About Time You Met: Kathe Cunin, Co-Founder of Arepa & CoBy Alicia Grimshaw
Husband and wife, Gus and Kathe opened Arepa & Co Haggerston as a home from home for the Venezuelan community back in 2014, which has become synonymous with the vibrant flavours of their native country. After recently opening a second site in Bethnal Green, we chatted to Kathe about building a business, running two restaurants and Arepa & Co’s new brunch menu:
You first opened Arepa & Co in Haggerston in 2014 – how’s the journey been so far?
Very exciting and we’re still learning so much every day. As a trained Civil Engineer, embarking on this project was brand new to me, with little to no experience in the hospitality industry. I am, however, crazy about good food, and in love with my home country Venezuela, and have always wanted to share this love with Londoners. The industry is so fast paced, and I believe you need to love what you do and be passionate about it to survive.
Before Arepa & Co opened, the Venezuelan food scene in London was fairly limited – how do you think it has changed?
In the past three years, more and more Venezuelan food stalls are cropping up in London. Sadly, with the current crisis back home, this has forced thousands of Venezuelans to find a better life in other places around the globe, including London. But what’s really exciting is that Londoners are welcoming Venezuelan cuisine and flavours with open arms.
You recently opened a second site in Bethnal Green – how’s it been running two restaurants?
Wow, well I’m still alive and kicking – but it’s been tough! We invested in different programmes to manage staff, suppliers, rotas, etc and this has been key for us. Equally, we’re lucky to have a great team behind us who make the hours worthwhile.
How does the Bethnal Green branch differ from your first site in Haggerston?
The Bethnal Green is much bigger, with a mezzanine space for private hire and larger bookings. We also have a great outdoor space for the summer months, which overlooks the Paradise Row arches. Haggerston was originally designed to be a café, and is a much more casual space.
What can people expect from the new brunch menu?
The brunch menu brings authentic traditional dishes including Desalluno criollo, the Venezuelan full breakfast of scrambled eggs with sofrito, black beans, shredded beef, plantains, cheese and an Arepa and Cachapa Salmon, a Venezuelan sweetcorn pancake topped with smoked salmon, egg, labneh, caviar, lemon oil and avocado. We take brunch quite seriously and these some classics which always remind me of home.
What’s your favourite dish from the menu?
Hands down it has to be an arepa. I’m torn between Arepa Pollo frito (arepa with fried chicken) and Arepa Mulata (black beans, plantain, avocado and white cheese).
What inspired you to open a restaurant?
I wanted to create a space where Londoners can feel like they are in a Venezuelan home, enjoying good service, delicious flavours and most importantly, the experience.
What’s it like working with your husband?
It’s like watching your favourite movie all day, every day, with so many emotions in a day all at once. From day one we have both worked so hard and love what we do. In a typical day we might argue, and then five minutes later we will laugh. I admit, it can be difficult to disconnect when we get home with our little ones, but rule number one is that unless it is an emergency and life-threatening situation, we leave work at the door.
There’s so many restaurants and pop-ups opening in London – how do you manage to stand out from the crowd?
Venezuelan food is still unknown, and lucky for us, Londoners are always keen to explore new cuisines and flavours. As a team we believe every step matters; from the way we greet our customers, the way we introduce them to our food, to the way we say ‘thank you’ for visiting us. Customer experience is key when you want to stand out from the crowd.
Favourite place in London for a coffee is: Caravan, King’s Cross.
Favourite restaurants in London are: Ceviche Old Street and Berber & Q, Haggerston.
For more information on Arepa & Co, visit the website here.
254 Paradise Row, London E2 9LE and 58a de Beauvoir Crescent London N1 5SB