurse for five years when he felt the need to challenge himself. Instead of returning to school to learn how to work in a different unit, he began hosting pop-up restaurants in his backyard. At one such pop-up, Foronda connected with the owner of the building where HiFi Kitchen is currently based at, located at 1667 Beverly Blvd.

Foronda's resolve was tested severely during the pandemic, both as a business owner and a medical professional.

"We celebrated our one-year anniversary in 2020, and then maybe two weeks later, everything shut down. We were excited because we had one year under our belt, but with COVID-19 shutting everything down, there was no blueprint for that," said Foronda.

Foronda partnered with a Bay Area-based organization, Filipinos Feed the Front Lines, to provide meals to frontline workers who were combatting COVID-19 – marrying his two careers at a time of great crisis.

Being under pressure has taught Foronda important lessons about the restaurant business, which he shared with So Perkins. It's vitally important to learn the minutiae of the business, including inventory and pricing, as well as keeping in contact with your customers by building a contact list.

Engaging with the community by attending events is also important, as well as collaborating with others who may have specialized skills.

Foronda and So Perkins concluded their interview by preparing some of the restaurant's signature dishes. – Jannelle So Productions | Rappler.com

Rappler is partnering with Jannelle So Productions Inc (JSP), founded by Filipino-American pioneer and Los Angeles-based journalist Jannelle So, to publish video and written stories from SoJannelleTV about the journeys, successes, and challenges of Filipinos living in America.

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