Thursday, April 1, 2010

Interview w/ Farid Ali Lancheros


All About Fifth recently caught up with Farid Ali Lancheros, co-founder of Bogota Latin Bistro & Mojito Bar (141 5th Avenue):

AAF: Tell us about the food you serve at Bogota Latin Bistro & Mojito Bar. What was the inspiration?

Bogota Latin Bistro serves the foods of Colombia and Latin America. Latin America is a very diverse area of land that holds various cuisines that vary from nation to nation. Colombia, for instance, shares elements from indigenous, African and European influences which is what makes it so diverse. We serve popular Colombian items such as empanadas, arepas, arroz con pollo, rice, beans and plantains in addition to typical steak and seafood items one would find in Colombia. We like to punctuate our menu with dishes from Brazil, Costa Rica, Cuba and Mexico that we also love eating whenever we go out. The inspiration for Bogota Latin Bistro's menu came from the food we grew up eating and enjoying which we could not find in any restaurants as well as dishes we discover on our culinary travels throughout the U.S. and South America.

AAF: Your "About Us" page on your website said that you were working at a Law Firm before opening your restaurant. What made you want to get into the restaurant business?

I had a very short stint as a busboy back in the early 1980's. I worked at the Russian Tea Room as well as a few other places of note in Manhattan. It was some of the hardest work I had ever done and, aside from the money, I received very little gratification from it. When I left the restaurant (never having gone further than becoming a busboy), I vowed I would never work in a restaurant again due to the hard work involved. Fast forward 20 years, I met my partner, George Constantinou, who at that time managed a restaurant in Fort Greene, who convinced me to leave my law firm job working in Information Technology to open a restaurant with him. It wasn't an easy decision. Other than that short busboy gig 20 years earlier, I knew nothing of the restaurant business. I had been working in IT for 15 years at the law firm and I felt I had reached my full potential there both professionally and financially. There was no where else to go. It was a very comfortable job. George came along and presented me with an opportunity for a change in my life. It was frightening leaving the comfort of the familiar, albeit very dissatisfying, for something completely unknown but the pain of being stuck in a dead end job was greater than the fear of taking a leap of faith.

AAF: Are you glad you did it?

Am I glad I did it? I wouldn't have it any other way. When I look at the opportunities and possibilities afforded to me now, it's one of the best decisions I ever made. When I see the countless faces that leave Bogota Latin Bistro, night after night, smiling and thanking me for a memorable experience, I know I've done the right thing. When I see how many jobs I've created, how many people's lives I've changed through this restaurant, both employees and guests, including my own, my partner's and our families, this decision has been the best thing I've ever made. When I see the positive feedback, the return guests and the media attention that we are generating through basically doing everything a hospitality based business is supposed to be doing (which so many don't do), it's extremely gratifying to see hard work pay off.

AAF: Following up on that, what are some of the biggest challenges of opening and running a restaurant in New York City?

There are so many challenges for a budding restaurateur. Coming up with financing is probably the biggest hurdle. Getting good help, developing internal systems, training people to work those systems, constantly developing one's self to become better and find new ways to stay fresh and inventive, finding balance between work and one's personal life, and remaining consistent are things that constantly challenge one in this business. It's very easy to burn out in this business. Running a restaurant in New York City under so many governmental regulations also makes it difficult.

AAF: I noticed that you and George Constantinou Fernandes (the other co-owner) are more web savvy than most restaurant owners. Your website is always up to date, you use Twitter and you started your effort with a blog that chronicled your restaurant adventure. How important have these web tools been to your business? Any advice to other Fifth Avenue restaurant owners who have not used these tools yet?

The use of the internet, our blog, the website, our Facebook fan page, Twitter, online video and all other forms of social media marketing and internet technology have been absolutely instrumental for us as a business. It's the wave of the future and the future happens to be now. Experience with technology is crucial these days for any business. It makes no difference whether you're new or been on the block a while. It's important that one stay relevant and get the message out there about what one is doing. In addition to allowing us to stay engaged with our current customer base, it allows us to reach out to a wider audience of people who have yet to hear about us but who we know we would appeal to. It's central to brand building. My advice to other restaurant owners is that if you're going to get started using these tools, be prepared to make the commitment involved. It's very time consuming and can prove to be a challenge keeping up with it. Many businesses have created social media positions to help them stay on top of it. It's basically a fulltime job in itself.

AAF: When (or if) you have free time away from the restaurant, where do you shop and eat along Fifth Avenue? Any favorites?

Whenever I do have free time and need a quick break and am craving something different to eat, I head over Nana just down the block. Owner Eric Ong is a personal friend of mine and I enjoy talking shop whenever I see him. I happen to love the food at Luscious Foods. On occasion, I head over to Paul Kenney's place, Belleville for lunch. For staples, where else would I go but the Fifth Avenue Market. Those guys in there pretty much have cornered the market with their product selection and the entertainment they provide from behind the counter. As far as shopping is concerned, I am a minimalist and just don't enjoy shopping at all. I hate carrying bags around with me and I don't enjoy surrounding myself or my home with clutter. I will say I love Fifth Avenue (I grew up right on Sackett Street in the early 1970's and attended P.S. 282 and St. Francis Xavier growing up). Fifth Avenue very much is home to me. Not only do I have great memories of growing up here, I'm making new memories too.

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