CINCINNATI — College Hill is becoming an international food destination, and it’s about to add a unique Puerto Rican restaurant run by two Procter & Gamble engineers who love to cook.
“It’s a dream come true, right?” said Arnaldo Vazquez. “From thinking, ‘Man, I cannot find this food here’ and then for us to bring this concept to reality — it just feels really good!”
Co-founders Vazquez, from Puerto Rico, and Guillermo Vidal, who grew up in Miami, are bringing a piece of the island with their restaurant, Mashed Roots, and counting on winning over more Cincinnati palates.
“The first bite, you can see that beautiful smile and it never fails,” said Vasquez.
“People fall in love with the food like we did,” said Vidal, “so we said, ‘It’s time!’”
Their specialty is Mofongo - a Puerto Rican base made from fried and mashed plantains infused with flavors from different countries — including Brazil.
“You get to fill them with your choice of protein, veggie, and sauce,” Vidal said.
Vidal said that makes them unique in Cincinnati.
“I would argue that there’s no one we have found doing fast, casual Mofongo, especially bringing in flavors from other countries,” Vidal said.
“That was something that since we moved here about 18 years ago we wanted to find,” Vazquez said, “and we could not find it until now that we have Mashed Roots.”
The engineers started expanding into the restaurant business a few years ago.
“We started through the incubator — Findlay Kitchen has been a great start," Vidal said. "Through that we got connected with Findlay Market.
“For the last three years we’ve been popping up on the weekends through the summer at Findlay Market to understand if the Midwest and Cincinnati was open and ready for this idea.
“We also realized that he wasn’t going back to Puerto Rico, I wasn’t going back to Miami,” said Vidal, born to a Brazilian mother and Cuban father. “Our roots are now here and so we wanted to be able to share with other folks who are from the area part of our heritage.”
As much as they love to cook, Vazquez said P&G will still be their full-time job.
“We’re engineers. We’re not chefs. We’re not cooks,” he said. “We have a good team around us who help us.”
Mashed Roots will take over a location on Hamilton Avenue with plans to open by the end of summer. And College Hill can’t wait, said Seth Walsh, executive director of the College Hill Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation.
“Oh, my god, this is like the worst kept secret in College Hill,” said Walsh, “but everyone who knows about it is so excited to have it come here.”
It’s the first brick and mortar for Mashed Roots and the first Puerto Rican restaurant of its kind in College Hill, creating a mix of cultures for the business district.
“I think it’s the first of its kind in the city of Cincinnati,” said Walsh.
And a big addition for College Hill.
"It’s going to continue the revitalization efforts that we have going on. It’s going to be a great complement to Brink Brewing Company. They don’t serve food in it," Walsh said.
"We’ve been working in revitalizing our business district here. It’s become an incredibly walkable six blocks of business district."
Walsh is already a big fan of Mashed Roots.
"They catered one of our events recently and it was one of the best foods I ever had," he said.
"They quickly gained a following that goes all the way to Dayton. People come from far and wide to see Mashed Roots. They pop up around town and downtown a lot. They were looking for a location, we were looking for a tenant, so it was a perfect marriage and we’re excited to have them."
“Have a little taste of heaven,” Vidal said of Mashed Roots, “because it’s really, really good.”