Born and raised in the rural U.S. state of West Virginia, Mary Moses worked briefly in finance, then got an MBA at Harvard, and then, well, headed to uncommon shores and never looked back. First, she worked in various fields in Vietnam (government aid, a venture fund, a travel startup, tourism), and then she moved to Peru. “I think that there was some regret that I didn’t study abroad,” she says, adding of her decision to go to Vietnam, “I felt that it was the last chance to do something crazy.”
Michael Moldauer, too, began life on a straight-and-narrow track—he was born in Geneva and graduated from École Hôtelière de Lausanne. But he would also step off the prudent path and dive into a new life in a new country—Peru, the homeland of his father (a classical pianist who had ventured to Europe as a young man to pursue his art). Immediately following his graduation from hotel school, Moldauer took the first flight to Lima, where he hoped his passion for food would lead him to a career in that industry. “Hey, I lived my whole life in Switzerland,” Moldauer explains of the bold move, “and I wanted to know what was going on in Peru. I heard that there was a fantastic gastronomic revolution taking place there and I had always dreamt of food!”
A native Peruvian, Michel Seiner also took a left turn into the unknown during his life. “People don’t realize that in Peru you have to pick your career at the age of 17, when you basically know nothing,” he explains. “So I went into law because that is what I thought people expected of me. I had short stints as a paralegal and at big law firms, but very quickly found that I hated those kinds of jobs!” Luckily, a friend worked at Acurio Restaurantes, founded by Peru’s most renowned chef, Gastón Acurio, and he asked Seiner for his help in the legal department—a job that quickly morphed into a GM role and caused Seiner to fall in love with food and business.
Three follow-your-heart trailblazers. Yet fate would bring them together—first Moldauer and Seiner, recognizing a kindred spirit in each other, teamed up; then Moses joined forces as the three started working on Mercado 28, Peru’s first food hall and one inspired by the successes of Chelsea Market in New York and Foodhallen in Amsterdam. Andenia, in the heart of Peru’s Sacred Valley, soon followed. And now these three free spirits are showing just what can be accomplished when go-for-the-gusto trailblazers blaze away together.
Michael Moldauer: Not really. My whole life I’ve been around food. When I was 12, I formed a breakfast delivery company. Basically, I was delivering bread and pain au chocolat to my neighbors. Then, at university, I built a catering company. I was always into the world of food and business. And when I heard about the goings-on in the culinary scene in Peru, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. So I flew to Lima and wound up working at a catering company and then for Gastón Acurio.
Michel Seiner: When I was still a lawyer, I veered toward public law and to human rights in the hopes that I’d like the work more. So the job offer at Acurio Restaurantes was eye-opening for me, and not just because Gastón Acurio is perhaps the most famous person in Peru, but because I love eating! Plus, at that time, Gastón was literally transforming Peruvian culture. When I was little and you went shopping, it was a given that the imported item was superior to the locally made one. Gastón flipped that around. So to be a part of that movement was amazing. And to see that one has the power to make that kind of change in society helped me get in touch with myself; it put me at ease and made me happy. And it has also helped me to channel the things I want to achieve. That’s how I ended up doing what I do now—finding my own place in life and my own projects, which ultimately led me to Michael and Mary.
Mary Moses: I never expected to stay in Vietnam that long. But I loved it there. When I was ready to move on, I was looking at Europe. But the world economy was really bad then; this was 2010. So I wound up in Peru.
Moses: Ha! True. The company in Vietnam I was working for had a job in Peru. I thought I’d do that for a year or two, then go someplace else. But I never left. That job was as head of all of South America and I had a good salary. But after I decided to leave and work independently, there were some hard years, and I thought of maybe going back to the States and getting a job at Apple or Google. But finding Michel and Michael has been part of a great journey and I think we are all very proud of what we’ve accomplished. I know I am.
