Mr. Arepa: Reinventing Venezuelan Flavor in Miami

“It has always been my dream to own a restaurant,” says Jairo Sanchez, who owns Mr. Arepa with his wife, Maria Gabriela Soto de Sanchez. This Venezuelan couple made that dream come true on December 16, 2022, when they reopened their restaurant in Miami Lakes.

Owning a Restaurant: Jairo and Maria’s Dream Comes True in Miami Lakes

After buying the three-year-old business, which offers typical Venezuelan dishes, the couple decided to change the image, logo and colors and restructure the menu to attract not only Venezuelans but also people from all over the world.

It’s not a restaurant just for Venezuelans. We want to invite people from other countries to learn about our culture and flavors. Everyone knows the tequeño and the arepa, but very few know the mandocas*, for example and I want people to know more about other Venezuelan dishes that are not so well known,” says María.

* Mandocas: A traditional Venezuelan dish made with corn flour and cooked in a pan with oil. It is usually accompanied by cheese, butter, salt and sometimes avocado. Its texture is crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.

Arepa dishes, cachapas, empanadas & more: Venezuelan Dishes with a Universal Touch

For this reason, the new menu is varied, with 17 arepa dishes, cachapas, empanadas and pastelitos, soups, including beef rib soup, which has become the most requested dish by customers, desserts and beverages, among other typical Venezuelan dishes, but with a more universal touch.

“You can eat there at any time of the day because we also have lunch and dinner menus,” explains María, who says that the mastermind behind the recipes and the restructuring of the menu is her husband, a professional in sales and a lover of cooking who loves to experiment and put his personal touch on each dish.

However, her husband’s passion for gastronomy did not begin with the purchase of Mr. Arepa, but much earlier, after working as a chef in a restaurant. María Gabriela, on the other hand, also has a background in the restaurant industry.

“My husband is an experienced salesman, while I take care of the administrative side,” says Maria, who was born in Cabimas, Venezuela.

This is a place that offers its guests experience, quality and good taste. “My flag is customer service. I believe that people will always come back to a place where they are treated well. That is why we always stress to our employees the importance of never compromising on the quality of the service and, of course, the food,” he says.

These brand values are also reflected in the mini-market inside the restaurant. Frozen tequeños, harina pan and empanadas are some of the products sold there.

An expanding business

Although Mr. Arepa has only one location for now, the owners have plans to turn the brand into a franchise.

“There are a lot of places in North Florida that don’t have a good supply of Venezuelan restaurants and that’s where we want to go,” María explains, referring to places like Pembroke Pines or West Palm Beach, a location they have in mind.

They also plan to open a bakery inside the restaurant, taking advantage of the experience that Jairo Sánchez, a native of Maracaibo, has in the business.

This couple is not new to the world of entrepreneurship, as they are also the owners of Convenient Distributor, based in Medley, a leading company in the distribution and wholesale of soft drinks that operates on a B2B (business to business) model.

Leaving a legacy of commitment and responsibility: The Arepa Family Business

Both the company and Mr. Arepa represent the legacy they want to leave for their children: a 7-year-old boy and twin girls and boys who are about to turn 2.

“Everything we do is for them. We are a family business that works to teach our children the values of commitment and responsibility. I always tell my eldest son that it is worth the effort to make your dreams come true,” concludes Maria.

Mr. Arepa is open Monday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

It offers delivery through Uber Eats and is located at 16733 NW 67th Ave, Miami, FL 33015.