Imagine the perfect seafood soup. It has the creamy taste of coconut milk. The seafood is fresh, but not chewy. You take that first bite and the lime, the cilantro, the explosion of Caribbean flavor makes your eyes roll back in your head with pleasure.
This is how we felt when we first tried Restaurante Latino. Featuring Caribbean, Pacific Coast and even Indigenous cuisine in Pereira, Colombia! In an unimpressive side street, off the beaten path of Pereira, is a simple, yet artsy, hole-in-the-wall restaurant – named Latino. A unique place where Tipico Colombian Food comes to life.
Innovative Entrepreneurship of Miguel Angel Trujillo and Restaurante Latino
On the heels of some personal struggles, Miguel Angel had an opportunity fall in his lap. And opened this restaurant with 1,800,000 COP (~$600 USD). Remember, the average restaurant in Pereira will spend ~20,000,000 COP (approx. $6,900 USD) to get started – so it was nothing! He had almost no start-up capital but he wanted to do something meaningful not only for himself, but for his neighborhood. And then a friend offered his “local” or commercial space, to Miguel for his new idea.
“Sin estudiar gastonomia, sin dinero. (he laughs) Sin barba. Estamos cocineros de la casa. Ellos son de aqui en la cuadra. Somos vecinos. Nos reunimos – criaron un restaurante que resulto realmente exitoso.” ~ Miguel Angel Trujillo
What began is a story of innovative entrepreneurship. Rather than take out loans, find professional staff and the latest decor, he turned to his neighborhood for help. “Yo tenia 7 platos, 4 cuchillos y 3 vasos en al principio.” I had 7 plates, 4 spoons and 3 cups in the beginning, says Miguel – with an ironic expression which indicates he isn’t really joking. He started out with whatever he could find. Siete mil pesos el almuerzo, 7, 000 pesos was the lunch price, he says.
Miguel Angel even went so far as to ask the neighborhood “Señora’s,” or women of maturity and experience, to help him cook the food. His cooks aren’t SENA graduates or fancy chefs, they are women who cook the traditional Colombian food of their ancestors who grew up cooking for large Paisa families. Together with his neighbors he works to curate recipes and secure high quality local ingredients. In fact, everything about this restaurant is abnormal:
- Miguel Angel attends each and every visitor personally. He then carefully oversees every detail of the preparation for quality and authenticity. There’s only the cooks and him – who also takes the orders, helps prepare the plates and serves them personally.
- An unlikely location, Latino wasn’t opened in a popular restaurant district, or a highly visible street location. In fact, the restaurant is in a very typical neighborhood and is mostly surrounded by used car dealers, mechanics and even a tack shop.
- The restaurant is broken up into 3 rooms. One is a private room with a big table – which will seat 6-8. Another, has only 2 1/2 tables. The main room has 3-4 tables. There are only about 7 – 10 tables.
- A very open kitchen. No matter where you sit in the restaurant you can watch some part of your food preparation – leading to greater quality and transparency.
One of the biggest drivers of his restaurant concept was the local art & culture scene of Pereira. A lover of music, art and theatre, Miguel became a fixture of the local art community and brought his food with him. He is very supportive of local artists & musicians – don’t be surprised if you see him at an event selling or even giving away food.
Today, this unique restaurant with humble beginnings has become a popular lunch spot for local politicians and upper-class businessmen. To date, Latino is receiving a great deal of exposure and attention from local and national media. Recently, they were featured in the most important culture & news magazine “La Semana.” They have also been featured in El Diaro, Telecafe “Entre Mujeres” and a podcast.
Much of which- started with a little story we wrote a year ago – for Colombia Reports.
Social Work by Latino
One of the initiatives that Miguel Angel told us about is a program called “Impacto Juvenil,” a program which works with at-risk kids in a comuna, or slum – called Tokyo. He helps to teach these children and adolescents how to cook food and feed themselves, while keeping Colombian tradition and culture alive at the same time. Latino is a restaurant that shows a mindful approach to supporting local and helping to create strong families and strong communities. Bravo!
A Story of Travel and Discovery
In that previous story, for Colombia Reports, we introduced Miguel Angel and told the story of his travels. To summarize, initially he served “Latin American Cuisine.” Plates from Cuba, Mexico, Ecuador and Peru were all part of the diversity of flavors he gave. But it was the Caribbean and Pacific Coast preparations that people fell in love with. The first successful soup is called “Sopa Pirata” or Pirate Soup. It is a carefully curated conglomeration of 7 different Caribbean soup recipes to create the perfect seafood soup. According to Miguel, people have traveled from Manizales, Cartage and Armenia, only for this plate.
In 2017, Miguel went on a food tour of Antioquia and the Pacific Coast. His goal was to learn more about the cultural foods, but also to find an ancestral recipe which was reported to be very special. After much searching, he found an old woman up in the jungle who could teach it to him. And, it was salty with the taste of vinegar. But, it was a grand adventure which helped to bring him to the attention of the national press which, in turn, fell in love with Latino.
To read more about how Miguel traveled some of the most dangerous parts of Colombia to curate the recipes he now uses:
A Colombian Story
Now, fast forward a year later, in his second year of business. This is where we pick up the story once again. Today he has the most celebrated “tipico” restaurant in Pereira. Go back to the cultural roots. The original recipes AND high quality well-curated ingredients – makes it a cut above the rest. This isn’t the typical “greasy spoon” type of place that (unfortunately) many tipico restaurants can sometimes feel like. The ingredients are prepared fresh, the tastes are well-curated and, it has a story behind it.
How to get there: Cra. 15 #18-16
Facebook: facebook.com/latinoalimentos/ Hours of Operation: Monday through Friday 8 am – 4 pm
Breakfast & Lunch Served Daily!
Photo Credits: Photos as indicated, by Mohnish Bisht. Book your custom photography session in Pereira today.
Check out his website at mohnishbisht.comOwner/Editor of OpenMindedTraveler.com, Erin is also the Project Administrator/Editor of Pereira City Guide.com - She has been living in Pereira, Colombia for several years.