Liz Reitman

5 min | Leadership & Management Musings

Founders in Focus with George Constantinou

A Conversation between Liz Reitman and George Constantinou, CEO & CFO of Mil Gustos Hospitality Group

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Liz: Hi, everyone. I am here with my good friend, fellow entrepreneur, an amazing chef. Are you a chef?

George: No, a business owner with a really good palate.

Liz: Okay. Love that. George Constantinou.

George: Constantinou, yes.

Liz: Of the Mil Gustos Hospitality Group. And we had the honor at REIT to help him with his master brand of Mil Gustos Hospitality Group. And then, being a true successful entrepreneur, George pivoted during COVID and we helped him with some other sub brands underneath that we’ll talk about more. So welcome.

George: All right, thanks for having me, Liz.

What inspired you and your partner to kind of lean into the restaurant industry and specifically focusing on the cuisine that you guys offer?

George: Well, I guess I’ve had a long.

George: Period of time figuring out what I wanted to do. And somehow growing up as a child.

George: Restaurants always spoke to me.

George: They called me my mom. So that restaurant energy is in the greek blood, they say. Yes, that’s right. My mom would always tell the story of when she met my dad in English school. She migrated here from Costa Rica. My dad came here from Cyprus, and they met in New York at an english school.

George: And my mom said she had, like, men around the world trying to court her, and a Colombian guy, a guy from Asia, my dad, some other folks. And she’s like, she decided to go out with the greek guy because Greeks own restaurants, and then she’d be set.

Liz: I like that.

George: So sure enough, my dad came here with a skill set of being a tailor, and my dad just stayed being a tailor, which was like a cool old world craft. But he was always scared to take risks, so he never jumped into the restaurant world.

George: So my mom would always say, we’d better off if he owned a restaurant, scared to take risks or what have you.

George: So I was like, you know what? I’ll open up a restaurant one day. And it was always, like, in the back of my mind. And I actually went to school for music business and international marketing. I wanted to travel the world working for a record label.

George: I actually interned and had a gig at MTV for about four years. I moved to Japan, teaching English right out of college. I did a semester at sea where I lived on a cruise ship and traveled for about five months to ten different countries. So I really was, like a world traveler by, like, 2021.

George: And I just really enjoyed traveling. And then when I came back, I had to figure out I got the travel bug out of my system. I’m like, okay, what am I going to work on?

George: And it was either going to be a school teacher or work in the restaurant world. And actually, in the same week, I was offered a job with the New York City department of Ed, being part of their teaching fellows, where you get a job working at a school, but the New York City department of Ed. Pays for your master’s.

George: Like, at the time, it was, hey.

George: You know, what a great program.

George: And at the same time, I was offered a general manager position of pretty much my second restaurant job. The owner took a liking to me, and within a month, I went from server to bartender to shift leader, and he’s like, I want to make you my general manager. So I had both offers, and this would have been spring of, like, 2001. And I said, effort. I’m going to stay in the restaurant world because it just felt better. And then fast forward. I met my business partner, my ex husband, my business partner also in 2001. And actually, when we started dating, he’s like, I don’t want to hear about restaurants. I just want to date you for you. I don’t want to date someone that owns a restaurant because it’s such a tough business.

George: We won’t spend time together.

George: And at some point, I told him I’m going to open up a restaurant.

George: And he was like, all right, I either need to get on board or this is not going to work.

George: So him and I decided to take some business courses together, some cooking classes together, and his mom is colombian, and his dad is palestinian. He was born in Bogota, Colombia. And actually, when I was starting the idea of the restaurant taking notes, we actually took a trip to Colombia. I would say it was probably January of 2002, and it really just sparked my interest for latin food, colombian food. And since both our mothers are of latino descent, we really wanted to make our first restaurant focusing on the foods of Colombia. And so, you know, fast forward. We were in Colombia together, and I had my book, and I would try all this amazing food, and I would.

George: Just take notes and start creating a menu. And then pretty much we took this small business course called workshop in business opportunities, wibo wibo.org. And they’re still around, and it’s basically like a 16 week crash course to create a business plan.

