On March 21 a Latin American restaurant called El Folklor—located at 3249 Gallatin Pike—changed hands and became one of the growing number of LGBT-owned and operated business in Nashville.
The restaurant is now owned by Benjamin Camarena Garcia and Jerry Jones, publisher of Out & About Nashville. The restaurant’s new name “Papacito” roughly translates into “hot man” and the unique new logo, designed by Donna Huff, is a sugar skull modeled on Benjamin’s facial structure and hair style.
Before purchasing his own restaurant, Benjamin worked for four years at Las Agavas Mexican Restaurant in White House, Tennessee where he honed his skills as a server. Benjamin, who has long dreamed of opening his own restaurant, is now working full-time at the restaurant as its owner/manager.
“It has been a dream of mine to own and operate my own restaurant,” he said. “I am so happy to have this great opportunity. Jerry and I want our restaurant to be a great place for food and customer service.”
Entrepreneurship runs in the Camarena Garcia family. Benjamin grew up in a restaurant family. Benjamin’s parents own a taqueria in his home town, the small Mexican town of Jesus Maria in Jalisco. Benjamin is one of five children, and all but his sister has gone into the restaurant service industry. Two of his brothers have also owned their own restaurant, while his sister owns her own beauty shop.
Part of what led Camarena Garcia and Jones to pounce on the opportunity to purchase El Folklor was the neighborhood. “We love being so close to home, and we love the ability to be able to meet all of our neighbors,” Camarena Garcia said. “Inglewood and East Nashville have been very supportive. Our customers have also been so understanding with some glitches that we’ve had during the transition.”
The LGBT community has also been supportive. “We’ve received great support from the LGBT community,” Camarena Garcia said. “We are especially grateful to our councilwoman, Nancy VanReece, for her support and guidance. Really the entire community has been great, supportive and helpful.”
Since purchasing the restaurant, its new owners have made dramatic changes in the décor, removing the harsh florescent strip lighting, painting the interior, exterior and having a lovely mural painted on the exterior, removing the bars from the windows and doors, and adding a small amount of bar seating.
They have also dramatically reduced the size of the menu to focus on the unique and popular items offered. While the new menu offers traditional Mexican fare, like burritos, tacos, and fajitas, the restaurant’s signature dish and its most popular item, is the pupusa. Pupusas, which originated in El Salvador but are also popular in neighboring countries, are similar to corn tortillas, only thicker and stuffed with cheese, beans or meat.
Another exciting change for the restaurant is that it has now received a liquor license and is offering a limited bar and drink menu that includes margaritas, red and white sangria, and four vodka mixed drinks.
Since the restaurant changed hands, hiring staff has been the biggest challenge its new owners faced. There is a restaurant worker shortage in Nashville due to all of the new restaurants that have opened. The restaurant is actively hiring servers, part-time bartenders, part-time cooks and kitchen help.
“We’ve had to rely on the great assistance of many of our friends who have come in to help wash dishes, bus and wait tables, paint the building and well, virtually everything we’ve done,” Camarena Garcia said. “We couldn’t have done any of this without their help, and we are very grateful.”
Despite the difficulties, Camarena Garcia said business has been steady and growing. “We’ve seen a dramatic increase since we took over the former El Folklor,” he said. “Business has more than doubled.”