Photo: The Tennessean, (L-R) Mike Quinones, Cristina Gonzalez and Ricardo Turk
Ricky Turk was a mechanical engineer in his native Colombia, where he had a company repairing aircraft engines. The need to export parts from the U.S. allowed him to join his wife and three step-children living in Miami in the 1990s, and he later worked with the Colombian coffee industry, including the Juan Valdez brand. Through the years, he has had interests in green technology, construction, and other business lines befitting of an engineer.
But his other true love was cooking for friends.
“I would cook for parties and that led to catering and they always said, ‘Rico’ Ricky!, meaning it tastes very good,” Turk says. “My step-son Mike had come to Nashville to study film-making, and we fell in love with the city. It all happened from there.”
Mike Quinones, Ricky’s step-son, had launched his career path at Watkins College in Nashville in 1997.
“I’m a creative, an artist and photographer, and I explored going to New York or LA but Nashville felt like home to me,” Quinones says. “I always had to work to support my art, and we were living outside of Washington, D.C. when 9-11 happened. Everyone was being laid off, and we needed to move, so Nashville became home again.”
Ricky and Mike started a construction company offering custom carpentry, but when the bottom fell out of the housing market in 2009, they needed to create something new.
Rico Ricky Y El Gordito started in the Global Crossings Mall in a stand serving handmade empanadas, but people wanted more. Turk says that while he’d never cooked in a restaurant, he enjoyed serving people, and he and Mike expanded into a full-service restaurant in an adjacent space. There, he found a platform for sharing authentic Colombian food with Nashvillians.
“Everything here I make myself. Colombian food is very different, from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast,” he explains. “This menu shows the range from inland to coastal.”
Dishes range from chicharones and pork sausage with fried eggs to beef steak, cornbread and slow-simmered beans to avocado, fried plantains and other fruits and vegetables.
The scratch-made sauces make the meal, such as the suegra, with chile arbol, macerated garlic, onion and vinegar and the more traditional salsa Aji that is made special with Colombian spices.
Mike says some customers are bold and adventurous with food and will try anything, and others stick to the same things they’re used to all the time.
“We want to cater to both of them – one will be attracted to something very authentic, very unique in flavor,” he says. “Others maybe something more familiar, like what you would find in a fajita. The funny thing is, once they try the authentic dishes, they love them.”
He says Ricky is a natural chef, and his talents have allowed them to share their culture with locals and tourists, both through the restaurant and catering. That’s where Ricky really pulls out the secret recipes to create amazing parties.
All of it adds up to a full-circle relationship between family, friends and customers old and new.
Mike says he’s a very strong believer in the American Dream, and the opportunities that restaurants can provide to people from around the world.
“You get what you put in. I tell everyone who comes to the U.S., never look at where you’re standing. It’s where you’re going that’s the constant,” he says. “If you want to own a business, that’s where you aim to go, and it’s possible here. You can start at the bottom and make it to the top.”
Visit Rico Ricky Y El Gordito at the Global Crossings Mall, at 5252 Hickory Hollow Parkway in Antioch. To learn more, click here.