George: And we did that deep in Bedstyle, Brooklyn was where our specific class was. Snow, rain, cold weather. I showed up every week. I was hungry. And after 16 weeks, Faree and I were the class speakers for our graduation at Cooper Union. And we even set up a booth selling food that were going to sell in the restaurant. We made a speech, and it just was like the start of the first start of our small business chapter. And Coin serendipitously, the Brooklyn Business library announced its first ever business plan competition sponsored by Citibank. And this was in the summer of 2003. So sure enough, we entered and we took home first place.

Liz: Oh, my God.

George: So in the winter end of 2003, we won $10,000 in cash and, like $10,000 of in kind services and that included organization classes that included logo help, that included just financial help. So it was pretty cool. But then we learned the hard way that even though we won the best business plan for that year, no bank wanted to give us money. So that started the road of just us really hitting the pavement and not giving up on our dream.

Liz: Wow, so actually that’s really interesting because that’s very topical right now about what’s going on with getting investors VC backing as well as banks. Right? I know that’s a conversation in our entrepreneurial space a lot.

How did you fund your first restaurant?

George: Well, I was told back then, I don’t know if it’s still the case, you get money for your business from the three F’s, family, friends, and fools. So I remember we always laughed at that. And sure enough, I’m very savvy. So back then, I had some money that I was saving up from my manager bartending days.

George: Farid was saving up money there when I realized it was going to be hard applying for these credit know and taking cash advances against them. And actually, I actually started to take some adult continuing education classes at NYU. And back then, this is still early 2000s before that 2008 crash, Sally May was able to give us both loans for masters or continuing education. So what I would do is enroll for classes, submit it to Sally May, get the funds, drop out of the classes, and then put that towards the business. It was risky, but I would say between the credit cards know, somewhat student loans for continuing education savings, we just kind of bootstrapped it to put it together. Also, we won this business plan competition. So here we are with this business plan, thinking we’re hot s-t. We’re going to actually get a loan. So easy, even Citibank wouldn’t give us a loan.

George: They’re like, we sponsor the competition. You won, but unfortunately, we can’t sponsor restaurants because nine out of ten restaurants fail, they say. So we’re like, what? We were crushed, but then the next day, we’re like, forget this.

George: So went to so many banks, and actually, back then, we actually had a blog where we posted about 15 bank loan rejections, whether it was Chase, HSBC, Citibank, even the local community banks, you name it. And someone actually, believe it or not, someone that was designing our logo at the time, part of the inkind services was like, hey, you should go visit my friend in HSBC in Tribeca. And we’re like, what? And we’re like, well. In Brooklyn Heights rejected us.

George: Why would that one, he’s like, just go see them. So anyway, we met with this banker. His name was Warren. We walk know, african american guy in like, a tight suit, sitting down, very professional, and we walk know with our street clothes, and he’s like, tell me your story.

George: What do you want to do?

George: Why is this important to you? And we give our spiel that we’ve given every time. This is a tribute to our mom. There’s not really any cool latin restaurants that have a good vibe, good music, and he’s like, okay, I have one question.

George: And we’re like, what?

George: He’s like, are you going to serve frozen margaritas at your restaurant? And we’re like, we’re looking at each other, and we didn’t plan because it was going to be a Colombian restaurant, and back then, margaritas were very Mexican and we wanted to focus on mojitos.

George: So I’m like, okay, I know where he’s going. I said, yeah.

Liz: Oh, my God.

George: Going to do this.

George: He’s like, excellent. And then he breaks character. And he’s like, because us gay motherf-ers love frozen margaritas. Like, snapping his fingers. We’re like, yeah. We’re like, are we in the twilight zone? Are we, like, in the entrepreneurial twilight zone?

George: Like, I’m waiting camera something to jump out.

George: And he’s like, well, listen, I like you guys. I see your passion. I’m going to say you’ve been in business three years. I’m going to do XYZ and give me 45 minutes. So, no joke, were walking around Tribeca looking for something to eat, and we get a phone call. He’s like, I got you $100,000 come back tomorrow.

George: We were like, floors like jaws on the floor. We went the next day, got the money, and I immediately transferred it back to my account, Chase, because they were offering like, 3%, whereas HSBC was offering 1%. So he called me.

