Interview w/Ryan & Evan of La Brisa Loca
I’d been staying at the La Brisa Loca Hostel in for nearly a week without meeting Ryan and Evan Dore, the Bay Area brothers who owned the place. Then one afternoon, Ryan walked into the bar and, after sharing a brief laugh with each of the bar staff, made quick work of installing a new set of shelves before hurrying back out to his newly opened restaurant Ouzo.
If you met Ryan or Evan in the U.S., you wouldn’t pick them out as successful international entrepreneurs. They each stand around 6’4, and with their wild curly hair and laid back California attitudes, they look more like guys you would expect to see on a surfer beach.
Yet in the past 28 months, the brothers have opened 3 thriving businesses in Santa Marta Colombia: a backpackers hostel La Brisa Loca, and with the help of expat chef Mike McMurdo, a Mexican restaurant Agave Azul and a Mediterranean restaurant Ouzo.
“People don’t realize how profitable hostels can be,” Evan told me. “They think, ‘how much money can you possibly make charging $10/night?’ But consider we’re able to put up to 8 people each night in dorm style rooms, add in the hostel’s own bar and restaurant—it does ok.”
Without having seen the books, I suspect this is an understatement. Returning to the hostel after a trip to Tayrona National Park 32km up the road, I asked the local cab driver if he knew the hostel’s address. Gleaming, he said “Ryan!!” and pulled out one of a dozen of the brothers’ maps from his glove compartment which showed the location of the hostel and each of their restaurants.
When the cab drivers in the next town over know your first name and are carrying around your marketing materials, I’d say you’re doing very well for yourself.
I had the chance to talk a good deal with both brothers. I was interested in how they came to launch three businesses just out of college, in a country struggling to overcome a history of security problems and corruption.
“I spent some time in the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica about 5 years ago and fell in love with the place. We always wanted to be in a somewhere with both mountains and beaches. And I remember thinking, ‘If we could have just gotten here 5 years earlier.”
“Not that Costa Rica isn’t growing. We just wanted to find a place we could really grow alongside for many years. We wanted to be there first.”
Entering Santa Marta for the first time, one cannot help but be awed by the natural beauty of the surrounding area. To your left, you see Rodadero Beach, a thriving vacation community set upon one of Colombia’s most popular beaches. To your right, the Sierra Nevada Mountain range and its snow capped peaks towering above. Factor in Tayrona National Park just to the east of Santa Marta, and you have a location that rivals the natural beauty of northern California.
Ryan and Evan traveled throughout South America for 2 years prior to settling in Santa Marta, so I asked them what other spots in South America they’d considered as alternatives.
“None,” they said firmly. “It was the first place we saw and asked ourselves, ‘Why is no one already here doing this?”
The violence that plagued Colombia’s recent history now seems a thing of the past, and while its infrastructure and business laws still have a long way to go, Colombia offers huge growth potential for those willing to dive in. 2011 1st half GDP growth came in at a staggering 6%, and the country’s tourism industry is growing at nearly 15% year over year.
Still, the brothers worry about the added competition from the 8 new restaurants that have opened in the neighborhood this last year, though I figure with kind of growth, you’re going to need a lot more than that in the coming years.
I asked Evan what advice he would give to someone else starting a business in Colombia.
“Work with the locals,” he said. “They’re thrilled that you are here and they’re the ones that know the place.”
Traveling in Colombia for the first time, I can attest to this as well. I was rather cautious upon my arrival given what I knew of Colombia’s history. Before I’d even left the airport, two strangers had invited me into their home for lunch and helped me reassemble my bicycle. To date I’ve seen nothing but hospitality and resourcefulness from the Colombian people.
Towards the end of our interview, Evan began receiving phone calls from the restaurant, and I could tell he needed to attend to business. “One final question,” I said, as he was standing up. “What are your future plans?”
“A vacation,” he responded with a laugh.
Yet another sign that business is good.