Casual Eatery Introduces Manhattanites to Bolivian Cuisine

Alex Oropeza, born in Cochabamba, is the oldest of the three brothers who founded BLP. He is very happy about the reception the eatery has had in Manhattan, and does not regret his decision to leave his finance career behind to apply his knowledge to his own business, through which he proudly promotes the culture of his native country. (Photo via Impacto Latin News)

“From the beginning, our objective was to introduce Bolivian culture and make it known, particularly here in New York, where there aren’t as many Bolivians as in Virginia or Washington,” said Alex Oropeza, manager of Bolivian Llama Party (BLP).

The well-defined menu at BLP includes quinoa salad, cholas and cholitas, Bolivian-style chicken marinated in beer with quirquiña green sauce, cuñapés and corn muffins, the restaurant’s New York version of the Bolivian huminta, among other dishes. Still, the star is undoubtedly the salteña, a type of empanada.

The eatery is modern and casual, and features a hand-painted mural and paper masks made in Europe representing the adorable Andean llamas. It is open seven days a week. More details are available at www.blp.nyc.

Inspired by their mother

Brothers Alex, Patrick and David Oropeza, who have planted the Bolivian flag on the map of three of the five boroughs of New York City with their BLP restaurants, tasted the food of their parents’ native country from an early age thanks to their mom, who did not teach them to cook because she wanted them to get a career. Her sons, however, say that she has been their inspiration. Their parents came to the United States 30 years ago, and Patrick – the chef – and David – who is now staff manager – were born here.

An underground passage called Turnstyle, connecting the circular plaza with 57th and 58th Street at Eighth Avenue, was inaugurated two years ago on the southeast corner of Central Park, under the modern buildings surrounding Columbus Circle. Amid the diverse novel shops, Latinos are being represented by the Oropeza brothers’ Bolivian Llama Party. We spoke with Alex, the eldest, and the manager of BLP at Turnstyle.

How did you come up with the idea to open BLP?

It all started six years ago when we went to Bolivia on a trip and got inspired. My brother Patrick, the middle one, started selling food at street fairs. He and my younger brother David had a rock band called “Red Headers,” and they needed money to buy instruments and pay for the recording studio, so they decided to sell salteñas and saw that there was a lot of interest.

Do you guys have competition?

It looks like we are the first ones selling Bolivian food. We started out on Rockaway Beach and then at the outdoor market in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We have been at Turnstyle at Columbus Circle in Manhattan for a year.

Have you been successful so far?

Yes, it has been a total hit, and the salteña is a favorite. People try it and they love it. They realize that it is very different from any other empanada or sandwich. Latinos come because they think that these are empanadas, but we tell them no: These are salteñas.

Salteñas, BLP’s signature pastry, has become a novelty among New York’s foodies and tourists visiting Columbus Circle. (Photo via Impacto Latin News) (Photo via Impacto Latin News)

Tell us about salteñas.

Salteñas are very special. The filling is practically a soup with all the collagen – which is very nutritious – called the quigote. When it is frozen, it gets hard, and we put it into the salteñas as a filling.

What did your mom say about her three sons going into the food business?

The truth is that she did not like the idea at first because I studied economics, and my two other brothers studied marketing. She thought we were going to be doctors and lawyers. I was the only one who was working in finance for a large firm here in Manhattan. My brother Patrick was the one who started following the dream. Now she is happy because she sees customers lining up, and my cousins call us and say that we are like rock stars back in Bolivia. We have been in magazines there, on TV, in the papers… Something new comes out every week, and there is a lot of awareness about our company there – more than there is here, I think – because people are proud to know that there is something Bolivian in New York.

Any interesting anecdotes?

The other day, 20 tourists came from Germany. They had been in Bolivia five years ago, and they loved the food and the people. When they learned that there was a Bolivian place in Manhattan, they came, they put on the masks, ate salteñas, and then brought more people later.

Was it easy starting out?

Everything about starting a business is hard. There are daily expenses, employees, permits… Doing business in Manhattan is harder than anywhere else in the world because the competition is incredible and the expectations are very high. [It is about] explaining to people what Bolivian food is and having something good to offer so they want to come back.

Any future projects?

We want to open other similar businesses but with a bar, so people can drink traditional Bolivian beverages such as the Paceña beer, chicha, guaro…

Final thoughts?

We want to invite you to taste Bolivian flavors, our juicy salteñas – fresh out of our Columbus Circle oven. Beginning this weekend, we will be at the Williamsburg fair on North 7 Street in Brooklyn on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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