Ironically, Giovanni Fesser (a.k.a. Pastelito Papi) didn’t want to make a guava y queso pastelito when he got started. At the risk of being too traditional, it contradicted his vision for creating new, exciting and never before seen concoctions. Today though, he has his
cake pastelito and can eat it too; his guava is one of his best sellers while still nothing like the traditional. (Read between the lines; it’s way better.)
I met Gio, err Papi, in his lower level kitchen at Coconut Grove’s Ariete restaurant. Hard at work, testing a chicken cordon bleu pastelito, he welcomed us in and showed us around. Papi’s a pretty popular guy around town, and for good reason. He’s also one of the nicest, most humble people we’ve met. Mixing and molding pastelitos into shape in his windowless ‘corner office,’ he doesn’t seek the attention he receives. He just wants to make mindblowing pastelitos that connect us to the past with ingredients that bridge us to the future, “you will see families coming early in the morning with their kids.” “…it makes you feel really good because they’re growing up eating these.”
Asked about the name, which I personally love, Gio at first wasn’t too excited about it.
I’ve tried his guava y queso, frita and PB&J pastelitos. Not to mention a spoonful of his guava puree straight from the bucket; it’s sourced locally. I then took my dad to Chugs Diner in Coconut Grove (where Pastelito Papi sells his pastelitos) and ordered a guava and cheese for him. He put it in his mouth, expecting a standard pastelito and burst out, eyes wide open, “that’s a good pastelito!”
I don’t think he was expecting what was on his plate.
To that point, I’m sure that anyone who’s tasted his work will agree with me that the Papi is indeed a papi. He’s an artist. And, he’s intentional with the decisions he makes. Standing over his shoulder, watching him make his masterpieces, it’s clear that he puts serious thought into every aspect of what he’s creating.
Fesser became the Pastelito Papi by happenstance through his work with his longtime friend and Miami restaurateur, Michael Beltran. Beltran, of Ariete Hospitality Group, suggested that Gio make a head cheese pastelito for a Food & Wine event they were hosting. He did and the things went flying: they were gobbled up.
From that point on Gio couldn’t get the pastelitos out of his head. He did some local research and realized that nobody in town was making much other than the traditional guava and carne treats. He and Beltran agreed to test a few for brunch at Ariete. First they sold five.
Then Gio became the Pastelito Papi.
Asked about the name, which I personally love, Gio at first wasn’t too excited about it. He tells us that when he told Beltran that he wanted to make more pastelitos, his response was, “yeah man, you’re going to be the Pastelito Papi!”
Gio’s response was a quick, “no man, no, no, no.”
“I didn’t like the name at first.”
It grew on him though and the marketability of the brand became pretty obvious.
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Gio’s pastelitos have made it into the hands of celebrities like Gloria Estefan, French Laundry chef Thomas Keller and more. Yet, talking to him about it, and the future, one can still see a sense of awe in his eyes, “I just can’t believe it. In my mind I’m just making pastelitos.”
Just making pastelitos or not, Fesser is a talented chef. He thinks beyond what’s been done in the past, using new ideas and quality local, seasonal ingredients.
His pastelitos are available at Chug’s Diner in Coconut Grove, Miami, with additional locations coming soon. He’s working on expanding his output so that he can sell pastelitos at more locations. And, while growing beyond Miami is interesting to him, right now he’s focused on making the best pastelitos in his hometown, for the people who love his product the most.
I’m one of those people who love his creations. They’re delicious. If you’re in town, look him up. Thank me later.
And for the record, I don’t have a dog in this fight; I just love it when good people make great products. Gio’s right up there with both and he deserves all the success that comes his way.