Moldauer: That was a very weird story. I had just resigned my position at the catering company, and Gastón had opened the first of his many burger places in Lima. I went there during its opening week and I saw Gastón sitting at a table with some colleagues trying a burger, so I just approached them and said, “Hey I’m Michael. I studied in Lausanne and I’ve lived here about five years and I would love to work with you!” And the guy who answered me, not Gastón, said, “Uh, talk to my assistant.” So I talked to that assistant. Then I met with the GM of the company. And then a month later I was working for them! They hired me to build out their Project Management team. They had a lot of new restaurant projects, but there was no one overseeing everything. And that’s how I met Michel. We immediately became very close. Now we are best friends and best business buddies.
Moses: Michel and Michael were consulting in the restaurant business after they’d left Acurio and I realized that they would be great partners for Mercado 28. They have tremendous experience in the restaurant world and I have a background in tourism. So we joined up, which soon led to Andenia. Of course, we never had a sense of just how much work that would be!
Seiner: I am not going to lie, the learning curve was a big one.
Moses: We all have a passion for doing new businesses. I don’t know that we are fearless. There is a lot of investigation that goes into it.
Seiner: I am going to disagree a bit. I would say that as a whole we each don’t like working for others. We all want to be our own people. We could have been great executives at companies, but that didn’t feel right. We all are of that spirit.
Moses: True, none of us are interested in having a boss or regular hours. The hotel has become our baby and our passion.
Moldauer: But still, boss or not, one is always anxious with new projects. Or at least I am. I am anxious at my own birthday party—I worry that guests won’t arrive! Same thing with Mercado 28—you select the best food operators, the deco is nice, the lighting and music are cool, you open the door, and you wait for people to come in. It was a huge success from the first day and I believed it would be, but of course I was anxious.
Moldauer: When I got to Lima, one of the first things I did was go to the Sacred Valley. I loved it. There is a great energy there. The mountains, the sky, the valley, it’s really beautiful and it reminds me a little bit of Switzerland. When we first saw the property that would become Andenia—the fruit trees, the flowers—I felt like I had walked in the Garden of Eden. Michel and I both said this place is magical and immediately saw the opportunity.
Seiner: We all three were supposed to meet there but Mary had a problem with her flight. Michael and I had a bunch of drinks with the property owner—he distills his own liquor—and he cooked for us. We went home thinking this is the greatest place ever. There is something about being in the Sacred Valley as a Peruvian that makes you feel proud. We wanted to open up Andenia as soon as possible.
Moses: That’s when we came up with a plan.
Seiner: I’d say finding my own voice. By that I mean the way I want to live. It has not been the easiest journey. And I’m not sure that I’m there yet. I want to articulate the values that I have for my country and my family. It’s been tough to weave those things together to find a version of me that I am happy with. But I wake up every day and I love my job.
Moldauer: I think it was the move to Peru. It was like a kind of adventure to get here and discover the other part of my heritage. But I never knew when it would end, if I would return to Switzerland after a year, two years, five. Now, 10 years on, I’m still here. I am exactly where I want to be. I am very lucky in that I get to do the projects that I want to do. I am not sure I would have been able to do that in Switzerland had I stayed there.
Moldauer: My grandfather is a hero to me. He left Germany right before the war, went to Israel, built a family and career for himself, then moved to Switzerland. He always adapted so well to the places he was living, and always with happiness, with a smile.
Moses: I’d say Anthony Bourdain. I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but I loved what he did with traveling and food, his outlook and approach on cuisines. He was always experimenting and trying new things in a respectful way.
Seiner: And he has backbone!
Moses: Yes, an edge.
Seiner: For me, it is the book The Little Prince, which I reread frequently. I think it tells a different story at different points in your life. And I’m really big about having an innocent point of view. As human beings we forget how to look at things with awe. And that sense of awe is a quality that I want to live with every day. The first time I looked at Mercado 28 and what we achieved there, I was amazed. And that same feeling comes over me when I see the mountains and the garden at Andenia—I can’t believe what we did there. I think this feeling comes from a childlike outlook that makes you dream. That book really made me appreciate what being a grown-up and a child at the same time feels like.