At Puyero in South Philly, the dream of sharing Venezuelan culture through food stays strong amid COVID-19
Founded in 2017, Puyero is the dream of owner Gilberto Arends and his wife.
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Owner Gilberto Arends and wife Manuela started their own restaurant, Puyero, in 2017.
The duo wanted Philadelphia to experience their Venezuelan culture through food.
“When I came to the U.S in 2011, I checked out South Philly, and I was pretty shocked that there weren’t any Venezuelan restaurants,” Arends said.
So, he enlisted help with his brother and wife to start their very own in 2017.
Arends wanted his culture to be displayed throughout the city to people who have never tried Venezuelan cuisine.
“Business was going great, we were able to get a lot of customers, which was something that I was very proud of,” he said.
That good fortune would carry on for the next three years, until 2020.
That year, in March, the coronavirus pandemic hit and shook small businesses like Puyero to their core.
Speaking with AL DÍA in January of 2021, Puyero is still in a battle to stay afloat.
“I don’t think that we have ever thought that this would happen, at first, I thought the pandemic would be gone in 2-3 months, it’s almost been a year now,” he said.
Arends also talked about the dramatic changes his restaurant went through, especially for his customers who were used to dining in his restaurant.
“Being a fairly new restaurant, it was scary,” he said. “We tried several things that will work with us, we did a lot of personal deliveries and tried limiting our hours.”
Throughout the drastic change, the same message of Puyero’s opening still rings true.
“My main focus was to deliver food to curious customers who have never had Venezuelan cuisine. People can learn a lot from food and I wanted my customers to be able to identify with my Venezuelan culture,” Arends said.
He was also able to receive small business grants and other local grants.
“We received PPP grants, Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce grant, this money has helped us survive and be able to pay our bills and establish some kind of outdoor seating for customers,” said Arends.
He said business has been steady. The weekends are busy, and deliveries through companies like DoorDash, Caviar, UberEats, and GrubHub have been beneficial for them.
“Obviously, these companies get a percentage of our money, so it’s not a clean sale, but we do have a lot more deliveries now than what we used to,” he explained.
To help, the city of Philadelphia limited the amount of what a delivery service can charge small deliveries.
“Delivery services are only receiving 15% of the orders, so that’s not too bad, it was much more but since the city limited the amount,” said Arends.
While local restaurants in Philadelphia were given the green light to start indoor dining at 25% capacity, Arends is not planning on making that move any time soon.
“It will be a lot of work for our staff, we don’t have a lot of staff and I don’t want to put their health at risk, I want everyone to be safe and healthy, we don’t really have the need to do it just yet,” he said.
Still, Arends is devoted to giving fellow Philadelphia residents a taste of what his childhood was, by creating appetizing meals that he had growing up in Venezuela.
“Our famous food items would have to be arepas, which are corn patties that we stuff with different things like avocados, beef, and chicken, we also have patacones which are plantain sandwiches, we stuff it with lots of things,” he said.
Check out Puyero’s menu and join the growing number of Philadelphians learning to appreciate Arends’ culture.