"It's not like grocery store chicken," stresses Mario C. Obregon, co-owner of soon-to-open Mario's Peruvian Chicken in Mt. Pleasant. "It's marinated for over 24 hours ... the charcoal gives it a smoky wooden flavor; it's really juicy, you can taste the herb crust. We're focusing on nutritious and healthy fresh chicken cooked to order."
Peruvian chicken, while certainly not the norm in this part of the country, is par for the course in bigger urban areas. Obregon moved to D.C. when he was 15, after living out his formative years in Peru.
"I've been working in this business since I was little," says Obregon. "My grandmother used to own one of these restaurants in Peru." After 22 years in D.C. working in restaurants — "I started at the bottom, bussing tables, bartending, serving" — Obregon moved to South Carolina to run the Five Guys franchise in Charleston and Columbia. "When the franchisee decided to sell Five Guys I said 'it’s time for me to move on as well.' I wanted to have my own restaurant, I always had a vision, this was the perfect time."
Along with his D.C.-based brother (also Mario, but they go by their middle names) Obregon started researching how to go about opening his own Peruvian restaurant about a year and a half ago.
To create the juicy, herb-crusted chicken like his grandmother used to make, Obregon said they had to travel to Peru to purchase the materials for custom brick ovens. "Like the name says, it's very authentic."
Obregon says they had hoped to officially open their Mt. Pleasant location in May, but, like most any restaurant opening in the ole Chuck, "there were a lot of delays."
With the installation of these custom ovens in the works, Obregon is confident that they will open the week of July 23.
Mario C. Obregon
This is what Mario's chicken will look like.
In addition to chickens available in whole, half, or quarter sizes, Obregon says the restaurant will have sauces made from peppers that you would't find in your local grocery. Obregon chose the peppers and perfected the sauces — "not like jalapeno," but like aji amarillo (yellow peppers) and aji rocoto (red peppers) — by visiting one of his friends in Peru that owns a company like Sysco. "He set me up with a chef. We went through different sauces knowing the community here in the south, they like spicy. We have a spicy sauce, it’s a killer. We will also have mild sauce."
Obregon will also serve traditional Peruvian side dishes like yuca fries, white rice, and a twist on the classic green salad with vinaigrette served in Peru — coleslaw. "We're doing that to cater to the South," says Obregon.
Besides the slaw, don't expect to feel like you're in any standard Lowcountry restaurant. "A lot of people think about Peru, that it's just Machu Pichu," laughs Obregon. "But Peru has three different regions — as you walk in [the restaurant] you'll see three different pictures with the Andes, the coast, and the Amazon rainforest."
Obregon describes the concept as fast casual, catering to all the families in Mt. Pleasant who need something fast, nutritious, and delicious. If you don't want to grab and go, there will be 25 to 30 seats inside and four patio tables outside. Obregon says they'll do carry out, online orders, and potentially Uber Eats, so if you're craving that chicken, you'll get it ASAP.
They'll also serve beloved Peruvian drinks like Inca Cola, the "golden cola" that tastes like "bubblegum or cream soda" as well as Chicha Morada, a drink made by boiling purple corn with sugar and lemon."It's good for your blood pressure," notes Obregon.
They haven't even opened their doors yet, but Obregon is already thinking about the future.
"The gastronomy from Peru has seen a big boom in the last 10 years....I think in another five to 10 years Peruvian restaurants will be around like Italian, Mexican restaurants." Obregon says that a lot of people have been asking if he'll serve ceviche — a Peruvian staple. "For now, just chicken...We’ve talked about maybe doing full service restaurants in the future. We have a vision to do four to five more Mario's Peruvian Chicken restaurants if this goes well."