David Godinez -- the chef behind Ominous Burgers -- told the Weekly in a recent interview that his love for cooking stems from growing up around the restaurant industry. He was raised by a single mother who supported her three children by waitressing at a Chinese food restaurant in Fremont for 30 years.
"Like any typical single mom with kids, you're pretty much raised in the restaurant," Godinez said. He recalled that by about 8 or 9 years old, he had started helping out as well by cleaning and bussing tables. "I was pleased as punch to make $2 or $3 by the end of night," he said, adding that as he got older, he worked his way up to helping in the kitchen and eventually cooking.
Though he ultimately pursued a career in the financial industry, Godinez said he continued to cook for his family -- which includes his wife and three children -- and for gatherings with friends.
It was at one of these get-togethers that he was encouraged by his friends to pursue cooking seriously.
While opening a traditional restaurant was not realistic for Godinez, starting up a small, mobile catering business was doable. Godinez reached out to Shadow Puppet Brewing Company to partner as a food vendor. After a trial run cooking for the crew, Godinez was invited to return as a food vendor once a week and Ominous Burgers took off from there.
"It started as a hobby for us and it just exploded into a full-blown business," Godinez said.
Godinez comes up with recipes while his wife Tonya -- whose day job is in advertising -- handles the "front of the house" duties and the business side of the company. Their kids help out as well, with serving at events and even taste-testing potential new menu items.
One of Ominous Burgers' top sellers is their signature teriyaki, pineapple "Aloha Burger" prepared "Mala style," which is named for their daughter who came up with the idea to add their specialty "51/50" sauce (a spicy mayo) to the toppings.
While he and his family currently live in Union City, Godinez said that Livermore is like a second home to them with his office based in town and his many friends at the local wineries and breweries.
In addition to allowing him to express his creativity through food, Godinez's business philosophy has a focus on connecting and giving back to the community.
"One of the reasons why we don't have a food truck is because we decided that we'd rather be on the ground level where we can talk to the people that order. We have people that come weekly before work and we get the hugs, we get the handshakes, we get kids running up to us and we give them little gummy burgers," Godinez said, adding that the pop-up allows for more personal interaction rather than being up high in a truck serving through a window.
Through Ominous Burgers, Godinez also collects "tips" in a jar that are donated to various causes, including Make-A-Wish Foundation, UCSF Give Breast Cancer the Boot, the Firefighters Burn Institute and Shriners Hospitals for children.
Godinez said his family has personal connections with some of the organizations they've supported thus far. "My oldest son had heart problems. He's had five open heart surgeries before he was 10 and he was a Make-A-Wish patient, so that was the first one I wanted to target and it meant a lot to us," he said.
They chose the Give Breast Cancer the Boot initiative because Tonya lost her mother to breast cancer and her sister is in remission. Godinez also said his brother was a Shriners patient when he was young.
In addition to their support of nonprofits, they've donated catering services to local schools for special events like back-to-school nights.
During the holiday season, they collect toys to donate to Adopt an Angel as part of the United Motorcycle Clubs of Alameda and other children's charities. Godinez is a motorcycle enthusiast who belongs to a motorcycle club called Ominous MC California -- hence the name of the food stand and its logo which is styled like a motorcycle patch.
They've kicked off their holiday toy drive again this year on Nov. 1 and Godinez is determined to fill their box. "I'm not just asking, I really want to get that bucket filled ... For these kids to get toys is really nice," he said.
Looking ahead to the future, Godinez said they want to expand beyond burgers and become more of a multifaceted catering company. "We're more than just a burger stand," Godinez said, noting that Tonya can also cook.
Ominous Burgers shares its weekly schedule on Instagram along with current menu items and other content, including dishes they make for their family at home.
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