It’s possible the secret of Juan Gando’s present-day success as a Wellington restaurateur rests within the volume of a cocktail glass, where in his previous life he put together the right mix of syrups and juices and liquors to keep his Palm Beach customers in party mode.
He was once a bartender at the ever-so popular Cucina dell’Arte on the island – an island bartender with suburban dreams.
Four years ago, Gando moved to Wellington, joined forces with a couple of friends from the Palm Beach restaurant scene and opened Oli’s Fashion Cuisine on Forest Hill Boulevard, just west of State Road 7. He moved his family to Wellington, a place that charmed him with its vibrant equestrian scene and polo season, and its influx of seasonal travelers from all around the globe. This is where he’s met horse-lovers from around the country, as well as from South America, Europe and Africa. It’s where he’s met his share of celebrities, and where, as Oli’s established roots and branched off to a couple of other “Fashion Cuisine” eateries, he has hosted Bill Clinton, Robert Duvall, Michael Jordan, Bill Gates, Jimmy Buffett, and, yes, even Vanilla Ice.
But more important than the “names” and buzz is the fact that he and business partner/chef Dustin Parfitt have created beloved neighborhood hangouts, where locals can count on inspired, well-prepared dishes and warm hospitality.
This kind of success is why Gando does not dream. No, he plans.
“My goal is to open 10 Oli’s restaurants,” says Gando, who opened the original Oli’s (named after Wellington pioneer Charles Oliver Wellington) about three years ago, then opened The Grille Fashion Cuisine 11 months later, and The Seahorse Fashion Cuisine a year after that. Just weeks ago, Gando and the Fashion Cuisine crew opened a second Oli’s on Clematis Street in downtown West Palm Beach (olisfashioncuisine.com).
It’s a long way from Guayaquil, Ecuador, where Gando was born and raised as the oldest of three kids. His father, also named Juan Gando, was a food importer and exporter.
Gando arrived in this country 11 years ago. Today, at 37, he’s the dad to three children, ages 12, 9 and 6. He juggles the duties of a restaurant owner and general manager – and visionary, his sights on new locations and concepts – with that of being a dad.
But what makes the juggling more than worthwhile is the sense that he is not simply running a business, he’s connecting with friends, customers, community.
“We have always concentrated on people first. It’s not about the food or how the restaurant looks. At the end of the day, it’s about how you treat your customers. It’s about the service you provide. That’s what I always tell every single person who works for me.”
Service is the key to a restaurant’s success, he says.
“In our restaurants, we focus on building relationships with the customers – we treat them like friends and family.”
What do you love about living in Wellington?
Wellington is a unique part of the world. First you have hardworking business people. You have families – it’s a great place for families. You have the amazing experience of meeting equestrians and polo people. During the season, if they have something to do with horses, they’re here in Wellington.
Who was your role model or great inspiration while you were growing up?
I always looked up to my dad. He used to have an import and export company, dealing with food. I always saw how hard he worked, and how people really liked him. I wanted to be like him.
What’s your average day like?
I go to all the restaurants every day, but I have a lot of help. I can’t like – we all work late, but I have a great time and I can’t complain.
What’s your favorite quick escape?
What I love to do when I escape is go to the beach at Delray Beach. It’s the beach that most reminds me of the beach in my city, Guayaquil. It’s family-oriented and beautiful.
What’s your great unfulfilled dream?
I have a goal. Of course, my dream is always that my family remains healthy. But in business, my goal is to open 10 Oli’s restaurants. We already have two, but we’d like to have 10 in different cities, even outside of Florida.