What started as a family project for the annual Malesso village fiesta has evolved into a classic burger stand that has joined the pier and community center as icons along Highway 4, the scenic route that leads motorists though the postcard views of the seaside villages of southern Guam.
C&J Hamburger-Hotdog Stand Merizo started in 2005 as a food stall at the Fiestan Tasi, the big water festival the village used to put on annually before COVID-19 put the kibosh on gatherings and merriment.
"My brother Jimmy had the idea that we should have a family business," said Janice Nangauta-Santiago, "and we transferred what we were doing from the carnival to our former residence."
The Nangauta family home is located along the main road through the village, and the burger stand is impossible to miss. A slight remodel was necessary to bring the kitchen up to code, and at various times, items like fish, bananas, lemon, breadfruit and tuba are made available through the family network. There is always a steady supply of pickled favorites.
"Business has been slow since COVID – it's pretty rough," said Janice. "Sundays can be busy, but during the week is kind of slow." Because of the pandemic, the stand is currently serving customers on a take-out basis only.
"We try to get the siblings the stand is named for to work, but they aren't interested," laughs Janice, referring to Carl and Janet, young siblings in the clan. However, members of the Nangauta family are always around, like brother Jimmy and mom Mae.
Outside of pandemic restriction times, tables and chairs are set up so customers can dine in and take in the unique vibe of Guam's southernmost village. But for now, it's just a trickle of customers picking up their phoned-in orders.
"Mostly it's residents from the neighboring villages grabbing takeout," says Janice, "People in the village head uptown to spend their money."
'One of the best spots to grab something tasty'
The menu at C&J is straightforward, a plain cheeseburger starts at $2.95 and the double bacon and egg cheeseburger tops off at $14.95. A turkey burger is offered, as are hot dogs with traditional toppings. All of the items are made to order in the small commercial kitchen on the side of the house. The stand also offers hot wings, french fries, onion rings and empanada.
Lawrence Chargualaf was picking up a large lunch order he had phoned in. The Malesso resident said he dines at the stand at least once a week. "It's one of the best spots to grab something tasty, and they always have the food ready pretty fast," he said.
It's laid back in Malesso, and the village often operates at its own pace. Janice laughs when asked about operating hours: "We're usually open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., but sometimes people call at 10 a.m. and tell us they're hungry so we take care of them."