United for friendship and the love of good food, four Spaniards have earned a place in the competitive gastronomy industry in New York with no fewer than several hamburgers, with which they have conquered palates and several awards for their work.
Víctor Ortega, with experience in hospitality, and chef Jaime Guardiola, who had come to New York in 2008 with the idea of opening a Spanish restaurant, started the project in 2013.
“If you go somewhere, go to the capital of the world. If you hit it, you hit it hard and if you crash, you’re the same anywhere,” says Victor, the most talkative and who manages the three restaurants that have already opened in the Big Apple.
After several months of evaluating the market they opted to buy Black Iron Burger that was already established, although it had been neglected by their owner because they had other businesses.
Thus began their gastronomic adventure in the East Village, which was later joined by Pedro Ruiz Ocejo and Luis Carlos García, who had studied just like Guardiola in the culinary school of Seville.
They admit that they embarked on this project with great enthusiasm but also with the fear of how the public would welcome four Sevillians who were behind such an emblematic food of this country as the hamburger.
“Challenge was everything since we came from Spain,” adds Ortega during the lunchtime interview with Efe in his crowded restaurant in Midtown Manhattan.
“When we entered the East Village, the business lost money. The local community gave us the back because they had done some bad things in the last years and people were not happy and it was also at a time when the city was still recovering from the scourge of Hurricane Sandy. To win us in the local community is difficult for us to work,” he recalls.
However, they were not discouraged and began to change the menu to include quality meat without antibiotics or hormones, fresh vegetables and potatoes, “nothing frozen”, they say, and to give them to try the diners to know what they liked.
Luis Carlos intervenes to emphasize that “based on working hard, inventing, giving people a taste (their hamburgers), giving them quality and good service” they went ahead in the small restaurant with room for 30 people in the Village.
The group faced their second litmus test when they opened their second restaurant in Midtown, a few steps from the bustling Times Square.
“When we opened here it was the test of fire and it was hard for us to start it because nobody knew you, it’s an office area and the end of the week there is nobody and we had to do a lot of work to earn our neighborhood. The tourists little by little began to come,” highlights Víctor.
Pedro and Carlos point out that their gastronomic proposal to give a good product of natural meat, to prepare the sauce they serve their customers, to use fresh products, ended up conquering and maintaining their customers.
An element in their menu is the presence of Mediterranean food. They do not forget where they come from, they say. So they have included the Iberian burger, which among its ingredients has its main character, Iberian ham, Manchego cheese and egg, as well as the aioli potatoes.
“It’s our Mediterranean idea that everything has to be the best product, well done and give the customer the best,” adds Víctor with satisfaction.
Six years after having started the project, they have three “gourmet” hamburger venues and expansion plans in the Big Apple, while evaluating whether to jump to Chicago (Illinois).
Pedro says that in his success the work of the more than 70 employees they have from different countries is “fundamental”.
The effort and “flavors” of these Sevillians accumulates four awards from the prestigious magazine Zagat, restaurant review, as “the best burger” in the city for four consecutive years and three for TripAdvisor.