“Hola! and welcome to Bogota Bistro. Come on in and enjoy yourself. This restaurant is a tribute to my parents whom migrated to this country way back when and they instilled in me the notion that anything is possible. Everyone has a dream in life and one of my dreams was to open up a restaurant. What you see here is a product of hard work, dedication, passion for the food industry and most importantly, believing in yourself. Hey, if I did it, so can you! Pura Vida!”
— George Constantinou Fernandez (the “Costa Rican”)
George Constantinou Fernandez, who has an adventuristic spirit for food, music, and travel, began his career in the restaurant business as a server and bartender at a soul food restaurant in the Fort Green section of Brooklyn. After being promoted to restaurant manager, George realized he had what it takes to be an entrepreneur.
“The managerial experience told me that I could do this for the rest of my life,” said George, who is co-owner of the successful Bogotá Latin Bistro & Mojito Bar in Park Slope, Brooklyn. “That owning a restaurant was achievable, it was not a grand fantasy. With hard work this can be done.”
The restaurateur, whose mother is from Costa Rica and father from Cyprus, was born in Minneola, NY and raised in Lindenhurst. George remembers falling in love with seafood during a 1985 family trip to Cyprus. George and his older sister were exposed to calamari, octopus, and other fresh seafood. George has loved seafood ever since.
He gained more appreciation for seafood while traveling Costa Rica. He recalls enjoying ceviche, a popular Latino dish made from fresh raw fish marinated in citrus juices such as lemon or lime and spiced with chili peppers. He also likes the food combination of raw fish on a saltine cracker. George’s favorite dish is bacalao (salted dried codfish) with white rice, black beans, avocados, and maduros (sweet plantains.)
When it comes to food, he believes everyone should try something at least once. He says foods like leeks and caviar build one’s palate to better enjoy new foods.
Growing up on Long Island George enjoyed soccer, volleyball, swimming, and riding bikes. He also spent a great deal of time hanging out with friends and eating out. His favorite foods included pizza, hero sandwiches, and Chinese, Mexican, Italian, and Greek cuisines.
After graduating from Lindenhurst Senior High School, George held various employment positions before entering the restaurant business. He was a lifeguard, worked in retail, was an account executive for an online ad agency, taught English in Japan, and worked in the press department of MTV.
In addition to his life-long love of food, George has also always loved music and traveling. When he was younger he thought of being a video disc jockey, working at a record label, producing music, and owning a radio station. An entrepreneurial nature had taken hold early on.
His love for music, food, and travel culminate daily at Bogotá Bistro, where he supervises the making of every dish using his internationally tested palate, to the sound of a Latin beat. The road from server to restaurant owner had taught George that with hard work and dedication anything is truly possible.
George, who came from humble financial beginnings, had to find ways to raise money for his dream restaurant and getting through many obstacles the business endeavor presented. He is proof that owning a restaurant in a major market can be done with focus and patience, however during the process he admits sometimes he wasn’t always patient.
When asked what he would do differently a second time around, George said, “Maybe I would not rush the process. But understand the beauty is in the process. It’s going the way it’s meant to go. Teaching you about life and the business.”
George is an alumnus of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses initiative, an investment to help small businesses create jobs and economic opportunity by providing greater access to business education, financial capital, and business support services. George also sits on the Inc. Magazine’s Business Owners Council.
George would advise future restaurant owners to keep a few very important things in mind. He says if you want to start a restaurant you need to prepare to “work your butt off,” learn from your mistakes as quickly as possible, and always ask for help. “People are willing to help you.”
George has had a wonderful life to date, and hopes to continue to grow and contribute to his business, local community, and family. He thanks his parents for teaching him the value of hard work. They were immigrants who came to this country to create a better life for their children and George hopes one day to the same. He wants to leave a legacy for his present and future family. He also plans to give back to the community in some way, possibly creating a charitable foundation to help Latinos, children, or the gay community.
When asked to look back at a full future life, George said he would like to be remembered as someone who seized the day, enjoyed meeting new people, and trying new things.