Foreigners Living in Peru: Australian cafe owner in Cusco

Questions by Susana Aguirre

On her way to Argentina from Australia, Jane Berthelsen came to Cusco and fell in love with the city.

Originally published June 28, 2011

On her way to Argentina from Australia, Jane Berthelsen came to Cusco and fell in love with the city. Read more about Jane and Jack\‘s, the cool and down to earth cafe in Cusco you\‘ll have to visit next time your in town!

1. Where are you from and what brought you to Peru?

I am Australian and arrived here in 2000 by chance. I had a friend who was working for the Australian Embassy in Buenos Aires, he and his partner encouraged me to visit. The travel agent I booked my ticket through was Peruvian and told me that I could not visit South America without seeing Peru so I booked a side trip to Lima and Cusco. I had no prior interest in Peru but once here I fell for the generosity of the people and the prettiness of the town. I decided to return a year later and explore the continent.

2. When did you open Jack\‘s cafe, and why Cusco? What\‘s behind the name Jack\‘s?

Jack\‘s opened in 2003, my friend Gary who had just taken over Paddy\‘s Irish bar found the locale and wanted to do something with it, I told him he should do coffee as back then there were no cafe\‘s everything was either a bar or restaurant. Peruvian food is excellent but often I felt like having a simple bowl of soup or a good sandwich and there was no place that offered it for a decent price. I had experience in my own cafe in Sydney and had worked with food and coffee for many years and was looking for something to do after Cusco Weekly folded (an English newspaper that I had previously worked for).

Gary and I worked well together and created Jack\‘s as a simple place to have a coffee and something to eat, we also had the same feeling to look after the people who worked for us and hire people that needed a job not necessarily with any training. The kitchen staff is made up of single mothers and ex- shoeshine boys which was difficult in the early days as I spoke little Spanish and they were not sure which side of the bread to butter! Jack\‘s is named after my son Jack. I met his Australian dad whilst he was in Cusco working as a tour guide.

3. What did you want to offer with Jack\‘s that people couldn\‘t find anywhere else in Cusco? (food, environment, etc.)

Jack\‘s has pretty much done it\‘s own thing. It has become a gringo meeting place completely by accident, I think people feel comfortable there when it is not too busy and we have customers from three years to eighty years old.

4. What\‘s it like to maintain a business as a foreigner in Cusco?

At first quite difficult, we didn\‘t have a great accountant and it took me until now to feel confident in knowing the bureaucratic side of the business in a foreign country. You tend to get a load of cross information here and it takes experience and a load of asking questions to get to the correct information. Suppliers have also been a problem until recent years, not many people think long term. For example the price of one liter of olive oil and a thousand doesn\‘t vary. In fact the more you order the price is likely to go up!

Until now there has been little competition and no customer service but I have noticed lately that attention from suppliers is getting better. Nobody here is on time and punctuality holds no importance. I try never to be late and strangely without too much effort the staff has followed, leading by example really works and I find now that my job is very easy, most of the jack\‘s crew have been there since we opened — I can take holidays and know that Jack\‘s is probably running better without me. I don\‘t think being a gringa makes much difference once you have been here a while, Cusco is used to foreigners and largely accepting.

5. Since your arrival in Cusco, how has tourism changed the city?

Tourism has made Cusco more efficient, nearly everybody relies on it for their living. In February it can feel quite depressing with quiet streets and no tourists. In the past few years the Municipality has started cleaning up the streets and investing in the cultural center. The INC has realized the importance of restoration and will hopefully keep Cusco beautiful.

6. How do smaller businesses like Jack\‘s cafe compete with international chains that are steadily arriving in Cusco?

KFC opens this week, strangely the biggest customers will be Peruvian although Bembos seems more popular with the locals than McDonalds. I think tourists adventurous enough to come to Peru would rather experiment outside of the fast food chain.

7. What\‘s your favorite thing to do in Cusco?

I hate to say this but after a busy day at Jack\‘s there is nothing better than sitting in front of the tele, watching a pirated DVD from El Molino! And buying flowers from mercado San Pedro.

8. A local Cusco dish that\‘s a must for a visitor to try?

Cuy, and if you don\‘t fancy chewing the leg off a Guinea pig you can try a cuy causa at Cicciolina or a tandoori cuy at Karma Sutra.

9. Foreigners are big on breakfast, what\‘s the best at Jack\‘s?

The best seller is the Gordo, a big English style breakfast although my favorites are caramalised banana pancakes, porridge with apple and cinnamon compote and the smoked trout scrambled eggs with fresh herbs.

10. Have you travelled recently? Where to?

I was in Lima last weekend! Before that I was in Punta Sal, my favorite spot in the world. It\‘s very low key, not built up like other parts of Mancora and great escape from the frantic pace of Cusco.

Check out: Jack\‘s FB page

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