American dream
Exclusive interview
Partners of Argentine-Venezuelan restaurant chosen by Biden prepare to expand to Europe and Dubai
Argentine Ezequiel Vázquez and Venezuelan Enrique Limardo are the creators of Seven Reasons. In conversation with LPO, they talk about how they got the Michelin star and received the president's secret service.

When Argentine Ezequiel Vázquez-Ger visited a Latin restaurant in Baltimore five years ago, he was so delighted with the food that he asked to speak with the chef, Venezuelan Enrique Limardo. That talk sparked a success story to share. Today they are partners and manage five restaurants in the capital of the United States. In 2022 they received a Michelin star - which they have just revalidated - for Seven Reasons, their insignia restaurant, and in 2024 they plan to conquer the world with their brands. In an exclusive dialogue with LPO they review the beginnings of the business, talk about the challenges together and remember the Secret Service inspection fro a visit by President Joe Biden and his family.

How did you meet and start this business together?

Enrique Limardo: I had been living in the US for some time at the insistence of an uncle. At first it was hard, I started from scratch several times, until they contacted me to open a Latin restaurant in Baltimore: Alma Cocina Latina. There I participated in the assembly with design, concept and everything. It was a springboard for my career because for several years I obtained recognition as best chef and restaurant in Baltimore. There I met Ezequiel, who suggested me to open a restaurant in Washington. In that first conversation he asked me how much money I needed, and I told him 3 million, to say a lot. Two or three weeks later he called me, we met and he told me that he didn't need so much money, that he was going to stop everything he was doing and we were going to open a restaurant. It was a challenging process, but the connection with Ezequiel made the difference and now we face new challenges that we are learning to mitigate together.

Ezequiel Vázquez: I was closing a work cycle and didn't know what I wanted to do. When I tried Enrique's food, I knew I wanted his restaurant to be round the corner. I suggested the idea of having a restaurant in Washington DC and it's true, he told me that he literally did not have the necessary amount of money. After a conversation in which he mentioned he needed three million dollars, I got thinking and decided to take that idea to another level.

How long did it take until the opening of the restaurant?

EV: We met in October 2017, and the restaurant opened in April 2019, 18 months later. During that period I visited more than 100 restaurants. My goal was to fully understand how restaurants work and what makes a restaurant successful. Beyond the quality of the food, I explored other key aspects, such as understanding why some restaurants were full of people while others were not. I analyzed all aspects of the business models, from the size of the premises to the number of tables and customers on different days of the week. I collected detailed information about prices and other factors. With this knowledge, we searched for a name, raised the necessary capital and, once we got the location, we signed the contract. However, the next day, all investors who had confirmed their participation withdrew, forcing us to start from scratch.

In the first conversation, Ezequiel asked me how much money I needed, and I told him 3 million, to say a lot. A few weeks later, he called me and told me that he didn't need that much money, that he was going to stop everything he was doing. It was a challenging process, but the connection with Ezequiel made the difference. 

Being a Venezuelan and an Argentine, what do you think this collaboration added?

EV: I don't see it as a Venezuelan and an Argentine, I think that in all Latin American countries we are similar.

EL: What we have in common is that we communicate in the same language, and also the cultural aspect, coming from the same culture.

EV: Perhaps it would have been more difficult for an Argentinian with an American, or a Mexican with an American. Our connection is very similar. What helped us the most is that Enrique doesn't know anything about numbers, but he is the best cook in the world, and the check at the end of the month is better than the previous month. I know absolutely nothing about cooking, but I like to eat. That's the combination: we know how to complement each other and we trust what the other does.

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EL: That balance is never easy to achieve, which is why this is so unique. I think the growth we have had has been exponential, especially because of that.

EV: In the end, we have the same goal. There are chefs who just want to reach the top, achieve stardom, and it's OK. Sometimes it is very difficult to sustain that financially. Together with Enrique we said that the food we would offer had to be spectacular, and the possibilities to continue developing and imagining are there, but they have to give us money; this is a business.

Enrique Limardo

How do you see the American dream in the context of your experiences?

EL: Certainly, it's so. You have to know how to take advantage of opportunities, but you also need to have a base before. It's not that you arrive and the American dream materializes by itself.

EV: Obviously, there are advantages to having a legal system that works. If you know how to navigate the system and follow the rules, if you offer a quality product that people enjoy, it's very difficult for it to go wrong. Furthermore, it is a market with a lot of money. Although the economy has ups and downs, you are not dealing with permanent crises.

EL: Yes, I think the idea could be possible in other countries, but not exponentially like in this one. Here it is different because of its size, economy and people.

EV: You can be successful with a restaurant and be recognized, mitigating risks. But when you grow up and face problems it becomes much more difficult.

Enrique doesn't know anything about numbers, but he is the best cook in the world. I don't know anything about cooking, but I like to eat. It is that combination: we know how to complement each other and we trust what the other does. 

Did you consider expanding beyond the United States?

EV: Yes, this year we plan to explore opportunities in Madrid, London, Dubai and Miami. Although nothing is confirmed, we are evaluating the possibility of expanding to Europe.

EL: It is the only way to understand how a company operates in a large-scale scenario, something we are completely unaware of. Nowadays, everything is 10 minutes away, not 8 hours by plane.

