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Jorge Mosquera moved to Philadelphia from Ecuador with the idea of staying for a couple of years to study. Today he owns several restaurants and is one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the city.   Harrison Brink/Aldía News
Jorge Mosquera moved to Philadelphia from Ecuador with the idea of staying for a couple of years to study. Today he owns several restaurants and is one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the city.   Harrison Brink/Aldía News

The Journey of a Restaurateur

Jorge Mosquera is the owner of two of the most popular Latin American restaurants in Philadelphia.

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For Jorge Mosquera, the journey to becoming the owner of one of the most popular Latin American restaurants in Philadelphia was not something he foresaw.

“I always say that opening a restaurant was something that I never planned. It was something that happened by accident,” Mosquera said in an interview with AL DÍA. 

Mosquera moved to Philadelphia from Ecuador with the idea of staying for a couple of years of school and then returning to his homeland. 

However, he got the opportunity to purchase his first restaurant — a Colombian restaurant in the city located on 6th and Hunting Park. Despite not knowing a ton about the restaurant industry, he decided to take a risk and three decades later, that risk proved to be a successful one. 

For more than 30 years now, his restaurant, Tierra Colombiana, has served the Philadelphia community with traditional Latin American and Caribbean cuisine.

About a decade later after the first one, Mosquera opened another restaurant, Mixto Restaurante, a Cuban, Latin American & Caribbean restaurant located in Center City.

Through hard work, determination, and risk-taking, Mosquera has turned himself into one of the premier restaurateurs in the city.

Jorge Mosquera was born and raised in the southern Ecuadorian province of Azuay, in the small town of Giron.   Harrison Brink/Aldía News
A Very Big Family

Mosquera was born and raised in the Azuay Province in southern Ecuador, in the small town of Girón.

He comes from a very big family of 12 brothers and sisters; Mosquera is the third-oldest.

Growing up in such a big family had its ups and downs.

“I think it had benefits because we didn’t need anybody else to play with. We were a close family. But also being [one of] the oldest meant having more responsibilities at an early age,” he said. 

However, Mosquera credits the many sacrifices his parents made to put him and all his siblings through school, which was very difficult in South America for a family that wasn’t financially stable.

Upon graduating from high school, Mosquera worked as an English teacher. At the time, teaching was a very common path for recent high school graduates in Ecuador. 

However, having learned English in high school, but not really practicing the language regularly made Mosquera feel it wasn’t the right fit as a career path for him.

“I didn’t feel comfortable being a teacher,” said Mosquera. 

After less than a year working as an English teacher, Mosquera decided to leave Ecuador and come to the United States at the age of 19, with the help of his older brother who had already been living in Philadelphia. 

The first year or so of Mosquera’s settlement to the United States proved to be very difficult. 

He missed his family and friends back home, and even though he had his brother who also lived in the city, Mosquera often spent much of his time alone.

“Moving over here wasn’t easy. I didn’t know a lot of English. I started going to school, I started working at the time. So life became harder,” said Mosquera. 

After getting past the first year of struggles navigating a new country, Mosquera started meeting new people, getting used to the customs and the transition became easier with each passing month. 

“I appreciate all of that because that helped me to become what I am,” he said. 

“I always like to say, ‘I grew up mentally here,’” he added. 

When he initially moved to Philadelphia, Mosquera was working in a shoe repair store in Center City.   Harrison Brink/Aldía News
An Accidental Opportunity

When he initially moved to Philadelphia, Mosquera was working at a shoe repair store in Center City. 

His cousin was working at a restaurant at the time and told him about someone who was selling his restaurant business to move back home to Colombia. 

Mosquera didn’t know a lot about the restaurant business or know how to cook Colombian food, but took the opportunity to learn as much as he could. 

He bought the restaurant using all of his savings, and that would begin a journey he hadn’t anticipated as a restaurant owner.

The workers at the restaurant were key to his success during the early stages of Mosquera’s ownership experience.

“They were like my guardian angels,” he said.

“They were like my guardian angels,” he said.

“They helped me every day to make sure that everything was okay… I felt very lucky with those people that helped me,” he added.

After a while, Mosquera’s brothers, sisters, and nieces started working with him at the restaurant and the business started to grow. 

The first restaurant, located on 6th & Hunting Park Avenue, was a typical Colombian restaurant, with traditional Colombian cuisine. 

Years later, the government was having a federal auction for a Cuban restaurant on North 5th Street that had been confiscated. 

Mosquera put in an offer bid, not expecting to win it. But he did. 

In 1989, Mosquera moved Tierra Colombiana to its current location on North 5th Street. 

During its early years, Tierra Colombiana combined Colombian and Cuban dishes for its menu. 

Over time, as Mosquera took various trips to countries, from Peru, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Mexico, he got the opportunity to try many of the different foods those countries have to offer. 

“I’ve tasted the flavors, and sometimes I’ve tried to bring with me something to the restaurant to make part of our menu,” he said. 

Today, Tierra Colombiana’s menu has expanded to include dishes and flavors that encompass Latin America and the Caribbean. 

The restaurant has become a favorite of not only those of Latino and Caribbean descent but those interested in learning about and tasting the different flavors of those countries. 

