Restaurants, a key cog in Philadelphia bouncing back post COVID-19
The 2021 AL DÍA Top Restaurateurs virtual event highlighted six local Latinx restaurateurs and their experiences navigating the pandemic.
As Philadelphia aims to push forward and bounce back against the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants have played a major role in keeping the city afloat.
The city is filled with various restaurants infusing Latin American and other diverse flavors into the city’s vast cuisine.
On April 28, AL DÍA hosted the 2021 AL DIA Top Restaurateurs virtual event to honor six remarkable Philadelphia restaurants that have done just that, helping transform the city’s rich restaurant scene.
“The Latino community is the backbone of the restaurant and hospitality industry,” Jennifer Rodriguez, president & CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said during the event.
The restaurateurs honored during the virtual event were Alma and Marcos Romero, owners of Alma Del Mar; Gisselle Poveda, owner of Cafe Tinto; Miguel Toro, co-owner of El Balconcito 1, 2 and Vista Peru; Jezebel Careaga, owner of Jezebel’s Café; Javier Rios Sandoval, owner of Mole Poblano and Owen Kamihira, owner of El Camino Real.
The event allowed AL DÍA to not only dive into the entrepreneurial journeys of the restaurateurs who own and operate these restaurants, but also learn about the stories of resilience these restaurateurs carried out in the face of the ongoing pandemic.
For Miguel Toro, his entrepreneurial journey was sparked by his mother.
When he, his mother and sister moved to the United States from Peru in 2001, Toro’s mother sold her dental supply store in Peru. Upon her arrival to the U.S., she worked cleaning houses, apartments and malls, with the goal of eventually opening another business.
In 2005, Toro’s mother bought El Balconcito 1. Three years later, El Balconcito 2 opened its doors.
After the successes of El Balconcito 1 and El Balconcito 2, Toro began thinking about expanding further, which led to the opening of Vista Peru in 2018.
“I think that we are really blessed because since day one, we knew that if we worked hard we were going to be successful and that’s what happened,” said Toro.
When Owen Kamihira was opening his restaurant in 2005, the challenge was whether or not opening a restaurant in the Northern Liberties section of the city would draw individuals from the rest of the city.
After more than a decade-and-a-half, he came to learn that the answer was yes, as he overcame that hurdle.
“Generally, opening a restaurant is the easiest part. It’s operating a restaurant and keeping your sanity and staying viable as a business is really a challenge,” said Kamihira.
The pandemic has served as a major hurdle for these restaurants, as well as businesses across the city.
Alma and Marcos Romero took the ultimate leap of faith by actually opening their restaurant in the middle of the pandemic.
“We saw it as an opportunity,” said Marcos Romero. “We say that a lot of restaurants were closed, so if a lot of restaurants were closed, we could open. We can.”
That level of confidence and fearlessness has also helped Jezabel Careaga open and grow her business.
“As a woman and as a Latina, I’m pretty strong in my beliefs and my values and what I do, so I just keep moving along,” she said.
These restaurants and the many others that enrich the city of Philadelphia with rich, authentic, diverse flavors that mirror the diverse cultures that make up the city’s population are critical as it moves forward.
The 2021 AL DÍA Top Restaurateurs virtual event served as a small token of appreciation for the restaurant industry entrepreneurs who are helping make the City of Brotherly Love the desirable place it is to eat and live.