Bogota Latin Bistro in Park Slope, Brooklyn continues to celebrate success in a field where a majority of new restaurants do not make it past the one-year mark. George Constantinou Fernandez and Farid Ali Lancheros, both with no prior experience in starting a business, opened Bogota in July 2005 after four years of intense research and preparation in opening and managing a restaurant and on creating and building a successful business.
In 2001, George, who for four years was a general manager of a restaurant in Fort Greene, approached Farid, who was a longtime employee of a law firm in Manhattan, with the idea of opening a Pan-Latin restaurant in Brooklyn. Farid’s prior restaurant experience included a stint as a busboy over 20 years ago in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
George is half Costa Rican and Farid is half Colombian. They shared a dream of working for themselves and sharing their love for the taste of Central and South American cuisine with their community. They also wanted to create an establishment with a mission dedicated to elevating the status of Latin foods, particularly Colombian cuisine, and culture via great food, music, service, and attention to detail. They began their entrepreneurial journey by attending a “how-to” workshop on opening and running a business conducted by The Workshop In Business Opportunities, a private, non-profit organization committed to assisting people in becoming successful entrepreneurs. The 16-week course helped them start a business plan for what was to become Bogota Latin Bistro.
Farid and George then attended the Brooklyn Business Library‘s entrepreneurial fair and learned about the library’s inaugural business-plan competition, PowerUP! Citigroup Foundation sponsored the contest for Brooklyn-based entrepreneurs who needed start-up capital. Entrants would attend classes on creating a business plan, budgeting, and marketing and then submit their own business plan.
In late 2003, George and Farid, who spent hundreds of hours at the library scouring reference databases and learning all they could about the restaurant business, took home PowerUP!’s first ever top prize: $10,000 in cash and $10,000 in business-related services. The competition’s top prize was definitely not enough to open a fine restaurant in New York City; however, winning the competition from amongst a field of 125 applicants certified the vision the partners had for their restaurant.
“The value was so much more than the prize money,” said Farid. “It validated our plan and empowered us psychologically.” It also gave the pair extra credibility to present to bankers and accountants.
For two years, George and Farid spent their free time networking and attending anything and everything they could, handing out and collecting business cards. After a great deal of hard work and determination, George and Farid raised necessary capital and secured a space along what the New York Times called “Brooklyn’s hot dining destination strip,” Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
The entrepreneurs developed a following when they started a blog on their website chronicling their progress as aspiring restaurateurs in the months leading up to the opening of the restaurant. The inspiration for the restaurant and its menu was a trip to Farid’s hometown of Bogota, Colombia. George and Farid, two former Brooklyn Heights residents, explored other places in South America and Central America and picked up tips on traditional dishes along the way.
In July 2005, Bogota Latin Bistro opened for business to rave reviews. Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Councilmember Leticia James, and other local dignitaries attended a grand opening ribbon-cutting ceremony a few months later.
“We’ve dreamed of this restaurant for several years,” said George. “We are gratified for the support, encouragement, and enthusiastic reception we’ve received from the community and our customers since we opened.”
Architect Kate Webb designed the interior of the bistro and colorful murals celebrating Latino culture created by local artists are featured behind the bar and in the back patio.
“We serve Latin food in a fun, friendly, stylish environment,” said Farid, who was born in Colombia and raised in Park Slope and Pennsylvania. “Our menu is made up of recipes inspired by our travels throughout Latin America, George’s mother’s favorite dishes, and cooking classes we’ve taken at the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan.”
One of the most-requested items on the Bogota Bistro menu is the typical rural Colombian dish “bandeja paisa” (Spanish for “mountain platter”), a serving of grilled steak, “chicharron” (fried pork skin), “arepa” (white cornmeal cake), rice, beans, fried egg, “maduros” (sweet plantains), and avocado. “It’s a national dish,” George says. “The best offering one would serve to friends and family.”
From the moment you walk through the doors of Bogota Bistro, you feel like you’re at home. George and Farid and their dedicated staff have created the hottest Pan-Latin restaurant in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
Farid and George continue to travel internationally to enhance their collective culinary knowledge, skills, and expertise. The owners strongly believe in ongoing training and development of their team. They see it as a worthy investment in the future of the restaurant and as a way to enable people to achieve their potential in all their endeavors – inside and outside of Bogota Latin Bistro.
“We are extremely proud of what we have created. It’s an incredible restaurant,” said Farid. “The story of Bogota Latin Bistro is one of determination, discipline, faith and a lot of hard work. It doesn’t get better than that for me.”