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After competing on season 18 of Bravo’s “Top Chef,” Byron Gomez got plenty of offers from would-be financial partners to open a restaurant. But he wanted to do it on his own.
“Top Chef definitely changed my life, opportunity-wise, but it’s also what you do with those opportunities that matters,” Gomez said. “Many people have gone and done great, and many winners have taken home the money and that’s it. For me, it’s given me the confidence to say who I am as a person, as a chef and share the food I want to cook.”
On Nov. 2, the Costa Rica native opened his first concept, Pollo Tico, inside Avanti Boulder, the two-year-old food hall at 1401 Pearl St.
Pollo Tico offers Costa Rican cuisine, reminiscent of Gomez’s childhood, including his mom’s recipe for arroz con pollo and dad’s recipe for gallo pinto. The menu is also centered around half and quarter rotisserie chicken with house-made dipping sauces, plus Costa Rican dishes with Gomez’s own twist, such as chicken patacon, maduros and chayote escabeche.
“So the idea was, ‘how do I introduce Costa Rican cuisine to a town like Boulder or a state like Colorado?’” Gomez said. “Mexican cuisine has been such a stronghold here, so I thought a fast-casual concept would be the best way.
“Avanti is giving me the support and exposure I need to do this on my own,” Gomez continued. “If I was to open a brick-and-mortar business, it would cost me close to half a million dollars from scratch nowadays. Avanti has set up the pieces, so I can plug and play. That will help me become financially independent after this so I can do something else.”
Gomez grew up in Costa Rica until he was eight years old and his family moved to Long Island, New York. His first job was at a Burger King at age 15, and despite the lack of any formal training as a chef, Gomez moved up and onward in the restaurant industry. He eventually landed roles at Michelin-starred restaurants, such as Café Boulud, Atera and Eleven Madison Park.
In 2019, Gomez moved from New York to Aspen and began working for the fine-dining restaurant 7908. He appeared on “Top Chef: Portland” last year, but was eliminated after episode 10.
He moved to Boulder in May with plans to take some time off. But after having lunch at Avanti Boulder and meeting with co-founder Tyler Hinckley, he decided to get back to work.
“I used to think of food halls like the food courts in the mall, but Avanti is the complete opposite,” Gomez said. “The fact that it’s a food incubator, and they’ve had so much success growing businesses, it was a no-brainer.”
Pollo Tico replaced Quiero Arepas, and this is part of the the first tenant changeover at Avanti. It joins concepts like Boychik, New Yorkese, Pig and Tiger, Rooted Craft Kitchen and Rye Society.
Eventually, Gomez hopes to expand the business throughout Colorado and elsewhere in the U.S. And he’s currently building a mobile dining room, where he hopes to host omakase, fine-dining dinners using Costa Rican ingredients.
“Why can’t Pollo Tico become the next Shake Shack?” Gomez said.
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