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El Lemoncello opened its doors on Aug. 15, 2019, less than a year before the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Tony Martini.
Lemoncello opened its doors on Aug. 15, 2019, less than a year before the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo courtesy of Tony Ramirez.

Lemoncello, the family-owned Colombian restaurant that stayed serving family favorites amid COVID-19

Owner Tony Ramirez says he’s grateful for any business he can get as the restaurant slowly reopens.

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“My father and I started Lemoncello because we know how to cook good homemade Colombian food,” Ramirez told AL DÍA News in a recent interview.

They opened up their own location in North Philly on Aug. 5, 2019.

“The former owner of the building knew my family for over 30 years, so she asked us if we wanted to take over, I was open to the idea, so that’s what we did,” he said.

Ramirez’s family migrated from Cali, Colombia, on Sept. 12, 1990, with big plans to prosper.

“Opening a restaurant is something that came naturally to us, just because we always worked in restaurants,” he said.

After opening up Lemoncello, Ramirez was excited to have the opportunity to show the community some of his culinary expertise of not only Colombian cuisine, but also Italian dishes he learned to make while cooking at other restaurants.

“I also added some Italian dishes to the menu, like chicken parmesan and chicken alfredo,” Ramirez said.

Their restaurant was finally coming together, but in March 2020, the world turned upside down when the COVID-19 outbreak hit the U.S.

“Business was very bad in the beginning, but one thing I can say is that I never closed throughout the pandemic,” said Ramirez.

Restaurants like his were hit the hardest amid the pandemic, and Ramirez admits he wasn’t sure how long his restaurant could last.

“There were some days when we only sold $80 worth of food in one day,” he said. “We didn’t know what was going on exactly.”

Since the city has started allowing 25% occupancy, people have started trickling back, and Ramirez now uses food delivery services to help his restaurant expand business to more customers who live too far away from the restaurant to try authentic Colombian food.

Ramirez is also hitting social media hard for his restaurant.

“What I’m doing is putting my business out there on social media, and that helps a lot, the word is going out there,” he said.

However, even being open just 25%, Ramirez said he is grateful for any business he can get.

“For the moment, we have to learn how to live with this new normal, but we work hard, we work seven days a week, so we’re are not stopping now,” he said.

Colombian food often depends on the region of the country, but there are many staples that Colombia cuisine is recognized for.

“We are mostly known for our seafood, but we also have a dish called arepa con queso, which is popular in Colombia,” said Ramirez.

He also touted their Bandeja Paisa, which is a well-known dish that consists of rice, beans, grilled steak, sausage, pork, two eggs, a corn patty with avocado, and sweet plantains on the side.

“We also have a daily $10 platter. It’s a complete meal that comes with steak encebollado, rice, salad, tostones, and soup,” he said.

 

Ramirez is thankful that his customers keep coming back for delicious and affordable food at a restaurant that he’s proud to call his own.

If you’re in the neighborhood, be sure to pay Ramirez a visit at 4903 N. 5th St. and get ready to have a Colombian feast!

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