Perhaps best known for his now-defunct Latin restaurant Pura Vida, Hector Santiago is leaving his post as executive chef at Anne Quatrano’s Abattoir to work on developing his own restaurant at Ponce City Market. Joe Schafer, who recently departed from King & Duke, is replacing him.
How did you decide this was the right time to leave Abattoir?
I was [planning on] leaving in July. For the last few months, I was training Leo Iranzo, my sous chef, to take over, but now he is leaving to go to Spain to stage in Barcelona. So, we had to find a new chef to replace him and I wound up staying until now.
I need to dedicate more time to my other project. I’m leaving in about three weeks. Anne [Quatrano] has been amazing. She gave me a lot of freedom to do all this other stuff on the side (Big Sky), and she was aware of what was going on at Ponce City Market. The crew at Abattoir made me feel like a part of the family from day one.
Will you train Joe Schafer before you leave?
I’ll train Joe for a week or two. It depends how he picks up on our system. [Abattoir is] a smaller place than King & Duke, so it should be easy for him. I’ll be there until Oct 19. He’ll be there on the 14th. We’ll work together for a week, getting used to the system and all that.
What do you have planned for Ponce City Market?
It is still very much in the air. I have the actual location of a spot in there—one of the larger kiosks. I had one concept but we couldn’t do it. The concept is based on a hardwood grill, but we couldn’t vent hardwood or charcoal out of there. The concept is Argentinian-style, very rustic. It’s all about the wood and the meat, a meat bar basically, with a lot of bar food, so we really just couldn’t do it there. I still plan to do that somewhere else later when we find the perfect spot. The location, the feel was amazing for it. You feel like you’re in Uruguay. Finding a spot that conveys that is going to take some time. Now I have to go back to the drawing board. I need to start from scratch for the business plans.
What do you have in mind?
For the last year, I’ve been trying to do Super Pan or El Burro Pollo (burritos). I want to do a couple of fast-casual concepts. I’m going to try to do one of those in Ponce City Market. I’m inclined to do Super Pan because we have it more streamlined. It would have a slightly different menu, adding some hot plates like at a Spanish/Puerto Rican bakery—a couple of items that change daily. It’ll have sandwiches, baked goods, sweets, and hot food—like rice and beans—Cubanos and coconut buns for sure. At night, it’ll turn into old school tapas plates based on what’s available.
Burro Pollo would have a tofu burrito and a chicken burrito, but also a Mexican-style ceviche bar with food of the Mexican Riviera (places like Puerta Vallarta, Cabo, and the Sea of Cortez). We’d do a full alcohol license with a lot of mezcal.
What will the Ponce City Market space look or feel like?
It’s not big. Super Pan was a tiny space. You order at the counter. I want to have a social kind of feel, like when you go in a tapas place in Madrid or Puerto Rico. Everyone is standing because there is no room, in a good way. Everyone is talking, standing, eating, or reading the paper. It’s high energy but simple.