As the leaves are falling off the trees and the temperatures around most of the Unites States are becoming cold, Amy Andrade, PreGel Special Service Team Manager, takes you to a warm and tropical locale in this issue of “10 Questions With…”
Located in the Caribbean Sea and on the island’s North Eastern shore, San Juan, Puerto Rico enjoys warm temperatures year round and a gorgeous setting that lures tourists to this island’s most populated city.
San Juan is a city of juxtapositions; modern gray hotels and office-condo buildings are set against a backdrop of brightly painted historic homes, cobblestone streets, and colonial Spanish forts that date back centuries. Almost anywhere you go in the city are water views of San Juan Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
This incredible setting is the home of The Place, a burger bar located in the hotel district known as Condado. While The Place at Condado, at its core, is a casual build-your-own burger bar, it is also a beer garden, a wood-oven pizza restaurant, and a limber food truck. For those not familiar with the nearly century-old frozen treat uniquely Puerto Rican, limbers, in their simplest and most traditional form, are cups of hard-frozen fruit juices inverted onto cupcake wrappers, plates, or cups and consumed like a popsicle – by licking.
You may wonder why a burger bar would be featured in a publication from a frozen dessert ingredient company. The reason? Shakes, of course! There is nothing like the classic duo of a great burger and frosty milkshake. In addition to the shakes (which make up 90% of their frozen treat sales), The Place also serves Burger Gelato.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Carlos Vasquez, the founder and owner of The Place. Carlos is a farm-owning third generation jewelry salesman who opened The Place six years ago, having zero restaurant or food service experience. However, Carlos had a passion: his favorite food – burgers. He also had lots of experience with dining out, having traveled extensively during his twenty-five years in jewelry sales. He knew he wanted to open his own burger restaurant as a hobby by combining his favorite concepts from many different restaurants into one – serving simple, good quality food at a great price.
Carlos turned this hobby into a restaurant successful enough for him to quit the jewelry business three years ago. The restaurant averages 500 tickets a night – that’s a lot of burgers and shakes. So successful, in fact, that he has had numerous requests from people who want to franchise his business and bring it into the States.
Amy Andrade (AA): Let’s start here. What made you think that you would be able to run a successful restaurant with virtually no experience?
Carlos Vasquez (CV): If you can sell jewelry, you can sell anything. The jewelry sales business is a very tough business.
AA: There is a Burger Gelato on your menu. What is a Burger Gelato?
CV: Burger Gelato are gelato “burgers” made using PreGel’s Gelato Panini Machine, the brioche buns we use for the burgers, and the soft ice cream/ gelato and toppings. Customers select which soft ice cream/ gelato (burger) flavor they want and what topping(s) they want to build their own.
AA: What is your favorite PreGel item to use?
AA: Why is our Sprints line your favorite?
CV: Sprints are very easy to use and the soft ice cream/ gelato can be made very fast.
AA: What is the favorite flavor for frozen desserts in Puerto Rico?
AA: What have been some successful marketing techniques you have used?
CV: We are closed Monday and Tuesday of every week. This gives people the time to crave our product. We actually have customers waiting outside for us to open on Wednesdays. These people tell us they had to come get a burger because they are craving them. If you give people what they want 24/7, it never gives people the opportunity to crave the product. The product just becomes not special anymore if you can get it whenever you want it.
We also have call-in/ pick up service. We are in an area that is surrounded by a lot of residential buildings. People are not allowed to grill on their balconies or patios so they call in orders, pick them up, and take them back home to eat. We currently do not do deliveries but we are looking to do them in the future.
AA: I also see that you allow dogs in your outside area?
CV: Yes, I am a dog lover. I have five dogs. We’ve done this from the very beginning when we opened. We were the first restaurant in Puerto Rico that allowed dogs in a restaurant environment. They are allowed outside in our beer garden. Every dog that comes in gets a treat and a bowl of water.
AA: As a dog owner of three, I know I like to go where I can bring my dogs.
CV: Yes. We are also kid-friendly. We have a basketball court and dominoes in the beer garden so that children can play while the adults can sit and enjoy some beer and food. We wanted to make our place very family-friendly. People come and stay for a long time.
As an aside, these are great marketing tools – it is proven that parents eat at restaurants where their kids want to eat. Kids want to eat where it is fun for them. In this world of millennials, millennials see their pets as their “children” and want to go places where they can take their pets, especially dogs.
AA: You recently visited our International Training Center in Florida. How was that experience for you?
CV: Everything was super. I had personal class where I went and Victoria (PreGel’s Florida ITC Pastry Chef) helped me with new concepts I am working on. Victoria was very helpful and knowledgeable.
AA: Do you incorporate any of your soft ice cream/ gelato into your adult beverage or cocktail offerings?
CV: Yes, we serve affogato (espresso over gelato).
AA: Your restaurant is so successful. I understand you are planning on expanding?
CV: Yes, we are in the process of opening a build-your-own sandwich shop – like the concept of the build-your-own burgers. However, the sandwich shop, which will be located near our restaurant, will not have as much seating and will be more for take-out.
AA: What is your personal favorite flavor of frozen desserts?