A dream fulfilled: Brothers are having success in downtown Holyoke operating the region’s only Colombian restaurant

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  • Juan Uribe Sr., father of brothers Juan and Gilberto Uribe, makes arepas con todo, or corn cakes with chicken, beef, roast pork and cheese, for a lunchtime customer at El Paraiso Colombiano restaurant in Holyoke last Friday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Customers Aaron Vega, left, of Holyoke and Lomax Campbell of Rochester, New York, have several dishes served by Juan Uribe Jr. and Carolina Ocampo, right, during their lunch at El Paraiso Colombiano on High Street in Holyoke last Friday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Juan Uribe pours a shot of aguardiente, a Columbian spirit distilled from sugar cane, at El Paraiso Colombiano restuarant in Holyoke on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A strawberry marguerita and a cognac and passion fruit, made with passion fruit pulp from Columbia, are two of the signature drinks at El Paraiso Colombiano restaurant in Holyoke. Photographed on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Gilberto Uribe prepares a lunch order in the kitchen of El Paraiso Colombiano restaurant in Holyoke on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Estella Valenica makes empanadas de pollo in the kitchen of El Paraiso Colombiano restaurant in Holyoke on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A strawberry marguerita at El Paraiso Colombiano restaurant in Holyoke. Photographed on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Juan Uribe pours a shot of aguardiente, a Columbian spirit distilled from sugar cane, at El Paraiso Colombiano restuarant in Holyoke last Friday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Sopa de polla was the special of the day on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022, at El Paraiso Colombiano restaurant in Holyoke. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Carolina Ocampo takes a bowl of sopa de polla, the special of the day, out to lunch customers on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022, at El Paraiso Colombiano restaurant in Holyoke. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A shot of aguardiente, a traditional Columbian spirit distilled from sugar cane, is poured at El Paraiso Colombiano restuarant in Holyoke on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • An order of empanadas de res at El Paraiso Colombiano restaurant in Holyoke. Photographed on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 1/12/2022 8:10:16 PM

HOLYOKE — When Juan and Gilberto Uribe were growing up in Holyoke, their friends would always ask them: “Whenever your father or mother cooks, please call me.”

Now, the whole region can come to the Paper City and enjoy the family’s traditional Colombian cooking.

In April, the Uribes opened El Paraiso Colombiano at 351 High St. The restaurant’s menu is full of traditional dishes like bandeja paisa — a plate filled with rice, beans, fried plantains, fried pork belly, steak, chorizo, egg and an arepa. Everything is made from scratch, Juan Uribe said, from his father’s well-known hot sauce to the restaurant’s natural herb seasonings.

“Everything is fresh,” Uribe said. “Everything we make at the moment.”

Uribe said that El Paraiso Colombiano is the only Colombian restaurant “from here all the way to Hartford.” And already, he said people from across the area have come to eat empanadas, watch sports or listen to a DJ play music later in the evenings.

Now, last month, the Holyoke Redevelopment Authority announced that it had helped the restaurant secure a Center City Liquor License — a program approved by the state Legislature that allows downtown restaurants to apply for liquor licenses at a lower cost that, unlike open market liquor licenses, stay with the business and can’t be transferred or sold.

Uribe said that the ability to have a bar is very helpful, but that it’s the restaurant’s food that draws the most people in.

Starting a restaurant was always a thought in Uribe’s mind, he said. But for a long time, it seemed like just that, he added.

“It all started as just a dream,” he said. “It was something that we spoke about in our family forever.”

Those conversations began with the empanadas Uribe’s grandma used to make, which the family would order — as many as a hundred at a time — for big events. At first, they thought about creating a small business, selling empanadas to go. But Uribe said his parents were always terrific chefs, so they ultimately decided to open a restaurant.

Opening a restaurant is already a challenging endeavor under normal circumstances. Now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more difficult.

“It’s definitely not easy, but we’ve been making it happen,” Uribe said.

Uribe said it helped that he had owned a business before — a tattoo parlor — but that the work of running a restaurant is completely different.

But as native Holyokers, Uribe said the city has been incredibly generous in supporting the family’s business.

“It’s something that’s a dream come true,” he said. “To see all the support we’ve gotten since we opened is amazing.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.

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