When brothers Roger, Jaime, and Felipe Torres opened their first restaurant, Raymi, back in 2012, their focus was on giving New Yorkers a dinner destination that combined all the best flavors and aspects of Peruvian cuisine, from rich Asian and European influences to a renowned ceviche bar. But when rent started going up, along with expenses, the brothers came up with an idea to add on a lunch hotspot to their existing space. And with that, Latin Beet Kitchen, the Flatiron district’s new resident hotspot for healthy Peruvian lunch bowls, was born.
The Concept Behind Latin Beet
When thinking of the concept for their lunch spot, Latin Beet, the Torres brothers wanted to create something that would combine flavorful Latin American flavors with the importance of eating clean. This was especially important to Roger Torres, who has always been a believer in healthy food that tastes as good as it is good for you.
“This is my passion because this is how I have been eating for years,” says Torres, a longtime triathlete for whom food has always been a source of energy. But when it came to translating that concept into a new business venture for the family, the logic was simple: nutritious Latin American food would be a totally new addition to the market.
“Nobody knows a Latin concept that is healthy,” says Torres. “That’s why this is unique and people are appreciating what we have.”
The Breakdown of the Bowl
Right along the lines of keeping things unique, the Torres family decided to take the new concept of healthy Latin cuisine one step further by offering up healthy Latin cuisine that followed in the footsteps of the likes of Chipotle and Sweet Green – by creating bowls.
With most Latin Beet bowls consisting primarily of vegetables – about 60% of the bowl is veggies – with the remaining percentage left for grains and protein, the breakdown of a Latin Beet bowl offers up the perfect portions of each key ingredient. Plus all of Latin Beet’s bowls are gluten-free, and contain ingredients that are mostly organic and locally-sourced. Which means that diners can munch on their lunch with confidence, whether they’re ordering up a ready-made menu item – a crowd favorite is the Costa Ceviche, which includes a signature carrot slaw, quinoa, and a creamy avocado dressing – or enjoying a totally customized creation topped with any one of Latin Beet’s seven sauces.
And while the decision to go for a bowl approach to lunch came about in part because of the novelty of Latin-inspired bowls, the basic inspiration also comes down to the simple fact that bowls are, as Torres puts it, easy to make and even easier to enjoy.
“When you have a bowl, every single bite is the perfect bite. You have some crunch, you have the protein, you have some spice. It’s like when you go to a restaurant and you have a dish where you find one bite that’s the perfect bite – with a bowl, that’s every bite.”
Keeping Things Healthy
Unfortunately, there’s a natural challenge that comes along with whipping up Latin American cuisine that has a healthy spin since a lot of the food from countries like Peru or the Torres’ native Colombia is, by definition, not the healthiest.
“My brothers are the chefs,” says Torres about brother Jaime and Felipe, who he notes had a tough time in the beginning adapting recipes for Latin Beet’s healthier menu. “I was the one who really said, “No, we have to do it this way.” And I basically have to do the quality test every time. I always tell them: ‘No sugar, no frying – this is the concept.’ And now they do it this way and it’s easy.”
Of course, since each Latin Beet bowl is comprised primarily of vegetables, organic protein, and wholesome grains, the real focus when it came to keeping things clean was in coming up with sauce recipes that stayed true to the lunch spot’s mission of creating delicious, nutritious Latin meals. This meant thinking up sauces that mimicked signature flavors in Peruvian cuisine – think aji verde, a cilantro and jalapeño salsa, or yogurt huacatay, a nonfat Greek yogurt sauce with Peruvian mint – while keeping things low in calories, low in fat, and dairy- and gluten-free where possible.
“We basically change the ingredients to make them taste like the real sauce without being unhealthy. We wanted to make something that you can put 23 grams of in a bowl and it’s not 200 or 300 calories. We have some sauces with almond milk, we have very little oil in the sauces, most of the texture in each bowl is really from the vegetables.”
The Secret to Eating Well
Torres’ desire to keep things healthy at Latin Beet comes back to his desire to serve food that he can honestly say he enjoys himself:
“Healthy eating is something that I’m really passionate about and I wanted a place that I feel proud of. I want to say that everything on the menu is healthy and something that I can eat every day. I don’t want it to be something that I serve to people but that I won’t eat.”
But the vision goes even beyond what healthy eating says about Torres and the business that he has built with his family. It actually has a lot to do, too, with Torres’ attitude about healthy eating in general. Namely, that eating nutritious food doesn’t have to be boring or bland.
“It’s all about the ingredients,” says Torres about the key to making healthy eating delicious and actually enjoyable. “When you have good ingredients that are fresh, they taste completely different.”
This passion for healthy eating, and the belief that healthy eating can be exciting when done right, is what has made Latin Beet such a hit since it opened. That, and the undeniable vibe of togetherness and familia, as the brothers put it on their site, that both Latin Beet and its brother business Raymi are built on. With all of these components working together to make the restaurant a success, it would make sense that the natural place to go from here would be to grow the business further. But that, Torres says, will come in time.
“The plan is to expand,” he says about Latin Beet. “But the main priority now is perfecting the food, the efficiency, and the kitchen. Once we know that we have all of that, then expanding will be the next step.”