Local Guide Frank reveals how he followed his passion and made the leap from living in Chicago to bringing people together through his love for good food, good wine, and great company.
It’s easy to dream about the day you’ll quit your job, find the love of your life, move somewhere exotic, and make a living doing the things you love. What’s hard? Actually doing it. Luckily for us, our amazing Local Guide Frank followed his passion for family, community, and bringing people together to start giving asado tours in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
I caught up with this adventurous expat to learn more about the true meaning of asado and how following a girl to Buenos Aires has led to the realization of dreams he never knew he had.
The short answer: a girl. In 1999, I left behind my home city of Chicago to chase a girl to Buenos Aires. That city eventually became my home, and that girl eventually became my local guide, my wife, and the mother of my children. In Buenos Aires, I started looking for things that were missing from home. One thing you really couldn’t find anywhere were cookies, like the homemade style ones. That was the inspiration behind Sugar & Spice, our gourmet cookie brand, which we started in 2002. I also noticed that there weren’t the kinds of tours available that I usually look for. Argentine culture and food is not just about going to a restaurant, getting a steak, and leaving. I really wanted to give a more authentic experience to travelers. I wanted to give travelers asado.
Note: Check out the final two questions to read Frank’s tips on entrepreneurship abroad!
An asado is the Argentine version of a barbecue, but really it is so much more. The event is a typical weekend gathering, where close friends cook traditional dishes on the open fire, drink Argentina’s famous wine, and socialize. Asado is not just food, it’s art, tradition, and, of course, it’s family.
As you can tell by my cookie business, I love food. For me, food has been a great way to get a glimpse into local Argentine life and really feel a part of the culture, which is why I wanted to share this passion with fellow travelers. Combining my culinary and entrepreneurial experience, I began hosting asado experiences to not only show visitors how to cook asado, but to share a key part of the Argentine identity.
When I first came to Buenos Aires, I was surprised by the quantity and variety of meat that was put in front of me. I quickly developed an interest in learning how to do it myself. It’s kind of like a right of passage here–fathers teach their kids how to do it. It’s usually a patriarchal thing. People invite you to their house and spend the whole day cooking, usually on a Sunday. So, I wanted travelers to get to see what family and friends do on the weekends. When people travel, they have a curiosity about what it’s like to live there–what the day to day is like. This [tour] goes towards satisfying those types of questions. Part of the tour is going around the neighborhood and going over the history. I show pictures of the old neighborhood and talk to the people at the wine store, the butcher, the bakery, and we go to a store that makes knives by hand. It’s a way more enriching and interactive experience than you would ever get.
Looking back, food was a large part of my life, but I just didn’t realize it. I lived in an Italian neighborhood, so we were invited to neighbors’ homes a lot. The whole day was about preparing dinner, starting from scratch. We’d have whole rabbits, with the women killing them by hand. With my mom being from Mexico, I never really ate at Mexican restaurants, it was all home cooking. It kind of spoiled me! It made me a picky eater. I’m used to great, home-cooked food. Coming to Argentina…, well, Argentina is blessed with a lot of resources. It has great food!
There’s a lot of influence from the Italian and Spanish immigrants, but also from the gauchos who lived here. It surprises people that Argentinians tend to eat their steak overcooked. Maybe it’s because the gauchos in the field eat everything–[which is why] all the ‘offals’ are popular in Argentina. The gauchos probably had these really large pieces of meat that needed to be cooked right away and cooked a lot. That seeped into home and weekend culture.
If you’re like me, then you are probably very inspired by Frank’s story and amazed by his fearlessness and willingness to take a leap of faith and start his own company. Lucky for us, he was willing to share what he’s learned and the advice he’d give to individuals on the verge of entrepreneurship.
It was a hard road. In the beginning, it’s always the hardest because you’re a nobody. No one becomes very enthusiastic about your idea in the very beginning. With Argentina in particular, the obstacle was that it was hard to predict what’s going to happen from one year to the next. Super high inflation was very difficult. I jumped from dealing with small mom and pop stores to national companies. The process of getting into the supermarket [for Sugar & Spice] took two years. There was a lot of accumulation of problems and difficulties in the path. But, it was easier with my asado tours because I wasn’t thinking of scale. [Asado is] thought of as a high-end intimate, small group type of activity, so the problems are different. I’m not dealing with production or presentation, but the biggest obstacle is getting the word out. Mouth to mouth is the slowest, but also the one that works the best.
If you have an idea that you really believe in, you should go for it. However, on the flip side, I see this type of romanticism about entrepreneurship. Not all ideas are good ones. Just because you like it doesn’t mean it will work. Do research, find mentors, bounce it off of different people. After trying to shoot it down, if it’s still within you to still go ahead with it, you should definitely still do it.
Want to experience Frank’s asado tour for yourself? Book here!
Because we LOVE our Local Guides, here is a lightening Q&A with Frank to hear about his preferences, experiences, and recommendations for travel in Latin America.
This has to do with food, mostly. I went there for business for a few days and everything I ate was fantastic. The food blew my mind! I’d love to go back.
This is very general, but the mountain and lake regions are absolutely beautiful!
The people are beautiful-looking, the city has a faded elegance about it and looks sexy, tango looks sexy–it’s almost like sex is in everything! I’ve never seen so many of the motels by the hour. They’re called telos. The thing is that here, when kids grow up, they don’t leave the house to go to school. They live in the homes with their parents until a much older age. So, there’s a lack of privacy. You have that group [visiting the telos]. Married couples go, too. It’s also used by people to have affairs and whatnot. It’s just part of what it is.
The whole thing is very hands-on and I’m always showing [the travelers] everything. When people come here, they’re the ones who start the fire and make the chimichuri. I have them cut the fruit and put all the components together. I show them how to do it. My favorite part is seeing their reactions after trying something for the first time and seeing how much they like it. It’s hard to put Argentina into words–you just need to experience it!
Malbec grapes make wines that go best with steak, but they have such a huge variety now. It’s weird, when I first got here, there were always the same brands of wine, and they really didn’t have that many. Around 2005, you really started to see a huge variety of wines. Before then, I could have said easily what [my favorite wine] was. Now, there are so many, so it’s easier to talk about the grape.
Well, I’ve never gone to Machu Picchu. But, I’ve also never gone to Easter Island. Venezuela is supposed to be beautiful, Bolivia as well. I’ve been just about everywhere else.
Portuñol is a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese. It’s not official–when Brazilians come down or Argentinians go up, both do the same sort of thing. We end up understanding each other in this made-up mixture of a language. Brazilians speak Portu and throw in Spanish words and Argentinians speak Spanish and throw in some Portu words.
A year ago, you’d bring cash and forget credit cards. Now, it’s easier to use credit cards–but don’t rely only on them. It’s a cash economy here. It’s easy to go into a shop that accepts credit cards and [for them to] say that the machine’s not working.
This historic center has the most bang for your buck. You have the pink house, the cathedral, Avenida 9 de Julio–lots of history and sightseeing. La Recoleta is a nearby cemetery you can visit for the history of all the people resting there. Advance through there and see nearby museums on the way to el Bosque de Palermo, the biggest neighborhood in Buenos Aires with the biggest park in the city. Then visit Palermo Viejo, where the tour takes place. It’s a residential area that changed dramatically since the financial crisis of 2001 and is now one of the city’s hottest neighborhoods!
Written by Colleen O’Connor