George: He’s like, wait a second. What happened to the money? I said, actually, chase is offering 3%, and you’re only offering 1%?

George: He’s like, you’re a smart one. Hung up the phone.

Liz: I love that.

George: So it was like, by then, we’re bootstrapping and between the credit card student loans.

George: We put together maybe $450,000 in money. And sure enough, then came the hard part of finding a space. And that was just as challenging because landlords were like, you have no history. You’ve managed a restaurant before, but you have no history. And at the time, this was like, right? A few years after September 11, Brooklyn restaurant scene was building and getting hot because folks, rather than come from Brooklyn or Queens to Manhattan, they were sticking around Brooklyn, not crossing Manhattan Bridge.

George: So you started seeing a lot of Manhattan restaurant tours coming to Brooklyn. So I will never forget, we meet landlords. We headed off, and they’re like, oh, but sure enough, things happen for a reason. I really believe that I was really anxious, and I was like, oh, my gosh, why?

George: I just want to fast forward to opening my restaurant.

George: But a lot of times the beauty is in that rejection. And eventually the right space came along in Park Slope, Brooklyn, 141 5th Avenue, which actually is where Bogota Bistro is now.

George: We’re celebrating 19 years in business.

George: Literally two blocks away from where Farid grew up. In the 70s in Park Slope, that neighborhood and that area. Special meaning to him.

George: And it just was the right timing, the right the world, universe. Whoever was behind, just waiting that space was waiting for us.

George: And it was an office space, and we turned it around. We got the lease February 2005, and we opened up July of 2005. So that was record, like, brave and what was crazy. So here we are. We have this restaurant. We’re ready to open. But at the time, my Chinatown acupuncturist, I was telling her, I’m opening a business. And she whipped out her chinese numerology book, and she’s like, you have to open up your business on June 18 or June 25 or July 5. And I was like, well, I don’t think we’re going to make the 18th. We’re cutting it closed. So were shooting for the end of June, and we missed that. So she’s like, open it July 5. It has to be open by 11:00 a.m. But it’s okay.

George: You can open the doors for 1 hour, eleven to twelve, but you can close. Because I was like, we’re not going to open up for lunch. We’re going to open up for dinner. And she’s like, just open up the doors from eleven to twelve. The cash register has to face the door. It has to face this direction.

George: And it was crazy. And sure enough, went with it. My partner was on board, and we did that. And no joke, our opening night.

George:  We had like 200 people waiting to come in. And we didn’t know what. I don’t know if I can curse and stuff, but we didn’t know what the f-k were doing. We’re so busy in planning this business and opening the doors that we didn’t think of like, oh, my God, what’s going to happen when we actually open. The doors and have to deal with this stuff?

George: So I remember we had 200 people waiting, and we messed up that whole first night. Food was taking forever, drinks were taking forever.

George: We had not really had that many dry runs.

George: Something I learned from that is actually open quietly and then make announcement once you’re established, because a lot of people are finicky, and they give you one chance. So I remember this is the true amazing opportunity for any entrepreneurs.

It's your business. If something goes wrong, you can sit down at the end of the night and make a plan and say, this is how I'm going to change it, effective immediately.

George: So that was happening a lot in the first few days and sure enough, were a hit.

George: People wanted to know. We had, like, Rosie Perez came, Jimmy Smith’s came at the time, like that. Latino royalty. We were like, the New York Times dubbed us, like the hottest colombian restaurant in a white neighborhood, Parkslow, Brooklyn Heights, which is where all the colombian restaurants were. And at the time, I think were one of two colombian restaurants in Brooklyn, of all Brooklyn. And it just was like such an amazing story. Know, I was involved in the drink menu, the food menu. I was in the kitchen, expedite here.

George: And there, chopping onions, washing dishes, waiting tables. That’s basically, when they say an entrepreneur. Is basically, what is it?

George: Bottle washer, garbage collector, everything.

George: You did every job in the beginning.

George: Interesting. And it’s interesting when it’s your baby, you protect it so much. It’s like, I can’t trust anyone with this. That’s the initial thing.

George: And then after, I’d say five, six years, we started getting managers.

