Now settled in the UK, Carlos is bringing everything he misses about his homeland’s cuisine to the masses. From humble beginnings with food stalls at festivals such as Glastonbury and Secret Garden Party, he now has his first permanent location, the much-loved Carlito Burrito, a vibrant and successful restaurant in the heart of Brighton.
Carlos talks to us about the current trend for Mexican food, his inspiration and his invaluable advice for those trying to make it in the industry…
Who/what inspired you to set up Carlito Burrito?
I’m originally from Mexico so naturally have a passion for my home cuisine. In Mexico, street food is woven into the fabric of society and all sorts of dishes are widely available – people don’t take pack lunches to work, they simply walk down the street and choose from the huge array of food!
Street food is becoming much more popular in the UK now but I used to find myself feeling disappointed with the food served at the music festivals I attended – that’s when the idea for Carlito Burrito was born. I thought there was a gap in the market for simple but gourmet Mexican cuisine and wanted to introduce more people to the street food experience I know and love!
How do your locations influence your business?
My Mexican roots inspire the food we serve and that’s what we want to get across to customers. In Brighton there are lots of Mexican restaurants popping up, but I think people these days want to try food that is as authentic as possible and that’s exactly what we provide.
What is your unique selling point? What makes your brand stand out in such a competitive market?
There is a huge trend in the market for quesadillas, tacos and burritos, but few restaurants and street stalls are run by Mexican people who have been brought up with the dishes themselves. Our brand stands out because I like to bring the individuality and creativity people use in cooking at home instead of trying to imitate what people think Mexican food should be.
How do you react to the changing marketplace?
The marketplace has quickly become saturated with street food style restaurants and with so many options available, the British public have been spoilt for choice. I try to constantly change our menus and keep things new, using simple flavours and seasonal produce.
What would you say is the biggest challenge facing foodservice businesses like yourselves today?
Competition! Brighton is quite a small place and with so many food options it can be hard to compete for customers. It’s also difficult when you are trying to do something that others think is quite easy. With so many people now setting up food stalls at the weekend I’m not sure that people realise how difficult it is to run a restaurant full time.
As a business, what are you doing to overcome this challenge?
We try to make the whole dining experience the best and most authentic it can possibly be. It’s not just about brilliant food but also how the food is delivered. Service is really important to us and we try to create an environment where people can relax and truly enjoy the true taste of Mexico.
What is the biggest business mistake you’ve made and what key learning did you take from it to make your business better?
Expanding too quickly. We tried to set up another street food site abroad but it was a bit too soon. So, to start with I think you’ve got to keep projects close to ensure they are successful.
What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?
Do your homework and prepare a proper business plan. The idea might be great but if the numbers don’t add up you will never have a chance.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to other chefs/entrepreneurs looking to succeed in the industry?
A street food stall is a really good way to start up if you’re thinking of getting into the business. It allows you to start small and gives you first-hand experience of the industry as well as providing all-important feedback from the public.
What’s the best thing about your job?
That I can take time off whenever I want. I’ve just got back from a trip to Mexico!
What are your future food trend predictions?
Ceviche, Argentine steak and seafood.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
Hopefully retired and fishing somewhere in Mexico.
What’s your signature dish?
Our life-changing fish tacos which consist of two soft corn tacos with battered fresh fish fillet on homemade garlic mayo, pico de gallo, chipotle sour cream and crispy cabbage.
When you get the chance, where do you enjoy eating out?
My favourite places to eat are the street food stalls on the coast of Mexico.
What would be your dream meal? (starter, main and dessert)
Ceviche to start, always. Followed by a surf and turf dish with salad and a really good ice cream for dessert.
Which five people would you invite to your dream dinner party?
- My late grandmother Mama Chica (my food inspiration)
- Frida Kahlo (artist)
- Diego Rivera (artist)
- Diana Kennedy (author and authority on Mexican cuisine)
- Emiliano Zapata (revolutionary)
What are the three food items you’d take to a desert island?
- A fishing kit (if that counts)
- Lime and chilli
What’s the one piece of kitchen equipment you couldn’t live without?
A Mexican elbow to squeeze all our limes!