Rethinking the Tortilla: Aspiring Restaurateur Seeks Funding to Bring Versatile, Gluten-Free Central American Staple to NYC

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Manhattan resident Randy Rodriguez launches Kickstarter campaign to help fund first venture, a traditional Pupuseria in New York City. Rodriguez hopes to bring the delicious, authentic and affordable food to New Yorkers of all backgrounds.

Aspiring restaurateur and Pupusa aficionado Randy Rodriguez is seeking funding for his first solo venture, an El Salvadorian restaurant specializing the small Central American country’s national dish.

After working for years in the restaurant industry, most recently managing a popular Mexican taqueria in NoHo, Rodriguez felt inspired to bring to the city a piece of his own culture’s traditions.

Pupusas, unlike the Mexican taco or burrito, have for too long remained puzzlingly underrepresented in the New York restaurant scene. “I found myself having the same conversation over and over again”, Rodriguez says. “People these days pride themselves on being ‘foodies’ and are always out looking for new cuisines to try, yet almost no one I’ve asked had ever actually had a pupusa.”

Similar to the Venezuelan arepa, made popular in New York’s East Village and Brooklyn by hot spot Caracas, Pupusas are a gluten-free corn masa closed tortilla stuffed with any combination of beans, cheeses, or meats. They are traditionally served with a crunchy, savory side called curtido. Pupusas are an extremely versatile and delicious dish that are suitable for vegans, vegetarians, carnivores and those with gluten sensitivities alike. Rodriguez hopes to bring this delicious, affordable and authentic food to New Yorkers, no matter what their dietary preference.
The restaurant will be called Cabalito, which comes from the Salvadorian slang word “cabal” meaning “right on”, “on point” or “right on the nose”.

“My hope when people come into my restaurant and they have that first bite of their pupusa, I want them feel like its something that is exactly on point,” says Rodriguez. “I want them to feel like they’re experiencing something they didn’t even realize they were missing. ”

While Cabalito’s focus will be the staple pupusa, the menu will be sure to transport diner’s to the kitchen of Rodriguez's childhood. “From aguas frescas [horchata, marañon, tamarindo, maracuyá] and yucca con chicharrón [fried yucca with pork], to a traditional soup called sopa de res [beef soup] and plato típico [egg, beans, sour cream, plantains, and tortillas]-- if my mom made it, we’ll have it!”, says Rodriguez.

Beyond bringing well-priced and flavorful food to the New York City scene, Rodriguez hopes to shine a light on El Salvador’s rich culinary and cultural traditions as well as educate people about El Salvador’s place in the Western world . “The logo is a bird designed after the traditional artwork of El Salvador with a modern twist. Other than the food, the logo is the most succinct representation of what I want Cabalito to embody. I want to start to bridge the gap between the two worlds of El Salvador and New York City and start a conversation about El Salvador’s place in the Western world. And what better way than over pupusas!”.

Rodriguez’s goal for this Kickstarter campaign is $21,000 which he intends to use to attract other investors to open his doors. The campaign will begin on August 1st and will run for 30 days. The location of the restaurant has yet to be decided but Rodriguez hopes to open his restaurant by 2015 in a suitable up-and-coming neighborhood that fits the budget and appetite of locals and visitors alike.

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Randy Rodriguez
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since: 07/2014
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