At over 9,000 feet above sea level, Sucre, Bolivia — the constitutional capital of the country — impressed me right away.
I arrived in the cozy city in south-central Bolivia at 5:20 a.m. after spending three nights on a bus, so the cool air of the mountains was a nice change to the humid and super hot weather that I had encountered the previous days.
From what we had read about Sucre, we knew we wanted to settle here for a little while. The city is known for its cheap cost of living and great internet (unfortunately the internet part we found to be untrue).
The city was once very rich due to the abundance of silver and other minerals found in the vicinity. But as the minerals became more and more scarce, the people living there had to start relying mainly on commerce, the production of handcrafted materials and agriculture.
At lunch time we left our accommodations in the town centre. A couple of blocks away on a pretty little corner with a cute garden we came across the place that instantly got our attention. The sign said “Condor Café – Non Profit vegetarian restaurant” — no question about it, we had to go in and see what the place was about.
The place was full and we got the last table available. It was really well decorated and had a lovely atmosphere. The special of the day was a two-course deal: quinoa soup and broccoli souffle, with fresh watermelon juice or a dessert, all for only 30 bolivianos (about $4.37 USD).
The regular menu was small but had enough options for all kinds of appetites, from juices, tea or coffee (made with local coffee beans), snacks, soups, and main meals. Or for the ones looking for something sweet, dessert options were also available. They even offer a few locally crafted beers (ales and stouts).
While we made up our minds I decided to chat a bit with one of the men who run the place and find out how they help the community and what makes them a nonprofit restaurant.
How it all started
The café’s founder, Randall Howlett, was very pleased to answer all my questions and explained to me where the idea came from. A while back he spent some time in Guatemala working for a trekking company (Quetzaltrekkers) that invested all their profit back into the community. At the time they were looking for a way to earn extra income to invest in community projects during the low tourist season, he explained. It was then that the idea of opening a restaurant was born.
A few years later, back in Bolivia, Randall met Romina Rösinger, a Swiss girl who volunteered in his nonprofit trekking company (Condor Trekkers) in Sucre. She was finishing a degree in hospitality and was very interested in social projects and in opening a restaurant. After graduating in 2010 she returned to start the Condor Café with him. However, due to the bureaucracy in Bolivia the cafe did not open until December 2012.
At the beginning they only served teas, coffees and cakes, but by popular demand the menu soon expanded to breakfast, lunch and dinner options. Today the cafe employs 20, all local residents.
All profits from the cafe and the trekking company are invested in social projects in Sucre and in the surrounding countryside, where they take tourists to hike. Randall and Romina don’t receive any wages, just free food and coffee — which in my opinion is more than fair.
Healthy and delicious meals
After this inspiring conversation we decided to try a bit of everything. We all started with the soup of the day, which was superb. It’s fair enough to say that it was one of the healthiest meals we had in a while. Still, it wasn’t only healthy, it was super tasty. The topper was the freshly baked bread served with homemade spicy and sweet and sour sauces.
While we waited for the main courses we couldn’t resist the temptation and ordered two small local beers, one stout and a red ale. Both were approved by all.
When the main dishes arrived, they were as tasty as their size and presentation promised. The special of the day was a moist and tasty broccoli souffle topped with oven crisped cheese served on a bed of potato slices and with a crispy mixed salad.
My boyfriend’s choice was the papa rellena de queso y huevo, boiled potato filled with egg and cheese and then briefly fried to create a nice gold crispy layer on the outside. His dish was also served with salad.
Finishing our meal we were so pleased that desserts didn’t even cross our minds. It was everything we needed after spending those tiring days on buses.
More than great food
This little café was impressive, not just because of the amazing food and service they provided, but because of the nature of the business.
Condor Café focuses on projects to improve the health, nutrition and education of local communities. They also support development projects to help improve the residents’ income.
So far, they have built a library in Maragua, and provided the community of Human with a water pump and a piping systems. They have also built pools for the hotsprings in Talland and helped to equip hostels in Talula, Irupampa, Chaunaca, Maragua and Potolo. They even buy educational materials for 15 schools in the district, as well as ovens and stoves so the schools can provide meals for the children.
The company further assists its own staff, buying the necessary produce from local farmers and using them for many projects planned for the near future. The nonprofit not only intends to empower locals, but they also wish to inspire customers and pay respect to the earth.
Condor Café is located at 102 Calvo Street (Calle Calvo) in Sucre, Bolivia. The café is open Monday to Saturday from 8:30 a.m. until midnight, and on Sundays from 12:00 p.m. to midnight.