For those who weren’t born here, there’s no telling when one will feel like a true Bostonian. For some it’s their first day in the city — and for others it can take many years before one feels it’s truly home.
For Euz Azevedo, that moment came well before Patriots Day this year, when terrorists exploded two bombs on Boylston Street, the second in front of his restaurant, Forum. Azevedo, who had come here from Brazil to go to college almost 15 years ago, suddenly was thrust into the spotlight, his fledgling restaurant a landmark for the violence and he himself a symbol for Boston’s fighting spirit as he vowed to reopen as quickly as possible.
But Azevedo, 33, also embodies something very important in Boston’s changing demographic profile: the foreign entrepreneur hellbent on reshaping the city. These businesspeople tend to see Boston with a different perspective, more like the city it’s going to become than the place it is at the moment. They sense what Boston doesn’t have, and what it needs as it grows more cosmopolitan.
Azevedo’s Boston moment came when he decided, after receiving a business degree from Fisher College, that he didn’t want to go back to Brazil. He saw the city’s potential and wanted to be part of it. So he dived into the restaurant business. Azevedo got an investor visa, and now owns three other venues besides Forum, which he just reopened earlier this month. And Azevedo is just getting started: The Marathon bombings, while deeply scarring, are not slowing him down.
Luckily for Azevedo, his family had the means to give him a start in the restaurant business. He knew nothing about it, and his career is a study in trial and error — and sheer determination.
His first lesson: Through a restaurant broker he stumbled across a rundown Faneuil Hall bar, The Tap. He bought it.
“I was there 110 hours a week for the first four months,” he says. “I’m talking about going to bed at 3:30 a.m. and waking up at 7 a.m. and going right back. It was a lot of learning.”
Within a year, he had doubled the revenue. Soon he had bought a pizzeria on Cambridge Street by Beacon Hill, which, after some false starts, became Griddler’s Burgers & Dogs. Then he found himself eyeing the former Icarus space in the South End, where he started Noche, which had a brief run before he eventually closed it. He plans to open a new spot, Blind Tiger, towards the end of the year.
When Azevedo opened Forum in 2011, it was a struggle too. But this year, coming out of a snowy winter, he was looking forward to a vibrant spring season. Then the bombings occurred, with one going off just steps from the restaurant’s front door.
After four months, and nary a penny from insurance, Azevedo reopened, but with a clear determination to reinvent Forum.
“I didn’t want it to look the same as before,” he says. “I wanted people to see a new restaurant. A positive vibe! I didn’t want people who were here that day to come back and relive that day. I didn’t want their trauma to come back.”
So Azevedo invested more, on top of keeping seven salaried staff on the payroll for the months the place was closed and despite the so-far fruitless negotiations with insurers.
His father, an engineer and the CEO of a successful construction company in Venezuela, is his role model. “He knows there is no better teacher than experience. You’re not going to read about this in a book or in school. You have to experience it, you have to fail, you have to be humble and recognize failures, and you have to know and play by the rules and then you win.”
Tall, thin, and soft-spoken, Azevedo is nonetheless fiercely ambitious. “I want to open hotels. I want to run restaurants in casinos, cruise ships. Why not?” In fact, he had originally wanted to open a roof deck in Forum, but it never materialized.
“I want to open a pool in Boston,” he tells me decidedly, adding that his vision includes a pool with a bottom floor that elevates and turns into a slick dancing floor. “It’s beyond comprehension how Boston does not have an awesome pool. People go nuts over Bokx in Newton — that’s a bathtub. Or the pool at Colonnade?! Get out of here. I will open a pool in Boston and it will be adults only, no kids. And it will be Brazilian style.”
Marcela García is a special correspondent at Telemundo Boston and a contributor to the Boston Business Journal.