Mar 28, 2018
BATAVIA — Restaurateur Victor Figueroa believes in himself, his start-up concept for authentic Island flavors; and most importantly his wife Michelle, the author of The Wild Rican’s business plan.
All he needed was a place to try it out. He has that now after winning a five-way race to join vegan concept Eden inside the food hall at the downtown Eli Fish Brewing Company.
“I am ‘The Wild Rican,’” Victor explained during a final pitch to officials from the Batavia Development Corporation Wednesday.
“What I’m trying to do something different in Batavia — Caribbean island cuisine,” he said, describing a menu of specialty empanadas, Cuban sandwiches made with bone-in-shoulder pork and a house-made bread that’s “like a water bed” it’s so soft.
Figueroa told the committee he’s not bragging — but he’s definitely confident. He won the Foodie Challenge that launched the FreshLAB project, and during a boot camp for the project’s applicants, he asked the assembled experts questions that showed certainty in his place within the food hall.
“What’s so special about mine compared to Buffalo and Rochester is that they take too many shortcuts,” he said, slapping a sheet of paper as he went. “All they use is the sofrito (a sauce that’s the base for Puerto Rican dishes) but you have to have use the onions, the garlic, the peppers, the olives, the vinegar, the capers, and the jamon, which is the ham. They don’t do anything of that.”
“They won’t have anything compared to what we have here.”
The Wild Rican will offer scoop-and-serve dishes meant for the downtown workers looking to eat well and eat fast. In addition to cheeseburger, chicken and pizza empanadas, the proposed menu has entrees of roasted or stewed pork, beef and chicken served over rice and beans, field plantains and avocado slices.
Michelle, through her work at Community Action, has a close relationship with farms in the area. She mentioned Lee Farms, Bannister Beefand Kern’s Farm Market as possible sources for high-quality products.
“It will give us a fresh taste. You can tell the difference between grass-fed (beef) versus cows that were not — it tastes better,” she said, after explaining that the start-up will need to purchase specialty equipment beyond the kitchen provided at the brewery.
The FreshLAB concept, backed by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, needs to tie its resulting menus with the area’s agricultural products. Barb Shine, a former BDC member and the project’s boot camp leader, said diners will get the full experience from the food hall.
“It’s making it more exciting for all three businesses,” Shine said.
Victor has been working as the kitchen manager for Eli Fish since the brewery’s opening a month ago. He makes potato soup, Korean meatballs and the jambalaya on the current menu.
His restaurant is envisioned not as a way to get rich. It’s a legacy for his kids to appreciate, and a cornerstone after an up-and-down career running kitchens at restaurants.
“I’ve been a superstar, and I’ve been on the bottom,” he said. “I have 20 years experience, there’s nothing I don’t know or can’t learn. I work well with others, I’m a leader,” Figueroa said. “I’m good at improvising, there’s no bind I can’t get out of; and I have a bandwagon, people who are responsible, reliable.”
“I know exactly what I’m getting into, and what I’m up against,” he added.
The Figueroas will move into the Main Street brewery and plan to open by late May. A $30,000 grant-and-loan package, along with a trial run inside the brewery, was approved Wednesday.
“It’s clear you know what you’re doing ... and we’ve eaten your food, we know you are doing what you’re doing,” BDC Director Julie Pacatte said.