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WIBO Honors – Alumni Honoree Farid Ali & George Constantinou

Bogota Bistro is one of WIBO’s most successful graduates. They graduated from the program over 10 years ago, one having experience in consulting, the other in the back of the house restaurant management. They have gone on to create a $10 million dollar business in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn. They have spoken about entrepreneurship on multiple television networks, and last year was pictured with President Barack Obama for the signing of the new minimum wage legislation. “WIBO introduced us to business people who helped open doors for us through networking and sharing their wisdom, experience, strength, and contacts. Ten years after taking WIBO coursework, I still retain a lot of the knowledge I obtained as a WIBO participant. I use this to make sound business decisions,” says Farid.

Farid Ali

Similarly to George Constantinou, Farid Ali Lancheros also comes from a diverse background. “My father is Palestinian and my mother is Colombian and, like my partner, I too grew up exposed to a variety of different cuisines.” Although born in Bogota, Colombia, Farid grew up on Sackett Street in Park Slope Brooklyn before his family moved to Allentown, Pennsylvania when he was 9 years old.

“I attended elementary school and high school in Allentown but less than a year after graduating from William Allen High School, I was right back in New York City. I felt a calling here in New York and I knew that my destiny was here.”

“I took on my first job as a prep cook working at Rockefeller Plaza’s outdoor cafe in the summer of 1983. I hated that job. They were very meticulous and it appeared that I couldn’t do anything right. I lasted through lunch my first day and then I bailed and never went back.”

Subsequent restaurant jobs included stints at Le Palm Restaurant, the Sheraton Russell’s Judges’ Chambers, and the Russian Tea Room. “When I finally left the restaurant business, I was glad to get out. It was the hardest work I had ever done to that point and I vowed I’d never work in another restaurant again.” Never say never.

Twenty years later, Ali has achieved quick success running a restaurant that in three years has become the darling of the neighborhood and a favorite among New Yorkers desiring the combination of great food, drinks, service, and decor.

Farid’s hard work in promoting good business practices and his overall dedication to the restaurant industry earned him a seat on the board of directors of the New York State Restaurant Association.

Today, in addition to running a successful restaurant, Farid is also a life and small business coach (“Mumtaz Coaching“). “I’ve had coaches from very early and still do today and I can speak to their value in helping me reach my potential and become the success I am today. I want to be able to help others achieve their full potential too.”

“I never would have imagined that I would be opening up a successful restaurant just blocks from where I grew up but look at where I am today. It’s been an amazing journey thus far.” * * *

“This is not Colombian!” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that said about our food. Nor could I tell you how many times I’ve heard, “this is the best Colombian food I’ve ever had”. Call it what you will, I call it great food and I’m very proud to offer you all of my favorites: arepas, empanadas, arroz con pollo and bandeja paisa, in addition to mazamorra, obleas, and cerveza Aguila!“

George Constantinou

“Hola! and welcome to Bogota Bistro. Come on in and enjoy yourself. This restaurant is a tribute to my parents who 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 adventurist 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 Greene section of Brooklyn. After being promoted to the 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 a 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

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