Marisi Pujol and Ricardo Fernandez Gonzalez moved from Puerto Rico to Red Hook five years ago with teen twins and two dogs, confident that they’d find their niche. Marisi, qualified as a professor and translator, found work at SUNY Dutchess and the Red Hook school district. Ricardo, a filmmaker, found himself involved with the Red Hook Film Festival.
Back in San Juan, Ricardo had developed a passion for wine and a network he loved: wine importers and a familiarity with up-and-coming wineries in Spain and Portugal. As the couple got to know the Hudson Valley, they realized Ricardo’s dream of working with wine might work really well in Dutchess County.
“In Puerto Rican and Spanish culture, gathering at a small, local place at the end of the day for food and a leisurely chat is intrinsic and important.”
– Marisi, co-owner
“Originally we were thinking of a wine store or a simple wine bar,” says Marisi. “We fell so in love with the community, the geography, the light, the art scene, the bucolic farms and farmers markets, the mesmerizing variety of meat and produce, the friendliness—all of it!
But we felt there was something we missed: a communal, relaxed way of sharing food and wine. There were either restaurants or bars or sports bars; neighbors would say hi to each other, but rarely actually get together.”
They had almost despaired of finding the ideal location until the day they happened to go to Tivoli for coffee “to discuss plan B, which was basically nonexistent,” says Marisi, and happened to see that the former Murray’s had become available. They called and looked at the property that day, even though it was bigger than they’d been picturing. Did they dare?
“I love meeting and talking to people, building community, supporting it consistently; I’m here for everyone.”
– Marisi, co-owner
“We asked ourselves if we could do it,” says Marisi.”It was a difficult, exciting decision. We had always loved Tivoli, but knew it could be a tricky location to open a business. Friends and family encouraged Ricardo to trust his culinary abilities and wine connoisseurship.
Family and friends helped us so much, and the community supported us. We already felt very much a part of the Red Hook community, and now we felt so welcomed by Tivoli, too.”
The couple had restored and flipped vintage homes together in San Juan, which came in handy. “We worked day and night getting the place ready,” says Marisi. “We did absolutely everything ourselves, just the two of us, from decorating, sanding, and building tables to choosing cutlery and napkins.... Absolutely everything. Ricardo polished his chef skills at the CIA; he’s continually learning. We officially started business in full swing in January 2017. We’re just beginning our third year, and what a wonderful experience it has been!” They wanted to create a specific, yet very flexible, vibration. “It’s the style of eating that makes us different and endearing,” says Marisi. “In Puerto Rican and Spanish culture, gathering at a small, local place at the end of the day for food and a leisurely chat is intrinsic and important.
“We’re all about the feeling, the experience of conversation, and a great glass of wine at a great price and relaxed pace.” – Marisi, co-owner
“Our dishes draw from Spanish and Caribbean traditional comfort foods, and then some.”
We were missing that. The tapas model is the best fit to fulfill that need. It’s not about bar food or small plates; our tapas are generous, not minimalist, nouvelle tapas....
We’re all about the feeling, the experience of conversation, and a great glass of wine at a great price and relaxed pace. Rojo is all about the ambiance: community, friends, conversations...book clubs, bridge clubs, business meetings, family celebrations.
It’s about life and an important part of it—sharing the experience.”
The food is honest, authentic, and cooked with love. “Our dishes draw from Spanish and Caribbean traditional comfort foods, and then some,” says Marisi. “They’re not hybrids—what’s Spanish is Spanish; what’s Cuban or Puerto Rican or Dominican is that. We import ingredients to use with locally sourced meat and produce.
We cook with the seasons, have 3 to 5 specials every weekend. And there’s a great story behind every dish, ingredient, and wine. And then, there is wine!”
Such wine. “Our wine list is created organically: it changes every other month and seasonally and just because!” says Marisi. “We love exploring and we love our wine lists. We carry mostly Spanish, Portuguese, and Argentinean wines. And the French, Italian, New Zealand, Californian, and local wines are hand-picked. We also carry a variety of local, Caribbean, Belgian, Irish, Spanish, and Portuguese beers, New York hard ciders, ports, and Madeira. And cava, of course.”
Rojo hospitality is legendary. “We adjust the music, the temperature—we cater to your preferences, whatever is needed to help you have a great time,” says Marisi “We don’t even bring the check until you ask for it. It’s culture shock when they bring the check and you’re still chewing! The horror! At Rojo, the table is yours until you decide to leave. Our philosophy is eat and drink well and feel completely at home. “
Ricardo and Marisi were clearly born to run a restaurant together. Ricardo’s filmmaking, advertising, and design skills, as well as his contacts in the international wine community, complement Marisi’s role as administrator and natural educator.
“I’m always teaching,” she says, “always happy to talk about our wines, our dishes, our style of eating, our culture, our flavors, our background. I love meeting and talking to people, building community, supporting it consistently; I’m here for everyone. Ricardo loves the kitchen, loves coming out to greet his guests, hear their comments.”
Reviewers rave about Rojo’s welcome, wine, flavors, and warmth using words like “inventive and yum,” “hidden gem,” “lovely and memorable” and “scrumptious perfection.” Plans for this season include “finally getting the patio open for the high season,” says Marisi, happily. “Come! Bring friends! See for yourself!”
Rojo Tapas and Wine
76 Broadway, Tivoli
845-757-1102 | rojotapasandwine.com