Carlos Flores already owned Baccano Barbering Company in downtown Riverhead. Everyday, just a few hundred feet around the corner, he would walk by an empty restaurant at 33 East Main Street — the site of the former Mazi.
“I would always peek in and tell my father, ‘You got to open something up,” he said. Around that same time, Flores’ father, who invests in businesses with him, was also telling him about a popular food truck doing business in Southampton called El Che BBQ.
“One day I parked my car, and I watched the sales that he was doing,” he said. “I watched him for about three months. And then I approached him.” Flores asked husband and wife team Fabian Diessler and Stella Maris Mayorga if they would be interested in opening a restaurant.
“What I do is I invest in people and ideas,” Flores said. “A few weeks went by and then Diessler ended up knocking on my door, and we sat down and we gave the birth of this restaurant.”
Flores wanted to bring an upscale feel to the Argentinian steakhouse food Diessler and Mayorga were serving on their truck. He kept the same food — an array of meats seasoned only with salt, traditionally cooked with wood, and served with an Argentinian chimichurri sauce of basil and garlic — and is adding craft cocktails, white tablecloths and, eventually, live tango, the dance from Argentina.
“We aren’t just an Argentinian steakhouse,” said staffer Marcela Pinto. “We also want to introduce Argentinian culture.”
In opening the restaurant, the Che team redid some of the interior to make it have a modern industrial feel. A white brick wall served as the background to the bar, which they remodeled. Shelving, which holds Argentinian wines that Che will eventually be serving, were made by Flores and Diessler by hand. They took 10-foot planks and scored them to give them a dark, burnt look and hung by industrial pipes. They also brought in new appliances, including a special grill used in Argentinian barbecue.
After investing in the space, Che Steakhouse opened for takeout at the end of April, despite the restrictions COVID-19 put on them.
“This idea was conceived way before this pandemic even hit,” Flores said. “Unfortunately, we weren’t going to just stop everything. I had too much invested.” What it did lead to was a less than typical restaurant opening, which included a Zoom health inspection when the office shut down. But Flores said the delay in opening the brick and mortar of the restaurant has helped them get started.
“When I first walked by, I thought this was a turnkey investment,” he said. “But when I got in here, there were a lot of things that I did not see from the window, which generally happens. But it helped us in a way to open during a pandemic because we didn’t have the high payroll or the high insurance or the high expenses – it helped us develop budgeting.”
If you’re interested in trying some of the Argentinian food from Che Steakhouse, they are open Tuesday to Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. for takeout or delivery via Doordash. Some of their popular dishes are the Parrillada Che, a plate of short rib, flap steak, chorizo, chicken and pork tenderloin, the Buenos Aires steak, the empanadas and the choripan, a traditional Argentinian sausage served with peppers and chimichurri sauce. And for the non-meat eaters, they have pasta dishes, salads and even a seafood paella.
For now, the team at Che are happy to be open in some small way, but are eager to officially open their doors to the community. And with their large outdoor space in the back, they hope to have some kind of seating once outdoor dining is allowed again. For Flores, the opening of Che Steakhouse brings him one step closer to advancing downtown Riverhead.
“My goal is to push this community to grow,” Flores said. “It’s why I brought the barbershop here. It’s why I have my personal office here, why I invested in this restaurant and why I hope to invest in other establishments, restaurants and other businesses here.”
33 E Main St, Riverhead, 591-0800