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SoFo Culinary Week Revamps Old San Juan’s Economy

By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez of WOW News

June 12, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

The celebration of San Juan SoFo Culinary Week, scheduled to begin Thursday evening, may represent nearly $350,000 in earnings for 23 restaurant owners in Old San Juan, who agreed that the event contributes to revamping the economy in the historic district.

Daniel Zambrana, owner of La Tasca del Tio, which features Puerto Rican and Spanish cuisine, said is very excited to participate for the second time in the four-day event, which offers a variety of international and Puerto Rican dishes.

"It was a total success," said Zambrana while recalling his experience during the first edition of the SoFo Culinary Week last December.

Zambrana explained that he invested about $6,000 in the event, during which people have dinner, taste different international and Puerto Rican specialties for free, and enjoy live music and the historic city nightlife at La Fortaleza South Street.

The entrepreneur opened his establishment four years ago and said nearly 50,000 people visited the restaurants during the festival in December. He strongly believes more people will attend the four-day event this year.

Zambrana added that his restaurant had "substantial" earnings then, and the number of customers he has received since December increased too.

The event will be held from Thursday through Sunday from 6 p.m. until midnight. The Fortaleza and nearby streets are closed to traffic, transforming the area into a long plaza, this allows restaurants to place tables and food presentations along the route. Restaurant owners dedicated this year’s festival to French restaurant La Chaumière, which was established in Old San Juan 34 years ago.

Diego Robles, director of the Socioeconomic, Tourism and Housing Department of San Juan, explained that the municipality invested nearly $50,000 in the event.

"This is a way to revamp the Old San Juan’s economy, and we are sure that once people know about the restaurants and the quality of the food they serve, they will become assiduous customers and will visit the historic city more often," said Robles.

The official added that the city projects restaurants will take in $350,000 to $400,000 during the event.

In addition to the economic promise the festival brings, the event promotes the creation of temporary jobs in the San Juan area, according to Dianne Amador, owner of Café Zaguan.

Amador—who established her restaurant five years ago—said the event gives her the opportunity to rehire those employees she had to lay off recently due to the economic crisis.

"Fortunately, I have the opportunity of hiring those employees that for some reason are no longer with us; they are really happy and motivated," said Amador.

Amador said Culinary Week positions San Juan at the same level as cities like Paris and New York, where people can visit a restaurant and enjoy its culinary offer while appreciating the plaza or view of the city they’re visiting.

"We had a lot of earnings," said a happy Amador, who added that her establishment gives local artists the opportunity to exhibit their works.

Restaurant owners praised the initiative and the people’s reception of the event, and said despite the tremendous amount of people who gathered in the streets, "everything was carried on with calm, respect, and cooperation."

On the other hand, Omar and Oscar Padilla, owners of brand new Rico Puerto Kafe Restaurant & Sports Bar, joined the initiative motivated by their experience while visiting the festival last December. They invested around $10,000 and hired 10 employees to cope with the demand expected.

The San Juan Municipal Police have made changes to the traffic direction and will deploy 50 officers in the area for visitor and restaurant personnel’s safety.

In addition to Puerto Rican cuisine, the festival will offer visitors a variety of Brazilian, Spanish, French, Mediterranean, Italian, and Mexican food.

"Pleneros," various music groups, and the ‘SoFo Band’ will entertain guests.

Event promoters expect to establish the festival as a permanent activity and tourism attraction.

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