George: Instead of us doing everything 24/7 let’s get some managers in here so we.

George: Can actually, instead of working in your business, you can work on your business, right?

Liz: Wow, this is so fun for me. I don’t think I knew any of this. So this is incredible.

So tell us, everybody out there that's listening, how many restaurants you have, what the focus is, what the cuisine or the ethnicity and where they're located?

George: Sure. So your restaurant number one is Bogota Latin Bistro. As I mentioned earlier, we’ve been open 19 years. We’re celebrating our 19 year anniversary this year.

George: That is 140 seat restaurant located at 141 5th Avenue, right up the block from Barclay center. That focuses on Colombian food, pan Latin food and drinks. Specialty cocktails are mojitos, margaritas, sangritas, and the dishes we have Arroz con Pollo, fried red snapper with coconut rice and bundeja paisa, which is like a skirt steak dish with pork chichero and etcetera. And we have empanadas, fresh empanadas and fresh made arepas there.

George: Then we waited ten years, till 2000 and to open our, and that’s meaty, modern Mexican. And that is actually across the street from Bogota Bistro. And that restaurant is actually nine years old. And that is focusing on, I guess.

George: Our Brooklyn. Authentic tacos.

George: We have great margaritas, spicy margaritas there, and that one does pretty well.

George: And then our third restaurant, so we waited ten years in.

Liz: The second one.

George: Is about 80 seats.

Liz: I didn’t realize they were so large.

George: Yeah.

Liz: But now that you’re saying

George: Yeah.

George: So Bogota has, like, five different dining areas, and meeting has, like, three different dining areas. And after meeting, I moved to the family. We had kids in 2011.

George: We decided in 2015 to move to Jersey to a house with that, I guess, suburban chase, that suburban dream. The house with backyard, a pool and a dog, and two car garage. Yada, yada.

George: And so an opportunity came up to buy a failing business in town at a really cheap price. And originally, my thinking was, Jersey is personal life, no business, and keep the businesses in Brooklyn.

George: But this was such a steal. And the food landscape in Jersey was.

George: Know, there was no good offerings.

George: It was, know, just generic pizza, italian, and chinese food I thought, you know, a meaty.

George: There would do well. So we opened up our second miti miti. And that one’s called mitimiti, latin street food. And we opened that in 2018 and that was an interesting chapter business.

George: I didn’t close the doors. I kept all the employees, and literally from one day became my business. I was selling burgers and tacos, and I was adding a new taco every day and taking a burger or chicken sandwich off the menu every day to eventually it was going to be a three month process.

George: And after three weeks, I’m like, no, let’s just go full Mexican.

George: Enough of these burgers. I’m not in the burger business.

George: Even though the burgers were good and the chicken sandwiches were good, but I’m like, I’m in the taco business.

George: And that was another one that did well right away. People were thirsty and hungry.

George: For good latin food there. So then while that was happening, I was in construction with our fourth restaurant, Medusa the Greek, and that one opened up end of December 2019. So, sure enough, went from ten years to opening our second restaurant, three years to opening our third, and one year to open our fourth. So you figure we kind of, like, perfected the science. And then, of course, COVID happened, and it was exhausting. We never closed any restaurant down. We kept it open. We had about 150 employees at the time combined, and we had to terminate 110 employees in one day. We needed to do that because that way they could apply for government unemployment and other government perks. But I remember laying all these people off.

Liz: And we told them, listen, we’re laying you off, but we should be back.

George: In two weeks, because back then, it was like, oh, yeah, two weeks.

George: We’re, you know, of course, two weeks turned, know, four months.

George: You know, were focusing on just pickup and delivery. And then at the end of June, New York City was allowed to do outdoor dining. And if you can recall, the whole rest of the country was lax. But for some reason, New York City was targeted. We had really strict indoor dining restrictions. Okay, it was one thing. Yes, we’re all going through the pandemic. We’ll adjust accordingly.

George: Everyone’s going through it. The government’s helping businesses out, which is great.

George: One thing I take pride in, restaurants have a history of being a cash business, hiding whatever. I did everything by the book.

George: I pay everyone by check.

George: I did everything by the book. So when COVID came around and I could apply for these programs, it benefited me that I did everything by the book because I had everything to show for.