EV: Obviously, at some point we want to sell. But to achieve this, we need to prove that our brands work. We think that the last step we may be missing is to show the power of our brands to eventually consider other sales options.

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Do you remember the day you were awarded the Michelin star? What were you doing and how did you receive the news?

EV: I remember that day very well. The previous year, in 2021, we were convinced that they would give it to us, but it didn't happen and it was very hard. Everyone said yes, but it didn't happen. In 2022 we had more expectations, but we didn't really know anything about when we would be evaluated.

EL: It was very hard. That night we cried until 5 in the morning. In my career, receiving a Michelin star is the greatest award you can have in this profession. After that, I spent a few days reflecting and realized I was wrong. The star should be the consequence of doing things well, not pursuing it.

What did you change to get it?

EV: We didn't change anything, we simply continued doing what we did, always with the vision of improving. When it materialized, I was in the restaurant, alone. I remember that since 8 in the morning I was waiting for the call, a message, searching and tortured. They never called. I ran out to the restaurant when I saw the press release and managed to get informed around 2pm.

EL: That day I decided not to go to the restaurant. I was lying at home watching movies. The phone vibrated several times, I read a message with the news, but I didn't believe it. After a few hours, with hundreds of notifications, I finally understood that it had happened. I took a shower, got dressed and went to the restaurant. It was a party for everyone, an achievement of many people making it happen.

How did the business change after receiving the Michelin star?

EL: It underwent a significant change in terms of prestige and credibility. Important aspects were consolidated.

EV: The Michelin star opens many doors. After receiving it, people's perception changes and you can start more serious conversations. The star consolidates the position of the business.

Partners of Argentine-Venezuelan restaurant chosen by Biden prepare to expand to Europe and Dubai

What was President Biden's visit to your restaurant like?

EV: It was a last minute surprise. We were preparing a family celebration, and 30 minutes before, we didn't know if he would come. At 7:30 p.m. we were informed that the President would arrive 30 minutes later. A rapid security operation began with caravans, metal detectors and personnel everywhere. It was hilarious.

EL: It was crazy. I was at the other restaurant, and Ezequiel called me "come immediately." I rode my motorcycle, but I had to leave it far away because they wouldn't let cross. I had to tell them that I was the owner and chef. There were secret service agents following every step of the dishes that the President was going to eat. It was a unique and unrepeatable experience that may never happen again.

This year we plan to explore opportunities in Madrid, London, Dubai and Miami. Although nothing is confirmed, we are evaluating the possibility of expanding to Europe. 

What influence from Venezuela is reflected in your food?

EV: Many things, I call it more like a Latin American effect. I have traveled to almost all the countries in the region, trying to unify that diversity in my DNA. That is always present in our restaurants, regardless of the concept. At Seven Reasons, for example, I just designed a menu with a Latin American touch. I look for my roots to offer something that people value and appreciate, something they have not tried before.

Partners of Argentine-Venezuelan restaurant chosen by Biden prepare to expand to Europe and Dubai

Are there many Latinos working with you?

EV: It is a sector in which it's natural to work with Latinos, and we love it. Language and work ethic are key factors. In our team, 50% of the people are Venezuelan, and they occupy important roles. Overall, 90% of our employees are Latino.

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How do inflation and the economy affect you?

EV: The inflationary issue does not affect that much, but we do see an impact on work. Since May, we have noticed a contraction in consumption due to general economic caution and rising rates. Although we adjusted costs, we did not transfer that to prices.

EL: I would love to have more connections, especially with Venezuela and the Amazon. Importing things from there would be great, but it's very difficult. We have tried different ways to bring products, but consistency is impossible. Sometimes we manage to bring things like ants or fruits from the Amazon, but always in limited quantities. The connection with Venezuela is complicated, but sometimes we take advantage when friends send us something and we use it in the restaurant.

I was at the other restaurant, I ride my motorcycle, but I had to leave it far away because they wouldn't let me cross. There were secret agents following every step of the dishes that the President was going to eat. It was a unique and unrepeatable experience. 

Are you up to date with the politics in your countries?

EV: As little as possible.

EL: I have completely lost the thread, and I don't follow it so as not to torment myself. I hope it changes one day. As I mention many times from here, we try to do our best to show a different side of our culture. If that contributes a little, it does, but it's really difficult that it works as a change there...

EV: It's very disappointing too. Sometimes you try to do big things thinking that it will change the world, and in the end you only achieve a small change. At one point I said: the best way to help change things is to change the world of the small group of people around you, your family, your friends, your employees. If that happens, it is because if you help those people to be better, they will lead other people to be better, and we can eventually do that through the restaurant company and the philanthropic work we do.

Partners of Argentine-Venezuelan restaurant chosen by Biden prepare to expand to Europe and Dubai

Who would you like to visit one of your restaurants?

EL: Those who already came... they are enough...

EV: (Lionel) Messi, (Marcelo) Gallardo. Michael Jordan is someone who hasn't come yet, we would like him to come...

Translator: Bibiana Ruiz


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El argentino Ezequiel Vázquez y el venezolano Enrique Limardo son los creadores de Seven Reasons. En diálogo con LPO, cuentan cómo consiguieron la estrella Michelin y recibieron al servicio secreto del presidente.