Opening a restaurant has always brought its challenges — but it takes a rare kind of entrepreneur to open a restaurant during a coronavirus shutdown.
Carlos Flores is exactly that kind of entrepreneur.
At a time when some local businesses were forced to permanently close their doors, downtown Riverhead’s newest restaurant was serving its very first customers.
Che Argentinian Steakhouse originally planned to open in the former Mazi building in March, but the opening was delayed by the state-mandated restaurant closures. Flores and his team were not deterred. They quickly opened for takeout-only, and — as soon as the governor allowed it — began serving on-premises with outdoor seating.
“I always wanted to do something in the restaurant business, and I figured that this was my opportunity,” Flores said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t see COVID coming — which was kind of a disaster, as you can imagine — but it didn’t stop us.”
At 36, Flores has already started half a dozen small businesses. He’s owned Subway franchises, barber shops in Southampton and Riverhead and started his own painting contractor business (following in his father’s footsteps).
“It’s my nature,” he said, laughing. “I’ve always gotten involved in you know, pretty much any type of business that I thought was interesting.”
Flores, who lives in Hampton Bays, earned his bachelors in entrepreneurship and an associates degree in business administration with a concentration in marketing – and he’s put them to good use.
Before opening Che Argentinian Steakhouse this spring, he most recently opened Baccano Barbering Company on Main Street in February.
“It’s a very modern, chic barber shop. It’s not your average mom and pop barber shop – we went a little bit over the top,” he said. “We thought we could bring that modern culture that you get in the city, but out here.”
He teamed up with barber Joel Calderone after Flores saw how he worked — and most importantly, how he treated customers — while getting his haircut by another barber in Joel’s former workplace.
“I watched him work for a year and a half before I offered him a partnership,” Flores said.
Even in the midst of opening Baccano Barbering Company, Flores was also dreaming of how he could open his next venture in downtown Riverhead.
“I would walk by the Mazi space, which was vacant for quite some time, and I would always look into it from Main Street and I could see the restaurant arise,” he said. “I could see it moving. I could see the food being served, I could hear the kitchen, and I could hear people in there, having fun. I just couldn’t believe that this space was so vacant and so empty without life.”
Mazi, a popular Mediterranean restaurant, closed its doors in 2018. The space at 33 East Main has remained empty ever since.
“People don’t think outside the box when there’s no reason to think outside the box, but when a pandemic like this hits, it makes you think from all different angles,” Flores said, talking about the new deck and patio dining space he’s created behind the restaurant. “We invested some time and money with the landlord on on the property to to develop it to its max potential.”
Maximizing potential is a particular focus of Flores.
“I’ve kind of built my career by trying to find people that have a great, great ability to do something special, but they may not have the financials or the understanding of how to put a business together and develop it or have it come to fruition.”
His success, he says, comes from partnering with people like Calderone, who have talent, professionalism and dedication to their trade.
For Che Argentinian Steakhouse, he’s enlisted husband-and-wife team Fabian Diessler and Stella Mayorga.
“I found Fabian because he was selling out of a food truck in Hampton Bays,” Flores said. “I would literally park across the parking lot and I would watch him for months to gauge the kind of traffic he got. I followed him on Facebook and Instagram, and he had a good following of the same people who came to him week after week.”
Flores says he approached Diessler and gave him his business card. “I told him that if he ever considered an opportunity into a brick and mortar to give me a call.”
Che Argentinian Steakhouse serves traditionally prepared Argentinian food — Chef Fabian’s speciality — in an upscale, trendy environment.
“We wanted to created a very industrial look, because of the brick in the back already had that kind of feel, and we wanted to build off that that. Most of the Argentinian steakhouses are very traditional, with wood paneling on the walls and a more natural look as opposed to industrial.”
He also remodeled the bar, adding galvanized pipe shelves and a craft cocktail menu.
When the restaurant is allowed to operate at full capacity, it will seat about 80 people between the indoor and outdoor dining, Flores said.
As always, Flores is looking towards the future, and what he can do to expand.
“We are going to bring in tango dancers so that the community can experience the culture and dance. But with this pandemic, we want to see how it goes and what the governor and regulations are going to be, with respect to having live music and live entertainment.”
For now, Flores has had a tango singer performing during the Riverhead BID’s Dine on 25 events, which close down Main Street and allow restaurants to serve patrons at tables set up on the sidewalks and the street. The next Dine on 25 will take place August 13.
“It’s been great. The community has received us really well and we received them as best as we could,” he said.
And despite the pandemic, the restaurant is gaining business quickly. Flores has high hopes for its future.
“It’s been a big, big team effort with Fabian and his wife Stella, the management team, the waitresses and waiters… Everybody has developed in their own way,” Flores said.
Flores has moved his personal offices to a space behind the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce, where he recently became a board member.
“My vision is for Riverhead to have many businesses and if I can be a part of them, you know, I’m looking forward to it, or if I can assist anybody to put someone or something new into this area I would love to help. I’ve committed myself and my future to the expansion and growth of downtown Riverhead.”
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