George: So PPP helped. Second round of PPP helped. Opening indoor dining to New York was limited to 25%. Capacity was okay. Outdoor dining took off in the summer, and people were itching to come back. Business was great. Labor numbers were down because it was hard to find staff. But then the thing that really killed us in New York City was they shut down indoor dining December of 2020 because some numbers started to spike, even though they were spiking everywhere. But for some reason, New York City got shut down. But you could hop over to Westchester or Long island, and you still had 50% indoor dining, which made no sense.

George: So that was almost worse blow than the initial COVID blow, because here we are. Got new staff. We finally trained them, and then we had to terminate them only for two months later to open up again. No one wanted to work in a restaurant with all this back and forth. People found other jobs, or they moved out of the city.

George: So COVID was just getting used to it, pivoting again, getting used to it, and times four businesses. It was very stressful. So as things started to open up, I came up with the idea of, let’s do some ghost kitchens. Let’s use our existing restaurant kitchens and serve a second menu through the delivery app. So we worked with you to come up with logos for our three ghost kitchens, which was a lot of fun. And the ghost kitchens were also ways for us to test out new concepts.

Liz: Yeah.

George: So we did the ghost kitchens for about two years, and they’re still kind of happening. But then to open up one of the ghost kitchens was dirty birdie wings. And we’re actually opening a soul food restaurant, dirty birdie chicken.

George: The name is dirty birdie something, definitely, but we’re still finalizing that. But that’s actually, we started construction about a year ago. That’s taking. What’s the irony of it is now that I’m a successful entrepreneur, I have these businesses, the SBA. We’re taking forever to get a loan.

George: Which is delaying construction and then while that’s going on in construction, another opportunity in Jersey presented itself to buy another food business. In this case, it was a pizzeria business for a good price.

George: So I’m opening my second Medusa in New Jersey. So ideally, I want to have my little empire of four food concepts in Brooklyn, and I want to replicate that. And then ideally, this will be 2024. We’re going to open up two restaurants in one year. That’s a lot. And on top of that, I’m recently divorced about a year and a half ago.

George: Going through that, raising to 12 year olds, going through that, and just at 48, figuring out next steps in my life as a dad, as a single person dating again, or I should say not.

George: As a single person, but as a divorced person dating again, and also being an entrepreneur in this new.

Liz: This is why you and I connect, because I can say yes to all of those things as. And like, I love sharing our experiences of this chapter two, as I call it, right? Having children, but being divorced, and I mean, honestly, George, I’m so amazed. I forgot the restrictions to New York City during COVID and the amount of pivoting and what you’ve been able to do and continue to like, my experience with you is you’re pretty steady in your like, I don’t see you losing it or losing your temper. And definitely, I know restaurant business. I mean, you’ve catered events in my home, and things can get challenging. Things break in my house. You’ve got people with dietary restrictions.

What did you do for your self care, for yourself, especially during COVID and through all of these experience?

George: I think self care a big thing is I’ve always been into sports. I picked up tennis during COVID Right now, I’m playing tennis, like, three times a week. I’m working out with a trainer twice a week. Another thing is music. I’ve always been a lover of music, and I love being in my car and blasting the music to 100 and to me, I get my primal scream out.

George: I love alternative music, like goth music on Nine Inch Nails. And I felt like that’s allowed me to. And I think even being a dad having fun, I find having children very healing because I get to give my kids the things that I was missing as a child, and I get to see myself in the role of parent.

George: And be a different parent that my mom and dad and listen, no one gets a handbook.

George: A rulebook like you do in being an entrepreneur, but in being a parent.

George: And listen, your parents do the best that they can because of what they were given and it’s so easy to be like.

George: Well, I feel short changed, and I didn’t get XYZ. And for me, I’m like, you know what?

George: Let me just focus that energy on my kids. And listen, life is tough. It’s not always peachy keen.

George: It’s not always what you see on everyone’s social media page. There’s a lot of ups and know and there’s always going to be good times, too.

George: And I feel like that’s why life is beautiful.

And I'm an optimistic like that. And maybe I'm a true product of immigration. Love story. Two immigrants coming to this country, chasing the dream and trying to better their life for their kids. And my mom and dad are the only ones from their family that came here.

