With no particular interest in food, Peter Platt never imagined owning a restaurant. Peru changed that.
While working for Mercy Corp there, Platt sampled the culinary wonders of the capital city, Lima. When his Mercy Corp gig was up in 2001, he returned home to Portland and, with his friend Jaime Saavedra, started a Peruvian restaurant called Andina at 1314 N.W. Glisan St.
“The idea came from a friend who became an investor, then a chef willing to bring Peru to Portland,” Platt says. “So we had enough to go on.”
All they needed was a place to cook. Within a few weeks, they came across a landlord who knew Peruvian food – a rare find in 2003 before anyone heard of quinoa. Platt rented a space in the soon to be booming Pearl District in Northwest Portland.
“The story line is serendipity,” Platt says. “It wasn’t something I had a burning desire to do, it just by chance came about.”
Now, with $9 million in sales a year, 160 employees and 13 years later, Andina is one of the largest restaurants in Portland – and one of the largest Peruvian restaurants outside of Peru. This restaurant is nationally renowned and continues to be a destination restaurant for foodies.
Through all of this, Platt has a clear understanding of what makes a successful business: its people.
“Everyone talks about restaurants as if they are about food. They are, but from an operations business, it’s about people 100 percent. Hospitality isn’t something you can fake.”
At Andina, the secret to Platt’s success is obvious: There’s no place like it.
“What we try to do is introduce people to Peruvian culture through food. All of the dishes on the menu have a story and that is part of our service model. We are very narrative focused.”
And then there is Andina’s secret weapon, Doris Platt, Peter’s mother. She was born in Peru and remains close to the culture.
“My mom goes table-to-table most nights and talks about Peru,” Platt says. Andina – and Doris – have been known to inspire customers to book a ticket to Lima.
“We have gotten all kinds of postcards that people send us from Peru because they have been influenced enough, they felt they needed to visit,” Platt says
Every night at Andina, a traditional Peruvian guitarist plays live music, similar to the ambiance of a restaurant in Peru. Some customers say it is like getting a warm hug.
“Andiana is really fresh and Interesting. The atmosphere is incredibly different for Portland and very exciting,” says customer Tracy Bagli. In fact, Bagli enjoyed her experience so much, she decided to have her daughter’s high school graduation party catered by Andina.
Beyond drawing customers for the unique experience that is offered at Andina, Platt has lured a loyal work force as well.
“What makes Andina so unique is it’s not just about food or the customer,” says Kelly McDonald, health and relations director for Andina. “It is also about the passion for the Peruvian culture. I didn’t know a lot about the culture and now I can’t wait to go.”
That knowledge comes from Doris Platt. ‘Mamma’ Platt meets with staff members regularly to teach the history and culture of Peru.
“When people come to Andina they understand that we are different. We are sincere and genuine about how we do things,” says Walter Espinosa, general manager.
After more than a decade in the Pearl, Platt plans to open another restaurant soon. He says he will aim for more fast-casual dining, another take on Peruvian food.
“This will be based on Peruvian street food but developed around a brand based on sustainability.”
Considering Andina’s success, this restaurant should come with a plane ticket.
This is the second story in a four part series about food in Portland.
Favorite Andina dish:
Ceviche, empanadas and the duck entree
Family: just married
Born: Lima, Peru
Grew up: Corvallis
Hobbies: theater, music, outdoors, books, movies, HBO dragon dramas
Fun fact: part of the opening team for The Box, a New York City lower east side club described by the New York Times as “an epicenter of louche.”
Favorite Portland restaurant: Langbaan (Thai)