Making it Happen on Main
WORDS BY ABBY WEINGARTEN
PHOTOS BY CHAD SPENCER
A conversation with Ambrish Piare—whether about his former high-powered corporate career, his current trio of Main Street hotspots, or where he’s traveled and what he’s tasted— always ends on a poetic, philosophical note that far transcends small talk.
Piare is the driven Dutch businessman behind Jalea (previously Sangria), Café Americano, and Ivory Lounge—three swank locales in downtown Sarasota over which he took ownership in December 2011.
Ask Piare about staff management and he’ll delve into the kind of motivational prose that could lift any employee out of deep disgruntlement. Talk to him about food and he’ll describe dishes he has sampled on each continent, with a language so textural and rich it feels like relishing a virtual, vicarious meal.
“I’ve eaten in every restaurant,” Piare says. “I’ve lived a lot and I’ve seen a lot.” Now Sarasota is reaping the benefits of Piare’s worldliness, his palate, and his vast entrepreneurial vision.
When he was only 17, Piare (originally from Utrecht in the Netherlands) began his first company, importing and exporting fruits and vegetables from Asia, South America, and Africa to Europe. He ran the wholesale and distribution operation in Europe and had three shops in which he peddled his products.
At 22, he sold the company and ventured into the information technology (IT) industry. After serving as the IT manager for Shell Benelux, he became the vice president of IT in Europe for TKE, a multinational company, in Germany. He maintained that position until 2011, all the while managing other small businesses he had started (enterprises in the fruit and vegetable trade, the catering field, the Indian clothing market, and the IT sphere). “In October 2011 I decided it was time for a change and to enjoy my family more, as I had been traveling six days a week with my job,” Piare says. “I sold all my businesses and gave my notice at TKE. If you’re in the third-largest company in the world, the pressure is 24-7. You become numb. If you have the ability to disable your emotions, that becomes very dangerous. I was too absorbed in what I did.”
So he stopped. His family (wife, Jose, and children Jay, now 13; Ezra, 11; and Sela, 7) was living in Kapelle, the Netherlands, at the time. They had been visiting Southwest Florida for eight years before falling in love with the landscape and deciding to put down roots.
“Our house and all of our stuff is still in Kapelle,” Ambrish Piare says, adding that he and his family recently made a home in Lakewood Ranch.
On the business front, Ambrish Piare scooped up and re-imagined three addresses along Main Street. He turned Sangria into Jalea in July 2013, enhanced the menu at Café Americano, and made Ivory more sophisticated with a 650-gallon fish tank and a lineup of coveted global entertainment. Jalea became a hub for modern Peruvian fare, with dishes inspired by ingredients from Lima, as well as traditional Spanish tapas. Sangria, which had been a longtime fixture in Sarasota, merged with the local Peruvian favorite Maemi. With a niche Peruvian-Spanish menu brought to life by Executive Chef Ricardo Jara, as well as a remodeled interior, Jalea began drawing larger crowds and wowing new taste buds.
“Sangria was here for eight or nine years and there was no chef, just cooks. Now we have Ricardo who used to work at Maemi and Darwin’s on 4th,” Ambrish Piare says. “That made all the difference, and you can taste it.”
Some of the famed menu items include the Leche de Tigre (a creamy, savory ceviche with a cilantro kick, served in a wine glass); the signature Jalea (breaded mixed seafood with marinated onions, tomato, and corn, served with fried yucca and Peruvian tartar sauce); Chupe de Camarones (shrimp bisque with egg and vegetables); and Antichuchos (beef tenderloin or chicken brochette with Aji Panca, fingerling potatoes, and homemade green sauce).
Café Americano, under Executive Chef Juan Gomez, serves casual Italian eats such as classic frittatas, hot-pressed panini, organic salads, homemade pastas, locally caught fresh seafood, and more than 300 wines. The Speck e Scamorza (sautéed wild mushroom with speck and Scamorza cheese); the Vitello Saltimbocca (veal medallions with prosciutto, sage, mozzarella, and mashed potatoes); and the Lasagna Bolognese (with béchamel, meat sauce, and mozzarella) are among the favorites.
And of course, after dinner at either nearby spot, Ivory caters to the posh partiers and A-listers. The upscale nightclub—reminiscent of South Beach with its chic, modern décor— pulses with progressive urban beats and well-dressed clientele. “Cream Thursdays” feature drag queen revues, and on the week ends resident DJs spin as VIPs pop champagne bottles. Keeping the morale and goals high in a world of exhausting nocturnal revelry can be a challenge, so Ambrish Piare ensures that his employees are always at the top of their game.
“The people who work for me need to be motivated. At one point, I wanted to reach double what we were doing at Ivory. When the staff reached that goal, I surprised them with a trip to Vegas,” Ambrish Piare says. “We had 12 rooms at Caesar’s Palace, three cabanas and VIP service. At that age (many of the people in the service industry are fairly young), they all need a little bit of coaching. They need to believe in themselves and to be pushed. This was a great lesson for them.”
Even with all this on his plate, Ambrish Piare still has bigger dreams for his new home city. He is also financing “Vaudeville,” a variety show that will grace the Sarasota Opera House in the spring with world-class professionals and local acts.
Ambrish Piare’s scope is always expanding. He has left the stresspacked, rapid-paced world of constant travel and corporate demands to connect with his family, be his own boss and live in full color.
“Many people are not able to stop what they are doing in their careers, even if they want to. If you can’t answer the question of why you’re doing this, then it’s time to stop,” Ambrish Piare says. “I was able to stop. I feel sorry for those who don’t know how to stop. The key really lies in simplifying everything.”
That’s where the flavor is.
Jalea: 1532 Main St, Sarasota; 941-955-8272; jaleasarasota.com.
Café Americano: 1409 Main St, Sarasota; 941-365-1026; cafeamericanosrq.com.
Ivory Lounge: 1413 Main St, Sarasota; 941-388-7869; ivorysarasota.com.