Posted: November 22nd 2016
Author: Maura Gillan
Pepe’s Vegetarian Bistro has found a new home and new life in the Historic Haymarket. Under the threat of closing permanently, the owner of Indigo Bridge Books and Café, located in the Creamery building across the hall from Ivanna Cone, extended a hand to Pepe, offering him space to set up shop. The new location opened August 1.
Pepe says it usually takes him about 6 months to get the feel of a location. He’s never had a storefront in the downtown area before, but he’s already cooking up some creative solutions for the heavy traffic and winter time ice. He has ideas to start a “soup-scription” delivery service. Residents with-in biking distance can subscribe to have Pepe’s soup delivered to them free of charge.
Another one of his ideas is to start culinary student ran food bikes. By giving them a cart and space to cook in, Pepe would allow students to launch their own cooking business out of his kitchen.
“So it’s not just food, it’s about community,” Pepe said. “It’s about giving back.”
Right now, Pepe employs one other person. Since he purchases his produce locally, a majority of his costs come from buying ingredients. He says he’s been breaking even for about 8 years, ever since he started the business.
Pepe knows competition in the Haymarket is fierce. To stay on top of it, he’s tailored his menu to consist of favorite goodies people have loved over the years. He has also made it fast to make and a decent price.
In the middle of our interview, he got an order for a breakfast burrito.
“Time me,” he said. “This’ll take three minutes.”
He was back in a minute forty. Pepe prides himself on speed.
Just to be clear, Pepe’s Bistro is not trying to compete with other local businesses, such as Maggie’s Vegetarian Cafe up the road.
“I’m not here to compete with Maggie’s,” Pepe said. “I’m here to compete with the corporate restaurants that have set up down here. I wish all these restaurants that have come in were more mom-and-pops.”
Pepe loves places like the Hub Café, a farm to table establishment on 25th street near antelope parkway. He wishes we had more like local food shops like it. But he can attest that owning a business fueled by local produce isn’t easy.
When Pepe came to Lincoln he was living out of a station wagon. At the time he was waiting tables, which he had be doing for the last 25 years. He recalls talking to his employer, asking why they couldn’t buy produce from farmers, if only once a year. The employer responded that there was no money in it. This was around the time Pepe had stumbled upon some space in the Havelock area just above a bookshop that had once been a cafe. Pepe said that’s when things started to connect.
“I started saving up my tips, working extra shifts and cooking when I could,” Pepe said.
Pepe set up shop in the Havelock location, 8 years ago. His shop has changed location and form, but he continues to do what he can for the community and for his customers. His ultimate goal is to move out of Indigo Bridge Books and into a building of his own. His dream is to create a solar powered, wood burning, self-sustainable restaurant called Pepe’s Off the Grid. Until then, he waits in the Creamery Building making delicious vegetarian mexican food.
“I’m here for myself,” Pepe said. “To keep doing what I’m doing; trying to make a little bit of a living and give back to the community. That’s what I’ve been doing since day one”