BTB Spotlight: Mikas of Social B in Lisbon, Portugal

Mikas possesses this quiet energy of a wise man with the spirit of a creative artist. The Mozambique native arrived in Portugal in his youth at the age of 18. His signature style includes a fedora and a button-down shirt made from a colorful Mozambican fabric called capulana.

He wears many hats literally and figuratively. He is an artist, a sculptor, a purveyor of good vibes and good taste. He’s owned and managed over a dozen of Lisbon’s premier restaurants, a record store, shops, and rooftop bars in Greater Lisbon. He’s owned Atira-te Ao, Bicaense, WIP (Work In Progress), Clube Ferroviário, A Tabacaria, Castelo do São Jorge, Velho Senhora and many more.  He’s hosted Massive Attack and Thievery Corporation for live DJ sets.

Social B is a discreet bar in the Cais do Sodré neighborhood on Rua da Boavista and boasts an eclectic menu of African and Portuguese cuisine prepared by Chef Zola. The speakeasy worthy cocktails are handcrafted by bartender Ismael. Ever reticent, Mikas was candid and shared a glimpse of his over two decades of business expertise with Cuisine Noir. 

Tell us a little about your background? What brought you to Portugal? 

I was born in Mozambique and because of the turbulence and instability of the independence, my family decided to come to Europe. I did not want to come. I was 18 at the time; my life was bumping there [laughs] and I came with my mom.

My sister was already in Europe. I traveled throughout Europe. When I arrived here, I felt like “I have to find my place in this Europe.” For me, Africa was my place; I grew up there. When I arrived here, I started to travel, and I loved most of the places I have been in Europe. Living and passing by, but between that, I was always coming back to Lisbon to visit my mom.

At that time, there was this feeling that “I liked this place.” But when I first arrived in Lisbon, I hated it. You imagine this African kid. You come from this country full of colors, warm, vibrancy, flavors and tastes, and suddenly you arrive in this country and it’s completely gray and dark.

It was wintertime; it was November. It was not ideal. What a shock. Every

Lisbon, I was always finding something. Then suddenly for the first time, I would come for three or four months. Then my stays got longer and Lisbon began to feel like home. Then there was this key moment, this is my place in Europe. Somehow I feel comfortable that I didn’t feel in the rest of Europe.

That was in the 80s. Lisbon was starting its vibrant nightlife, especially in Barrio Alto, which was a place for bohemians, for Fado, and it started to change.

Between my education and what I would do with my life, a business opportunity came my way. In all of this, there was this chance to do something in starting a business. I was an artist and I used to paint and I was a sculptor. I had all these stages as an artist. This kind of business–bars and restaurants–came to me and I knew I always wanted to chart my own path.

I do not see any joy in imitating someone, so I’ve always wanted to have a unique twist when it came to my businesses. I am this curious guy that really loves to try. There were these guys that challenged me to enter the restaurant business and that’s what I did.

How has COVID-19 impacted your business?

It’s the same as everybody, but the way I am dealing with it, maybe it’s different. I do not stress myself out about it. When you come to my bar, and you get inside of that door, there is a free zone of COVID-19, stress and all that is happening.

That is the way I am dealing with COVID. When the people get into Social B, I want to make them feel comfortable because they are already in the streets uncomfortable wearing a mask. It is a very difficult situation, but that is what I am doing the best, make people feel comfortable here.

I am doing my best during this crisis. I always thought to myself that during those moments of crisis you have to plant and water and when the moment comes you’ll be ready. I keep my focus on what I can do to bring my clients back here without being afraid, back here without coming with stress.

It is difficult, but we can focus on what we can control. COVID has brought so many bad things, but I have my place, my clients, my friends.  I have me.  The community is there and I have to think about this and not about COVID because COVID is not positive and, I am a very positive guy.

Are there any proud moments in your career?

This is small, but a huge moment in my career. I had this bar called Tabaccheria. We used to have this sign that read, “We Have Free Hugs.”

One day, there was a couple that came with a little girl, blonde and blue eyes and she was 3 or 4 years old. They asked who was the one giving away free hugs, and I said, “I’m the one who gives these hugs.”

And the little girl asked the mother in Swedish asking about the sign. And the little girl looks over at me and says in Swedish, “You’re the one that gives the free hugs. I want one!”

After asking her mom if it was okay she ran into the bar and jumped into my arms for a hug.

That was really magical and such a profound moment in my career. As a Black man who struggled a lot to get what I have; that experience was beautiful. Of course, I have so many other experiences, but that one stands out the most. These things make me very proud.

There was a customer from Denmark that returned to one of my bars a year later to try a cocktail I made him. This is the beauty of this business–the connections and friendships that you create through life are important.

What legacy do you want to leave behind?

Nothing. The moment that I sell a business, it doesn’t belong to me. So I move on to the next project. In my opinion, I think it is very presumptuous to think that I am going to leave a legacy.

What I leave are memories of people, memories of what I leave in all the places I’ve owned.

Friends that I’ve built with my business, clients that have enjoyed a great meal or cocktail with me. I would say that is what I want to leave: memories.

What lessons have you learned along the way that you now share with others?

I really don’t like to give a lesson to anyone. But I can talk about my lessons and they can take something from it.

One of the lessons is to be yourself, whatever you do. You have to be yourself. And if you have an idea, you have to put everything that you are into that project. You have to put your soul, your knowledge there, and if you don’t know, learn and put it towards that goal or project.

Never be afraid. Because being afraid is the worst thing in your life. What more, this is a basic thing, but follow your dream.  Really follow your dream because that is the beginning for any project that you’ll have in your life.

If you have a dream you are going to go for it and you’re going to do it. And with a dream, everything starts from the moment you have your dreams. Dream, dream, dream–is my thing. And dream big as a line to the future. Big for me is all these things that I told, all those places that I opened from my first place that I opened to Social B. For me that is big. Big is the story and the journey that you create in your life. Don’t put your dreams on hold and forget.

We say that business is a mixed bag of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Knowing this as a seasoned professional/business owner. What would you tell yourself as a young entrepreneur today?

Repeat everything, but do better. I would repeat everything that I did in my life, but do better. This is my second life after my accident [laughs].

Anything else you’d like to share with us?

It is beautiful to have Cuisine Noir that is sharing our stories and they do it well. And that fact that you share what I do with people that they know, I think in a very lovely way. That is why I accepted this interview. Thank you.

For the latest on Social B, follow Mikas on Facebook and  Instagram.

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About Margo Gabriel

Margo is a freelance writer, photographer, music lover, churro aficionado and all-around life enthusiast behind Margo’s Creative Life. She loves a good gin and tonic, hold the cranberry juice. Follow her jaunts around the world on Instagram @margoscreativelife.
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