George: And I felt like it’s up know to make sure that their travels know what they suffered. I mean, listen, my mom’s from Costa Rica, my dad is Greek, and there.

George: Was a lot of racism against us and white island, and people thought I was African American. They would say, go back to Puerto Rico. They would say all these hateful things.

George: And early on, I was like, I didn’t get it.

George: And I know people have gotten a lot worse hate than I have, but for me, it was just one of those, like, stay the course.

Liz: Those experiences definitely shape you as well.

George: I think so, yeah. And I wouldn’t change anything. And now my challenge. I know we’re talking about business stuff, but my challenge as a parent is, am I spoiling the hell out of my kids? I got to make sure, okay, I’m not overcompensated for what I didn’t have.

Liz: Now, I’m assuming when you were cobbling together money to launch these businesses, you’re in a very different position now.

George: Yeah.

Liz: And did you ever keep in touch with that HBS? Sorry.

George: Yes. His name was Warren, and he ended up becoming our mortgage broker for our first home in Brooklyn in 2008. And then he actually attended our baby shower in 2011, and he brought a bunch of pampers, and he was like, crying because he’s like, never in my lifetime when I think of two gay guys having kids.

George: And then he actually was the mortgage broker for our home in South Orange, New Jersey. And then, Liz, I got to tell you, he died literally, like, a week after he approved our mortgage. He was our angel. He was like our entrepreneurial angel, our biggest cheerleader. And then I was so devastated when he died. We even went to his wedding, actually, with our crying babies. And I was like, I don’t want to ruin your weeding with these crying babies.

George: Like, no, you have to be there. I want them to cry.

George: Let them ruin it. He was such a positive, and I really viewed him as an entrepreneurial angel put in our path to help us.

George: And I still think of him.

George: I still think of him often.

George: All you need is that one person  to give you that break.

George: And if you give up, and this is my message to all entrepreneurs, don’t F, and give up.

George: If you give up, you wouldn’t have experienced that miracle. And I can’t tell you, there were so many naysayers. Oh, my brother tried to open up a restaurant, failed, or my family member did this, and they failed. You shouldn’t do this. And I’m thinking, like, wait.

George: So much for support. Even my parents, who benefited from my success, but they were nervous and, don’t do it. It’s such a taxing industry, and we’re never going to see you again. And I could easily, listen, there’s the stereotype of the greek restaurant owner that’s in the diner 24/7 missing out on his family, getting older, this and that. But you have to eventually change the script and work smarter. And to me, I had to let a lot of things go.

George: Do I want to micromanage and 100% be in my business all the time and run it the best I can, but miss out on life, or do I give up some control and, okay. I can’t be that bad.

George: Empower people, teach people to the standards I want and enjoy my life. And I think that’s I’m in a good place right now for that. Yeah.

George: And I think that aids my calmness. Don’t get me wrong. If someone put, listen, I’m an Aquarius, too. I’m like a dreamer believer.I believe the best in everyone, but I can lose my temper sometimes. But at the end of the day, what is it worth?

George: Everything is going to be fine. The customer that doesn’t like your steak or the flood in your kitchen from a bad rainstorm, as long as no one’s died.

Liz: I always say that, like, when I have somebody get upset with our design or there’s a typo, I’m like, we’re not doctors. We didn’t cut the wrong artery. Put things in perspective here. But I also feel like since I’ve known you have the same team members, your staff stays. And so I think that’s also a testament to you. Right. Even just listening how you let them go during COVID but you knew because they would get the benefits of the government perks. I just love that thinking, because a lot of people talk about the challenges of employees, how that can be the bane of their existence. And it seems like you really have a good balance.

George: Yeah. And I’ll tell you, my first management job, I was awful because I was tired.

George: I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t comfortable with that position. But over time, you realize, just be yourself. If I’m a nice guy, I’ll be a nice boss.

George: And I’m in the power to be a boss, so I don’t want people to remember me to be a dick.

George: And actually, in fact, one of my team members, one of my key employees that left a few months ago, I’m having dinner with him tonight. So we stayed in touch.

