***The Thursday Interview is a showcase for creators, innovators, troublemakers, small business owners to share news and insight about the creative impetus and inspirations behind their latest project, launch or business.
When I am in need of pernil, plantains and strong Cuban coffee, Pilar Cuban Eatery is the go-to spot. The original intimate location was so close to my apartment, it required major discipline to not do daily visits.
Pilar’s recent move to a larger space with a full bar (happy hour, hello!) may mean a longer walk to satiate my cravings but oh it is so worth it.
I’m eager to share the journey of Pilar’s co-founder Ricardo Barreras from psychologist to restaurant owner. Enjoy!
Name: Ricardo Barreras
Business: Pilar Cuban Eatery
Life Motto: 90% of the time there’s a solution, or a route to get to where you want to go, sometime by being tenaciously unyielding to failure.
How did you make the transition from psychologist to restaurant owner?
It was a long transition, probably about 5 years. After about doing advocacy-centered research for about 15 years, I started to get tired of the day-to-day of what my work was like. Most of the time it was on a computer, entering and analyzing data, writing grants, proposals and reports. I’m very much a people person and like being out in the real-world (academia is a different universe altogether). I first played with the idea of doing a small soup shop in addition to my academic work (an idea, which knowing what I know now, is very poorly grounded). As I became tired of my academic life, my business plans grew. My final project, when I was a Soros Justice Fellow, was particularly frustrating and disappointing, and it became clear I had to make a change. I wanted out. I’ve been cooking for people since I’ve been about 13, and it’s something I’ve always been a bit obsessed about. Way before cable tv and the food network. I would watch all the PBS cooking shows and everyone gave me cookbooks as presents. At 15 I was making my own pasta, and experimenting with French classics. So it just made sense. Although my mother surely wasn’t happy that I spent nearly 10 years getting a Ph.D. and was leaving a successful career to slave behind a stove 12 hours a day.
How do you make your professional and personal life work while co-owning a business with your spouse (Lisbeth Moreno)? They overlap way too much. By the last few years of old Pilar, we did manage to have a lot of time off, but with the new one where it’s almost all work. If were not at work, we’re probably talking about work. The one saving grace is that in the summer we spend a few days on our boat that we keep in Long Island. It’s amazing, but when we’re there, we often forget entirely about the restaurant; that is until the phone rings; “Let’s see what the next crisis is.”
What are the loves and challenges about owning a business in Brooklyn?
Well the fact that I very much identify with Brooklyn and with my neighborhood means I feel very much at home here, feels natural. I also really enjoy (most) of my customers. There’s so many interesting and talented people here. My architect was a customer of mine and we’ve become good friends. Another customer filmed the video on my website, and another introduced me to a friend who designed our menus. My social media folks are also customers. I also think our food and space is very good fit for the neighborhood. I’m told this all the time. It was a very organic relationship. What we like, in terms of aesthetic and what we offer from our kitchen and bar is what many in the neighborhood and broader Brooklyn and beyond also are drawn to. We’re creating a product that we love and any customers go out of their way to say they love our place. The challenge, quite frankly, is doing a business in NYC with the unending layers of bureaucracy. You could say the competition is a challenge of well, but I thrive on that. When a new place comes around and gets attention, I just want to make my food better. I’m very competitive by nature. However, I’m not good with the social media stuff, so that’s where I think the young kids have an advantage over me.
As a small business owner, what are your go-to resources for managing your business?
My Wife first; Manager and the cooks second.
And now is your chance to shout-out to people who help to make Pilar a go-to spot for comfort food and camaraderie……..
My customers are the best. They’re people I would hang out with outside of the restaurant. They also freely express how much they really love our spot, not only the food, but the space, not only how it looks but how it feels.Even our tiny old space had a great feel to it. Some people say how they miss the old spot, but I can’t say that I do.