“Feel the flavor!” exclaims Robert as he serves me a Bacon Blue Cheeseburger, one of the many original recipes for their signature burgers at Munchies express. I’m sitting on the second floor of the Munchies Burger Bar, enjoying the view of the main street right across from where the boat from Almirante leaves people at Bocas Marine Tours. I’m surrounded by Bocas locals, Panamanian transplants coming from Panama City and Chiriqui, foreigners who also call Bocas home, seasonal surfers who come here for a week and end up changing their flight ticket and staying months at a time and tourists here for unforgettable week and I can’t help but wonder: where did this all begin?
I lied. Robert didn’t serve me the burger. His wife Cristina did, however Robert was in the kitchen cooking it and he did come to my table when he got a moment to check on the flavor of his burger. Robert and Cristina are the kind of young entrepreneurs that show up to work with their sleeves rolled up, ready to get their hands dirty; not literally, as they observe the hygiene necessary for food service, but as to say that they are the type of owner-operators that are never absent from their place of business and are ever on the ground floor ensuring the quality of their product. But I digress. So, where did this flavor come from?
In 2012, Robert woke up hungry one evening. Robert is a lawyer who moved from Panama City to practice in Bocas del Toro. At the end of the work week, the young professional would finish his 9 to 5 and then come home for an early evening nap before going out for the night. One of the nights he went out, he realized that there wasn’t much to eat late night in Bocas. Oh necessity: the mother of invention and so there it was: BOOM! Munchies Express (feel the flavor).
The first location opened up in November of 2012, in a smaller tiki-style structure on 1st street, next to the Treasures of the Turquoise Crab gift shop and a few doors down from Hotel Bocas del Toro. The young couple initiated the Munchies Express project with idea of offering late night meals, open from 6pm to 4am and above all “quality products at a good price with excellent service, so that the people feel like they are at home,” according to Robert.
“Little by little, receiving the support of the community, Munchies Express transformed into a platform connecting art, music and friendship creating a group of people who love Bocas and want to maintain that feeling that is Bocas,” remembers Robert. Their friends (also loyal customers) with their ideas helped shape the menu you see today and preserve the original concept.
The little tiki burger spot quickly became a Bocas icon and in 2015 Robert and Cristina were met with some circumstances that forced them to improvise a 2nd location so they created what is now known as the Munchies Burger Bar. Many may know the location from when it was the Wine Bar, but it is now the 2nd story of the old school Bocas wooden house where Munchies Express invites you to feel at home, where they will throw an occasional party (featuring live music and DJs) and where you can forever “feel the flavor.”
Ricardo Martínez Benoit is not only an accomplished geopolitical analyst, but is also a famous Bocas mixologist and founding bartender in the Munchies Burger Bar. The Bocas Breeze Facebooked him while he was answering e-mails over an espresso in the Ukraine. Let me make it clear that Ricky is the most qualified journalist in whole world to comment on Muchies Express and he had this to say:
“I have a great deal of admiration for Robert. He represents exactly what the island needs: a young, educated, bilingual, well-traveled Panamanian entrepreneur. This is what Munchies has always represented for me. Robert also has a privileged mind for synthesizing large concepts and ideas in catchy phrases, images, etc. We all know about “Feel da Flavor”, and now the whole “Freestyle or Die” seems to be picking up speed. I suspect he already had it in mind, but definitely the way we developed the Burger Bar, step by painful step (when I arrived there was just a couple of bottles of wine in the bar, no stock, no utensils, no menu, no nothing), led to Munchies being the embodiment of this “Freestyle or Die” philosophy. I think the value of Robert and Cris and Munchies is that it accurately represents not only what Bocas is, but what Bocas can be at its best: young, rebellious, educated, multilingual, multi-ethnic men and women celebrating life in paradise.”
Well said, Ricky. This journalist salutes Robert and Cristina and all the industrious and righteous people, young and old, whichever nationality or lifestyle, whether free-styling or making plans; as long as they’re working to make Bocas the best it can be.