WILLIAMSBURG — The night life scene in Williamsburg has just gotten bigger.
John and Renee Harrell opened El Patio Mexican Restaurant in New Town in February 2021. Just a year later, they rebranded the restaurant to now serve authentic Peruvian cuisine, with plans to open up a lounge next door.
Opening a Peruvian restaurant had always been a dream for the husband and wife.
“When we opened the restaurant, we realized it would be very expensive to try to transition to a Peruvian restaurant because it’s a lot different than Mexican cuisine,” Harrell said. “So we opened the restaurant as a Mexican restaurant to prevent overspending, and we kept it that way for about a year in hoping that maybe it would be successful that way.”
“But realizing that there’s over fifteen Mexican restaurants in the Williamsburg area, there was a lot of competition to deal with,” he added.
When John and Renee saw the opportunity to make their transition this year, they did.
It started when a friend of the Harrell’s introduced them to Pedro Lopez, a senior executive chef from Miami who is of Peruvian nationality and has opened and created menus for several restaurants.
“He created a really nice menu for us, made it very simple with only a few items to start with,” Harrell said.
The transition from El Patio Mexican Restaurant to Pisco 51 happened in just three days in February.
“We shut down for three days, repainted the restaurant, created the website and Facebook page, took the sign down on the storefront and ordered a new one with the name change, printed out new menus, brought in new food,” he said. “And within three days, we were open and serving.”
The menu includes popular items such as Lomo saltado, a Peruvian steak stir fry with onions and soy sauce diluted with wine, and Ceviche, a fresh white fish dish marinated in lime juice and served with cancha.
One of their biggest sellers is the Pisco Sour, a drink made from Pisco, a brandy that originates from Peru.
“We make a couple different flavors of the sour,” Harrell said. “It’s a very popular drink.”
Since transitioning to a Peruvian menu, Harrell said that the income has gotten better.
Only open 5-9 p.m. on weekdays, Pisco 51 now makes the same amount of money or more in a fraction of the time that El Patio was open.
“What we would make in like a 12 hours a day, we now make in a four hour day,” he said. “So that’s got us very excited because it’s showing us that people are interested in trying a new cuisine or trying a familiar cuisine that they couldn’t get before in the area.”
Since the rebrand, Harrell said that the restaurant has seen many Peruvian customers coming in, which added pressure for the owners, as Harrell noted that food is a passion for Peruvians. The World Travel Awards voted Peru as the best culinary destination for eight consecutive years.
“When a Peruvian comes into the restaurant, you know that they’re judging everything on that plate,” he said. “So they’re always a little bit skeptical, but at the same time they’re very excited because they know there’s nowhere else close by that they can go to. And when they taste the food and see the quality of the food, that’s when they become happy, because then they realize ‘Yes, we can come back here.’ And we always ask them for suggestions.”
When customers eat at Pisco 51, they know they are eating what was made fresh that day.
“Everything is made fresh in the morning and used during that day, and thats it,” Harrell said. “We try to keep everything quality. We don’t even have a microwave in the kitchen. That’s something the chef wanted to make sure of. He said ‘I don’t ever want a microwave in the kitchen.'”
Pisco 51 also maintains the entertainment component that El Patio had, with the restaurant still hosting its popular Drag Bingo and karaoke nights.
The couple leased a space next door to use for entertainment and special events, and are currently working on turning it into a lounge that will eventually have standing tables and VIP booths with bottle service.
The space currently has a bar and a stage, with blacked out windows for private event purposes.
“Now that we’ve transitioned over into the entertainment space, we were a little bit concerned about the reaction of having a space like this in Williamsburg,” Harrell said. “But the reaction that we’ve been getting from people is excitement because they realize that now there’s a place for them to go out and do something. And people have been dying to do something besides staying at home.”
Harrell said that the goal is to eventually host stand-up comedy nights, salsa dancing nights, country nights and murder mystery theatre nights.
People can also rent out the space for events such as birthday parties or corporate trainings.
Currently, Pisco 51 hosts open mic nights on Tuesdays, drag bingo on Wednesday nights and karaoke on Thursday nights.
During the weekend, customers can come out on Fridays from 7-10 p.m. for karaoke, and then there is a DJ from 10 p.m.-2 a.m. On Saturdays, there is a DJ from 10 p.m.-2 a.m.
The fan-favorite event is Drag Bingo, hosted by Robert Kyle.
“He does such a great job,” Harrell said. “He’s so good at interacting with the people, and people really enjoy him. I was skeptical at first at how Williamsburg would react to having that kind of an event, but it has been so positive, and it makes me feel good because I feel like this is a safe place for him, it’s a safe space for anybody to come whether it’s LGBTQ or whoever, they feel safe here.”
Harrell said that he is pleased with the atmosphere that Pisco 51 brings.
“I would be happy if this place was to break even, as long as I got to spend time with people who were having a good time,” Harrell said.