“It’s so nice to see sometimes that now the people who used to come to the restaurant back then, they come now with their kids and grandkids, and we’re still here,” said Mosquera. 

In 2000, Mosquera officially opened the doors of another restaurant — Mixto Restaurante — in Center City.

Originally, the idea was to have its menu mirror that of Tierra Colombiana, however, with time, Mosquera came to learn that the clientele at Mixto was roughly 80% American and 20% Latino; a contrast from the clientele at Tierra. 

“We make the menu at Mixto a little bit different, more upscale,” said Mosquera.  

Mosquera credits his success in owning multiple restaurants largely to two things: love and effort. 

“I always think that when you do something, you have to like what you do,” he said.

“Even if you don’t like it, you have to try to do your best,” he added.

Those values, plus the ability to work with his brothers, sisters, and nieces have paid huge dividends towards his success. 

Mosquera didn’t have much knowledge of the restaurant business, nor did he know how to cook Colombian food, but he took the opportunity to learn all he could.  Harrison Brink/Aldía News
Navigating a New Normal

Like many restaurants and businesses nationwide, Tierra Colombiana and Mixto were greatly impacted by the pandemic.

“It was very difficult at the beginning because they closed all restaurants, especially in Philadelphia,” said Mosquera.

While some restaurants were able to operate in a limited fashion with takeout and delivery options, the lack of indoor dining made things more challenging. 

In June 2020, the city started to permit outdoor dining at restaurants with social distancing measures in place. 

In September, the city allowed 25% indoor capacity, before increasing capacity to 50% roughly a month later. 

However, by November, many restaurants were forced to close indoor dining once again due to an increase of positive COVID-19 cases.

“It wasn’t an easy year, it was a difficult year. But thank God we survived and we are still here,” said Mosquera. 

“It wasn’t an easy year, it was a difficult year. But thank God we survived and we are still here,” said Mosquera. 

Now more than a year after the initial blow of the pandemic, about half of the staff has returned to work and most restaurants are allowed to welcome indoor dining at 50% capacity. 

The pandemic has been quite the learning experience for Mosquera. 

It has taught him about the immense importance of having money saved, in the event of something unexpected or unforeseen happening — like a pandemic.

“If something happened and I wasn’t prepared for it, it could have been a lot worse,” he noted. 

As a business owner, the effects of the pandemic have also caused Mosquera to gain an even greater appreciation for his employees. 

“In those early months or when we were open to 25%, it was so difficult to see them not working,” he said.

“But I learned that if you work hard, if you try to do the right things, you’ll survive and you will continue. And that’s what we are doing now. We are hoping for the best,” he said. 

For more than 30 years, Mosquera’s restaurant, Tierra Colombiana, has served the Philadelphia community with traditional Latin American and Caribbean cuisine and flavors.  Harrison Brink/Aldía News
An Evolving City

Having lived in Philadelphia for more than three decades, Mosquera has seen many changes within the City of Brotherly Love.

He recalls arriving in the city during a time when there were, as he described, “just patches of good areas where you could live,” mainly the Rittenhouse Square, Old City, and Washington Square neighborhoods.

Much of the other areas of the city were abandoned, litter strewn, with old, worn-down houses and a lot of empty spaces and lots. 

“Since I moved, until now, I’ve seen big changes. I love the changes Philadelphia is making,” said Mosquera. 

From the buildings and businesses, and particularly restaurants, the city has seen great expansion over the years.

“Philadelphia, to me, is becoming one of the nicest cities to live in,” said Mosquera. 

The addition of so many Latino and multicultural restaurants in the city has brought great competition and has always made Mosquera stay at the top of his game. 

“The restaurant business is a crazy business because it demands you to work hard,” he said. 

Considering the importance and value people of all ethnicities, nationalities, and cultures place on eating, the restaurant industry is crucial to sustain and enhance the growth of a city.

“I think it’s important for restaurants to be authentic and work with each other to satisfy our customer needs,” said Mosquera. 

The Land of Opportunities

Mosquera’s journey is a familiar one to many immigrant entrepreneurs who arrive in the United States. 

“I still think the United States is a country of opportunities,” he said.

For generations, people have emigrated to the United States in search of a better life, striving towards the so-called American Dream. 

As someone who has not only found but built his success in this country, Mosquera often advises his nieces and nephews about his keys to success.

“Be risky,” he said. “Do whatever you are trying to do, but try to do it the right way and work hard and go for it. Don’t be scared.”

“Be risky,” he said. “Do whatever you are trying to do, but try to do it the right way and work hard and go for it. Don’t be scared.”

There are going to be many obstacles along the way, but a healthy dose of fearlessness can go a long way. A hard work ethic can also go a long way towards achieving your goals. 

“All I did was work hard, and I still work hard. I’ve been working hard over 37 years and I still work the same way I did back then, with no stopping,” said Mosquera.

Mosquera often worked more than 20 hours a day, six days a week. But sometimes that is what it took to reach the heights he desired.

“The United States is still a country of opportunities. But it doesn’t come to you, you have to look for it. You have to work very hard for it and don’t be scared to do what you need to do. That’s what I did.” 

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