George: And I have had employees that have been with me. And actually, I look back, and it’s a shame because of COVID because at the time, I had employees with me 10-15 years.

Liz: Wow.

George: And had it not been for COVID. I’m sure a lot of them would.have still been with me. And I look back, and I have two employees from opening day of Bogota that have been with me 19 years.

George: One of them is my pastry chef, and one of them is a chef at one of the restaurants.

George: Listen, in this day and age, from the employer and employee side, you’re taught to have no allegiance, no loyalty.

George: The best way to make more money is go from job to job.

George: And I think we always have a saying, I guess, in HR, if someone leaves us, sometimes they come back six months or two years later, like, okay, yeah, can I get my job back?  Or do you have any?

George: Because they like the company culture that we’re about.

George: Listen, we’re not perfect, but I just want to run the business the way I feel is right.

I love that. Okay, so my last question for you is, have you used any recipes from your mom's for restaurant?

George: Yeah, of course. Well, my mom’s “Arroz con Pollo”, which my mom.

George: How do I say this? My mom’s a bit of a narcissist. Every time she had an opportunity, she would bring her Arroz con Pollo and she’d walk into the room like the queen and accolades, but I’m not going to lie, her Arroz con Pollo was bomb was amazing, and everyone to this day, and my mom came to the restaurant and taught the cooks how to make it, and she still will criticize.

George: It’s not like, mom, you made a Arroz con Pollo for 20-30 people. We’re making Arroz con Pollo for, like, 500 people.

Liz: Yeah.

Liz: But the thing is growing up with two diverse parents with different international backgrounds really shaped my palate. Like, my mom’s a great cook, and my dad’s a great cook.

George: And my Mom, I guess I didn’t realize this of her, but she was a very critical eater. I don’t know, that had no seasoning. And when I look back, but, yeah, so I do have a lot of.

George: The recipes that we grew up, and what was great is growing up in this country, especially in the 80s, my mom’s friends were like, the United nations of Latin America. We’d be going to parties, and I’d be trying this Peruvians person, their ceviche.

George: This mexican person’s guacamole. I mean, I remember in the 80s when tortilla chips and guacamole were not a thing. It was exotic. I remember eating calamari in 1984. That wasn’t a thing.

Liz: Wow.

George: So it’s just interesting, all these tastes that eventually became things that changed and I just really, between my dad’s greek friends and my mom’s latin friends from all over, it was just, I loved going to these parties and trying all these new foods. That’s cool.

Liz: That’s cool. Well, George, I could keep going with you for way more time. This is like, such a. I mean, I can personally say that I’ve eaten at your restaurants, and they are spectacular great locations. I haven’t gone to New Jersey because I’m a New Yorker, but we all venture out there at some point. But I mean, just your locations. I love how you brought this ethnic food where you saw a whole, where it wasn’t really being offered in these different locations. How you treat people, how you’ve pivoted during everything, and even just your conversations about the joy of raising children. I just think you’re a beautiful soul and you’re a dear friend, and it was so much fun helping you design different identities, logos. You always brought such interesting feedback to the table and what you were looking for, it was never traditional.

Liz: You let your team have a voice in the whole process, which also made it fun. So I just want to thank you so much for being here.

George: Sure, yeah. Thanks for having me. And it’s like sometimes I used to always love giving interviews and talking about business, and it’s like you forget sometimes you’re so caught up in your business and now even just talking, I’m like, wait a second. I’ve been around 19 years.

George: I was just asked to be a keynote speaker, and I’m like, oh, my God, do I really want to speak?

Liz: What?

George: The SBA is having some gap. They asked me to be a keynote speaker, and I’m like, I haven’t decided yet, but I used to love giving speeches, but I feel like I’m so out of practice.

Liz: You can do it. I’ll help you, I can do graphics behind you. Oh, my gosh.

Liz: Well, thank you, George.

George: Thanks.

George: Look at my tan, right? It’s going to go away soon.

Liz: So impressive.


Mil Gustos Hospitality Group is a LGBTQIA+ and minority-owned Restaurant Group operating four individually unique restaurants in the New York metropolitan area – three within a block of each other on Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn, and one in South Orange, New Jersey.