Oliveros grew up working on his family’s farm in Guatemala, and when he moved to New York at the age of 16, it was American food that was the biggest shock.
“We grew up thinking that we had nothing – we had limited money and we wanted so many things we couldn’t have, and we forgot to appreciate the food,” he says. “We had fresh milk from the cows, fresh eggs from the chickens and beans and vegetables from the backyard. Our breakfast was made from scratch every morning, and when I moved to the U.S., I was introduced to something completely different. The food looked amazing, but it tasted like nothing to me. I remember having such culture shock and not getting the same joy from food.”
Oliveros attended night school and spent his days working in the seafood department at a local grocery store, which served as his introduction to a variety of crustaceans and very large fish. But his boss, “an amazing fishmonger,” wouldn’t allow or teach him how to cut or scale the fish, so Oliveros carefully observed his techniques.
Eventually, one of his colleagues allowed Oliveros to cut the tails off the salmon when the manager wasn’t around. His skills improved, and when he learned of a new fish and chips place opening in Ossining, he saw it as his opportunity to finally cut fish. Oliveros began working at Lonnie’s Fish n’ Chips – a tiny takeout restaurant in a strip mall – when he was 18 years old. His only job was to cut the fish.
“After I cut the fish, I would go cook at several other restaurants,” he says. “I learned by watching other chefs, but I would also taste food. And while I’m not a critic, I would think, ‘What if it had this ingredient, or if I did that this way.’ It wasn’t because I thought it would be better, but because that’s the way I would like it to be. So, I had my own interpretation of dishes, which was a big advantage and a big problem; I wasn’t able to replicate dishes for chefs because I wanted to do my own version of things.”
Within that same year, he began cooking at Lonnie’s.
“Eventually, I was running the place, and I was only 18 years old,” he says. “The owners didn’t want to do it because it was too much work. It was 2009, which wasn’t a great time to be in the restaurant industry. Food prices kept going up, but their prices were very low – they were selling everything for only $7 and losing about $3 on every order. The owner tried to sell the business, but no one would buy it.”
About a year later, Oliveros asked his younger brother, Kevin, who was in culinary school, if he would buy the restaurant with him, and he said yes.
“We were cooking at a good level, but we were not taken seriously because we were very young,” he remembers. “So, we went to the owner and told him we wanted to buy the restaurant, and he laughed. He said, ‘With what money?’ We told him that no one else will buy the restaurant, so he was better off selling it to us and recovering some of the money. He thought about it and realized that we were the only choice. We changed the name to Brothers Fish and Chips.”