It’s nerve-wracking to open a business, and Pepito ‘Pepe’ Fierro has done it three times.
As the owner of Pepe’s Bistro, Pepe serves up vegan and vegetarian inspired Mexican dishes that feature ingredients from local farmers and vendors. The Bistro is his dream come to life, and he’s taking his third stab at making his concept stick after a few ups and downs over the past few years.
But resilience is in Pepe’s blood. He’s overcome more than just low profits and small customer turnout during his life.
Pepe was raised by a single mom who made the most out of every situation. She made little things, like meal time, an adventure by using leftovers in surprising and delicious new ways, Pepe said. She was extremely innovative and didn’t waste food, mostly because they couldn’t afford to waste.
At the age of 14 he started working in the restaurant business and dropped out of school when he was 17.
As he got older, Pepe stayed in the restaurant business even when he moved to Florida and tried out college. After a few years he dropped out to keep working. Pepe said he had so many ideas, but he never managed to find the right fit. He liked architecture and art, cooking and sustainable living techniques, but there wasn’t one degree that fit his long list of passions.
Eventually, Pepe was on the move again. He jumped in his station wagon and drove until he felt like stopping, which is how he ended up in Lincoln.
He lived out of his car for a few months while he worked and saved money for an apartment. Pepe said he felt out of place being a 37-year-old, homeless waiter, but he liked Lincoln and thought maybe it was where he could really start something of his own.
Over time, Pepe found ways to make Lincoln his home. He dug an old bike out of a dumpster and made friends at a local bike shop who graciously helped him fix up the bike to ride to work. He discovered the farmers market and the abundance of fresh, locally grown produce. And then Pepe started dreaming a little.
He thought to himself, ‘Why don’t more restaurants use this amazing produce? Why couldn’t I open a tiny shop that served fresh, vegetarian Mexican food?’
But Pepe quickly discounted his idea. After all, he was broke and opening a restaurant was definitely not a possibility. However, he started experimenting at home with vegetarian entrees that he could serve his customers, IF his dream ever became a reality.
In the meantime, Pepe kept waiting tables and fishing bike parts out of dumpsters. One day while driving around to garage sales in the Havelock neighborhood, Pepe stumbled across a space that he immediately thought would be perfect for his dreamed-up restaurant. He excitedly started sharing his idea with the woman who currently rented the space and she offered to pitch his idea to the owners.
“Oh no,” Pepe said. “I’m broke! I’m just a waiter! I couldn’t afford to do this.”
Despite all his protesting, the landlord offered Pepe an incredible deal on the space and Pepe couldn’t refuse.
So there he was, a restaurant owner with a million ideas except for where to begin. Pepe quickly furnished his space with mis-matched chairs and tables that he picked up at garage sales and decorated the walls with bike parts and other artwork. Then, he started on the food.
He focused on using seasonal vegetables and simple techniques to deliver fresh, creative entrees to his customers – and it worked. Pepe quickly gained a following of vegetarian and non-vegetarian fans who loved his simple methods and tasty food.
From 2008 to 2012, Pepe’s Bistro was located in Havelock and then he decided to move the business to Indian Village with the hope of reaching more customers. It was a big move and while it offered him more space, the flow of customers slowed down so much that he had to shut his doors in early 2016.
When this happened Pepe said he was a wreck. He’d had his dream, moved his restaurant to grow and then ended up losing what he’d worked for. He’d created a place that valued community, sustainability and championed the local farmers, but suddenly it was gone.
Then, the phone rang.
The owner of Indigo Bridge offered Pepe some space in their coffee shop to serve up food. So over the summer Pepe transformed a 10×10 area of Indigo Bridge into his mini restaurant.
He reopened Pepe’s Bistro on August 1, offering a daily special and his beloved chips, salsa and guacamole.
Pepe is relieved to be cooking again. He had a big smile on his face as he dished up roasted vegetable tacos and topped them with cabbage and pico de gallo. Despite the many ups and downs in Pepe’s story, he’s thankful for where his story has led him.
He came to Lincoln on a whim, but quickly made the city his home. He made friends, supported local businesses and added his own flair to the restaurant industry.
Pepe’s story is about resilience, asking questions, making things better and never quitting. He’s a man with lots of dreams, one of which is playing out in front of him, and the rest… well, Pepe said he’ll never be done dreaming.