Q&A with Four Local Business Owners in Santiago’s Hippest Neighborhood

We spent Small Business Saturday with our favorite neighbors in Barrio Italia, Santiago's hippest neighborhood (though we may be biased). With a history of Italian car shops, creative furniture restoration woodworkers and a current rush of small restaurants, boutique hotels and stores, Barrio Italia is gem of contemporary Chilean culture with a charming undertone of Santiago's past.

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Damien of Dam Garden

Q: Where are you from?

A: Santiago, Chile

Q: What is Dam Garden?

A: I do everything in Dam Garden – My  main job is the editorial line of the store – products, design etc.  My store maintains the Chilean spirit while giving value to what Chile and its original creed was. Magically, I found this residential home and the owner had the desire to turn it into a commercial store. We decided to go for the concept of a boutique store that would not only feature plants but also designs, art, literature, and workshops. We wanted to have a space in which people could purchase plants but also have the opportunity to join a botanical workshop or simply rest, drink coffee and chat with a friend. The neighborhood itself (Barrio Italia) has contributed to the collaboration of the store with other artists, designers, and photographers. It’s truly a romantic story as we hadn’t planned for any this – it all happened organically. It’s amazing to see the growth of something that began small. I’ve have been here for only a year and a half. There’s not a large culture of plants so it took time for people to hear about the store and come check it out. I quit my regular job, opened the store and have been learning along the journey on how business works. It’s been a learning process that’s slow but unique.

Q: What is your favorite Santiago find?

A: Dam Garden of course! People don’t realize that the store is bigger than it appears. Then they entire the space and realize there is a garden with a variety of plants in the back. As for other unique places in Santiago, Barrio Italia is full of architects, designers, and artists who make this neighborhood a creative space. There is also a restaurant love filled with plants called La Diana who I believe used to be a former garden. Its one of the places I would go to if somewhere ask where we are going.

Q: What is your favorite plant?

A: I have a favorite plant that comes from the Fern family, however it can’t be found here. It’s a native plant from a small island of Chile called Juan Fernandez.

Harem – El Holandes Errante

Q: Where are you from?

A: Holland. I have been here for four years and started my cafe two years ago.

Q: What is El Holland’s Errante?

A: It’s a cafe where we serve, cafes, pastries and other dishes. We serve Chilean dishes but often with a twist. Our pastries are more Dutch-inspired. Chilean cuisine differs from Dutch food – there is a lot of chicken, however Chilean and dutch food are similar in others ways. They both consist of simple food or traditional plates that include potatoes, meat, and some vegetables. The food is more rustic.

Q: What is your favorite Santiago find?

A: I like Santa Lucia with the hills and nature where you can go and hike. Barrio Italia is full of lovely shops as well as Barrio Brasil where you can find some cool streets and artists.

Q: What is your favorite Dutch dish to make in Chile? Do you see similarities between Dutch and Chilean cuisine?

A: My favorite would be a dish that is called Hutspot – it’s a dish with carrots that you cook with onions and potatoes, in which you can also add meat or veggies as well as applesauce. It’s more of a winter dish as it tends to be heavy. Chilean cuisine can have a lot of these same flavors. Generally, when I think of Chilean recipes they are simple ingredients put together in a rustic way that’s reminiscent of the “campo” (countryside).

Estel of La Chiruca

Q: Where are you from?

A: Santiago, Chile

Q: What is La Chiruca?

A: La Chiruca is a cafe where we specialize in selling certain products. Originally we started as a health-oriented store and sold by bulk – we had tea, flour, legumes, brown sugar and other products that I find necessary for a home. People, however, always appeared to be in a rush and commented to me “I would rather have you make what I need.” We began the search for a new product to sell – we first decided to specialize in sandwiches, which was successful, but then eventually we dedicated the cafe to empanadas and other products such as salads and soups. Through dialogue with our customers, which we find super important, we were able to develop our specialization. People were especially drawn to our Empanadas for their freshness and also for our dough, which is vegan and made from quinoa.

Q: What is your favorite Santiago find?

A: There is a sandwich shop owned by a frenchman in my neighborhood, Bellas Artes. Everything is fresh and the people there are very friendly and have excellent customer service. In Barrio Italia on Avenida Condell there is a leather store called Manao Diseno ran by a girl named Manao. She  works on her own and she has been working incredibly hard on her store for eight years. There is also a new sandwich cafe two buildings over ran by a young man named Daniel who is also a designer. Him and his sister run the cafe together.

Q: What is your favorite empanada filling?

A: We have one that we recently began to make which consists of caramelized onions. I truly love all of them. Perhaps the spinach one is the one I eat the least but that’s just from my personal fear of getting spinach stuck in my teeth. I love the tomato basil in the evening, especially during winter. A simple but equally delicious one is the corn and cream empanada.

Nelson of Antiguedades Arismendi

Q: What is Antiguedades Arismendi?

A: We have had this store for about seven years now. We work with furniture from the 70s, from a german line called Bauhaus which specializes in spade- foot furniture.We receive fully original furniture. We are also the only ones who have vintage cinema seats.I originally began as a chef with a shop that specialized in lunches all cooked by myself. After my brother became ill, I took over the shop and fell in love with wood. My family is one of the original families of barrio italia – there are only a few families left. In the thirties these neighborhood were full of grasslands and vineyards. At the time my father even played with a cow. The roads were all dirt. Things have really changed in Barrio Italia. Nearly all the originals families have left and a lot of the old homes have become commercial stores.

Q: What is your favorite antique?

A: My favorite antique would be the cinema seats that are exclusive to our store. We have seats from nine different cinemas. We have one where you can insert photos of the family or newspapers in the backrest of the seat. Under the seat you can also find a wire where in the 30s they would use to store their hats. We are the only ones who dedicate ourselves to this type of antique and we restore them completely. It’s hard but beautiful work.