By Carolyn Tamler
Graham and Iliana Gori have created a new dining experience on South Whidbey. The Portico Latin Bistro on First Street in Langley features Latin American cuisine, which incorporates the tastes of Mexico, the Caribbean, Andean and Spanish.
Graham believes many people have never experienced authentic Latino food; he hopes to educate people about this cuisine. “There is a need here for people to savor the tastes of food that originated in sun-drenched lands, and we want people to enjoy our healthy and delicious food in a comfortable, intimate atmosphere.”
Graham grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. He attended college at Oregon State University, and while there he learned about Cuba. In 1999, he traveled to Cuba and worked at a newspaper there for two years before traveling to Mexico City, then to New York and to Bolivia where he continued to build his credentials as a journalist.
He returned to Mexico City in the early 2000’s and met Iliana, who grew up in Mexico City. Iliana had developed a career in art restoration. They married in 2004. The two of them realized that they shared a dream to own a restaurant one day.
Graham and Iliana both had excellent cooking coaches in their respective grandmothers (Graham’s was Italian and Iliana’s was Mexican), and they knew they had the cooking expertise to create a restaurant. Graham says, “I always knew I could cook.”
In 2005, they purchased a bakery in Guanajuato. They began baking and making fresh pastas for friends. In six months, they decided to expand the bakery into a restaurant. They named the restaurant “El Abue” (short for abuello which is grandmother in Spanish), built a wood fire oven and became regular shoppers in the neighborhood markets where they purchased their herbs and fresh produce. El Abue was a success, and the business flourished for 3-1/2 years.
Shortly after they opened their restaurant, Graham and Iliana welcomed their first child. Soon, they had three children, and they decided they wanted to raise their children in a more rural environment. Graham’s mother and brother lived on Bainbridge Island, and they had shared their love of the Northwest with him.
Graham and Iliana’s children had been attending a Waldorf school in Mexico, and they wanted to have them go to a Waldorf School when they moved. They began researching Waldorf school locations in the Seattle area. Iliana learned there was an opening for a Spanish teacher at the school on Whidbey Island. When she was offered the job, the family decided to make the move.
A year and a half ago they arrived on Whidbey. Iliana started her job at the school and Graham found a job as a line cook at the Braeburn Restaurant. They kept thinking about continuing their dream and owning a restaurant on Whidbey.
They learned about the Kickstarter Program from a librarian, and put together a $16,000 proposal for the restaurant. Within a month of posting, they had gotten commitments for over the $16,000.
The Portico is occupying a former wine tasting site on First Street overlooking a beautiful water view. The new space includes seating for 24 inside and another 20 on the deck when the weather is right.
In addition to their ethnic specialties, Portico believes that the food served should be healthy, safe (no additives or preservatives), and local, as much as is possible. Graham hopes to educate people about what Latino food is, while providing an intimate, convivial place to “come and forget yourself.”
Current hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. For more information about Portico Latin Bistro, call the restaurant at 360-221-8141.
Monday, 13th April 2015, 07:00pm.