Pepe Fierro is no stranger to Lincoln’s community.
Although the segments of the community that know about him could be larger.
You see, Fierro is a bicycle guy. He also is a small-restaurant owner whose menu is purely vegetarian. He is passionate about both, as well as community, but more segments of the community need to learn about him.
His story starts back in 2008, when he opened Pepe’s Bistro, a small second-story walk-up restaurant in Havelock. His take on vegetarian Mexican food took off, and he had a steady stream of customers. Five years later, he moved his restaurant across town to the Indian Village center – a space about the same size as in Havelock, but it was at street level and more accessible.
However, after an initial surge at the new locale, customer patronage dropped off a bit. Fierro mused about a solar-powered food truck and gave it a try. He hoped the community would respond when he organized Full Moon Tango night in the Indian Village parking lot, inviting other food trucks to participate.
Fierro sighs and says that he tried to meet every customer’s need, but in the process it hurt the bistro’s business.
Over the years, what hasn’t been hurt is Fierro’s commitment to the local community. He believes in supporting local producers and buys his produce from local farmers and cheese makers. He helped establish the Lincoln Bike Kitchen, which promotes cycling as a mode of environmental and healthy transportation. While he is no longer associated with the Bike Kitchen, he has participated in fundraisers for the bike shop as well as Common Root Mutual Aid Center and other nonprofits.
Nebraska winters can be bleak. And things looked bleak for Fierro and the bistro last winter. But a call from the owner of Indigo Bridge Bookstore was a spark – if the bookstore would slightly enlarge its kitchen/coffee area, would Fierro be interested in the space?
This past August, Pepe’s Bistro opened in its new locale, among the bustling Haymarket area.
Customers can eat at any of the tables throughout Indigo Bridge, and Fierro is working on establishing by spring a sidewalk café and carryout window on the loading dock area on the west side of the Creamery building that houses Indigo Bridge.
The new kitchen is small – 150 square feet – and as such the bistro’s menu is limited, but Fierro is all smiles. “I’m hoping to slowly build the vegetarian and vegan options,” he said.
The bistro’s patronage has changed a bit with the move. The age range was “a whole mix” at the Havelock and Indian Village sites, and predominantly women. The new bistro in the Haymarket is drawing in both genders and a younger crowd – late teens/early 20s to the lower 40s.
Pepe’s Bistro menu offers the option of four items at $7.75 – a Burrito Nirvana (organic flour tortilla stuffed with black beans, rice, herb-roasted root vegetables, local cheese, organic greens and salsa fresca); Sweet Potato Wrap (organic flour tortilla layered with baked sweet potato, black beans, organic greens, sunflower seeds, salsa fresca and pomegranate/fig vinaigrette); Cubano Sandwich (freshly baked hoagie, layered and grilled with a blend of shredded seitan [wheat gluten], roasted root vegetables, onion, sweet pepper, organic mustard, pickles and Quark cheese from Branched Oak Farm in Raymond); and Black Bean Hummus Wrap (large organic flour tortilla layered with blend of black bean hummus, pico de gallo, fresh organic greens, sunflower seeds and guacamole).
Other menu offerings include Tres Tacos (three corn tortillas stuffed with herb-roasted seasonal vegetables, fresh organic greens, tomato pico de gallo and feta from Shadow Brook Farm near Lincoln, $6.75); Nachos (organic chips covered in black beans, fresh guacamole, pico de gallo, jalapenos and Mozzarella from Jisa’s in Brainard, $7.75); and a Bean and Cheese Burrito (organic flour tortilla, rice, greens and Mozzarella from Jisa’s, $4.75). A Breakfast Burrito (organic flour tortilla stuffed with a blend of local farm-fresh eggs, herb-roasted root vegetables, local cheese, organic spinach and salsa fresca, $6.75) is only available on the Saturdays during farmers’ market season when the bistro is open.
A variety of daily specials are featured, with a recent one – the Chili Relleno (poblano peppers stuffed and baked spinach, mushrooms, egg, Mozzarella, cheddar, herbs, $7.75) being a customer favorite, according to Fierro.
The concepts of local, environmental and sustainable are commitments to the community that drive Fierro. He emphasizes that people shouldn’t just come to Pepe’s Bistro to eat. “It’s to try food from different farmers … to come for the experience … and to support the soul of the community.”
It doesn’t hurt that the food also is pretty darned tasty.