‘I had a vision of a burger in flames with a lot of flavour and spice’
This was the first time in an interview where I actually felt hungry hearing about the menu. I am really excited for this new opening and cannot wait to try all of the food on the menu from Afuego Burger. Miguel Martinez has gone from running a popular high street restaurant, to opening his first food business based around his Latin heritage. Miguel is one of many who turned the lockdown to their advantage, to create and follow a business of his passions. Below he discusses how he came about the idea for his business, what Afuego means and where you will be able to find him once he opens.
How did you come up with the idea for Afuego Burger?
Before the start of the Covid – 19 Pandemic, I was the Restaurant General Manager of Carluccio’s. Then along with the rest of the hospitality industry, they had to close in March. A few weeks after closing, the company announced that they were going into administration. Luckily Carluccio’s received help, but they couldn’t keep all their sites open which resulted in the closure of 42 sites. During that time there was a lot of uncertainty and it was hard for me, as I knew that it was only a matter of time before I would be made redundant.
My life previously in hospitality was like a fast train going 800 miles per hour. Being a Restaurant General Manager was a big responsibility and I never really had time for myself. I had the idea for Afuego Burger for a while, but I needed a push to do it and just jump in.
I had the idea of opening a Latin burger place when I first came to London. I couldn’t find many places where you could go to eat a good quality burger. My background is Columbian, and I have so much passion for the Latin culture. I thought I could mix Columbian culture with food, to produce a brand where people could celebrate good food and culture together.
I have been lucky enough to have a lot of support and also lucky that people were free to help me start Afuego Burger. I contacted the Head Chef I previously worked with and told him about my idea to start a Latin burger business. We discussed ideas about the menu and ingredients, and his help and support improved and developed the menu to another level. One of my previous baristas has a degree in graphic design, and when she heard about my idea she was so passionate and positive and she offered her help straight away. She has helped to build the brand and design the identity and logo.
Marketing and operations is what I have been working and focusing on. There are around four people helping me that I have worked with in the past, and I appreciate the value that they will add to the brand and product.
What does Afuego mean?
Choosing the name was quite an easy process for me. I had a vision of a burger in flames with a lot of flavour and spice. And this is how I came up with the name Afuego, which means to be on fire in Spanish. I had a few other ideas for names, but Afuego was the name I felt was the best fit. I also felt that the brand should have a Latin name to represent the cuisine.
What type of food will we find on the menu?
You will find high-quality British meat mixed with a combination of Latin ingredients and flavours. All the sauces will be 100% Latin ingredients. You will find for example, Chipotle Ketchup and Jalapeno green hot sauce. There will be an Afuego signature burger, which will consist of double cheese, Latin sauces and also Carnitas, which is a Mexican slow cooked pork shoulder.
Other dishes on the menu will consist of loaded fries, BBQ Carnitas and Jalapenos Croquettes bites. We will also have a Latin vegan burger option as well. The menu will be small. I believe that to offer good quality you do not need more than five to eight items on your menu. Working in restaurants for the last ten years, I feel that the bigger the menu, the more problems you have and the lower the quality of food produced. Having a smaller menu, we can focus on producing high quality food which is cooked to perfection.
Where will you be based?
The strategy of opening a restaurant, especially during these times is a risky move. The overhead costs of running a restaurant are expensive and it would be risky opening now, especially as most restaurants in hospitality are struggling. I think it is always good to start small and I believe the best restaurants always start as street food. I have always felt that with street food, customers gain a better feel of your product and they can feel your passion.
I previously worked in a company which started on Borough Market and now they have four restaurants in London. When you start on a Market, you have the opportunity to engage with your customers face to face and gain their feedback.
My idea is to start with street food around south and central London. We are in contact with market organisations to arrange spots where we can trade. There is a market that we are hoping to start collaborating with in October. Hopefully, we will be able to work with them on their market festivals and events for our first year. We hope to start in October, and I can’t wait, it’s really exciting.
Then the goal for our second year would be to open a restaurant in central London. As soon as we have built a good brand awareness and customer base, we will be ready to open our first sites.
What has been the most challenging thing about starting Afuego Burger?
One of the biggest challenges we have faced, has been trying to get a start-up loan during the pandemic. We have been rejected from all the banks we contacted, however I am determined to still go ahead with the business.
Where would you like to see your business in the next 5 years?
Having worked in both independent and chain restaurants, I always preferred independent restaurants, however we shall see what the future holds for Afuego Burger. There are so many opportunities in the UK, and I would like to see the business expand in other cities. I would also like to expand into Europe and would love to see Afuego in my hometown in Barcelona.
Why do you love working in hospitality?
Hospitality was one of my first jobs, I started as a waiter and worked myself up. It is not an industry for everyone, but it is definitely for me. I have so much love and passion for making people happy, by either cooking or serving food. I love talking to people and putting a smile on their face. I was thinking at one stage to become a chef, however the opportunity never came up for me. Maybe I will become a chef in my own restaurant one day.