Fernando Navas is the Owner & Chef of Balvanera. Born in in the port city of Punta Alta just south of Buenos Aires, Fernando Navas grew up surrounded by the warmth of family and the honest culture of the Argentine countryside. Inspired by his grandfather who worked as a cook for military officers, and his father who brought the entire family together for Sunday feasts, Fernando was exposed to both the rigorous pace and genuine passion of a culinary lifestyle. In 2013, Fernando left the SUSHISAMBA family to embark on his own adventure. He founded El Fuegro Sagrado, his consulting practice, and took on key assignments for top Las Vegas clients, including Red Rock Casino. With his heart still split between New York and Buenos Aires, he began developing a vision for his own restaurant and returned to New York. Balvanera, his first project, came to life in August of 2014 on ever-emerging Manhattan’s Lower East Side. A tribute to his culinary roots, Balvanera is the cuisine and spirit of Buenos Aires, porteña cuisine and the many dynamic regions of Argentina.
How did you get into the industry?
As simple as it sounds - the celebration of a table filled with great food and surrounded by great friends back home when I was a kid, made me fall in love with cooking. My grandfather was a professional cook and every Sunday the whole family would gather at my grandparents’ house for a feast. A decade after I came to the US and worked in some kitchens in Miami before making my way to NYC.
Any emerging industry trends?
I don’t know much of the ‘trends’ - but I think a general feeling in the industry is the ‘want’ to go back to basics: simple preparations, a few ingredients on the plate, traditional recipes done well.... I may be biased but I also think that Argentine cuisine is coming - attention to the grill and the flame.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
In NYC for a small restaurant like Balvanera, our major challenge (and opportunity at the same time), is to give genuine, good service and an authentic culinary experience to our guest so that they will come back. Everyone is always ‘on to the next’ in this city. We want to be your trusted go-to.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
After working for many years in Japanese restaurants, I always wanted to open an Argentine restaurant that would be a reflection of who I am. From the setting, food, beverage, music and service. Balvanera reflects our lifestyle in Buenos Aires more than our traditional cuisine. Balvanera transports you to any small restaurant in the heart of the old Buenos Aires.
I would love Balvanera to become a staple restaurant to dine in NYC. Probably I would love to open another one in another neighborhood of NYC. The city needs more Argentine.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
For Balvanera - it’s what we have been doing since we opened. Offering great food, great wine program and great service to our regular customers and welcoming new ones. That is our major objective. Also we are working on a few events related to the new wave of Argentine wines (beyond Malbec).
For the restaurant industry as a whole - education is key. More and more our guests are interested in cooking styles, where products come from, the cultural influence of a dish, etc. It’s important that we’re there to explain the facts and tell those stories. That conversation is now part of the ‘regular’ NYC dining out experience.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
I have the feeling of success when I see a familiar face in the restaurant, or book a second and third party with the same local art gallery. We earn this possibility by striving hard to provide great food and service in an ‘authentic’ way. Delicious, friendly, laid back. There are many challenges to a small business, but the benefits are the ability to speak directly to guests - and learn both about them - and from them. Their insights pave the way to your improvements, whether it’s a change to a dish or a new project!
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
Ah - that first year at Balvanera! So many ups and downs. This is the roller coaster that business owners told me about... as I quickly learned, you have to have the patience - to maintain your energy - as you mount the next peak, the gut to sustain the falls, and the internal peace to give you a good night’s sleep! I am much more durable in my thinking, my daily emotion, than I was that first year. You start understanding where you need to think micro, and where you need to think macro - and that helps you to keep your business (and your head) in check.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
Balvanera is ideal for a great dinner with friends- any time of the week. BYOB Mondays, crazy Friday and Saturday nights or chill weekend brunches. It had a good pace that allows you to enjoy a conversation and a good wine with loved ones. Speaking of which - we also get a lot of dates! It’s a cozy spot.
How do you motivate others?
Teamwork - family values - at a restaurant are essential. Everyone who works at Balvanera trusts each other. We kick off the night with a hearty family meal and the goal of good tips for a job well done at the end. For my part, I want to show the team that I’m willing and ready to tackle all aspects of the business to ensure our success - whether it’s answering phones, bussing tables, or polishing the glasses at the end of the night.
Career advice to those in your industry?
Have a good understanding of where you would like to be in the future and plan and act in accordance to your dreams. And, don’t let a bad night pull you under. Never give up. Every time it’s rained, the sun has come up after.