Tulio Zuluaga, best known as social medial influencer Tulio Recomienda, had plans to bring Burger Master to Miami.
The influencer's massively popular burger week, which sees more than 300 restaurants competing for the title of Burger Master in their respective cities throughout Colombia, was expected to include more than a dozen Miami restaurants for the first time this week.
Zuluaga met with five Miami restaurateurs this past February to get the ball rolling. The plan was for each participating Miami restaurant to offer a select burger for $8.99 from May 15-22 as a satellite competition to the one held in Colombia.
Zuluaga — whose food recommendations are known to give restaurants a major business boost — announced the news to his 5.1 million Facebook followers and 2.4 million Instagram followers in March. Two weeks before Burger Master began, he revealed that he had put his Miami plans on hold.
Zuluaga tells New Times he wasn't able to renew his expiring visa in time. And without his visa, he couldn't travel from Medellín, Colombia, to Miami to meet with more potential participants and do the media rounds.
"In Colombia, the wait time for appointments can be two to three years," Zuluaga says over Zoom from his home in Medellín. "My wife has been waiting for two years. I thought I was going to have someone help me out, but it didn't work out. I've been put on a waitlist. And because my visa expired, I now have to start from the beginning. I think I have an appointment set for June."
For now, Zuluaga is focusing on the Burger Master festival taking place this week in 25 cities in his native Colombia. To kick off the 2023 event, Burger Master handed out 6,800 burgers last week to people in need across the country.
This year's edition offers select burgers for 16,000 Colombian pesos each, which comes to around $3.50 in U.S. currency. Burger Master customers — whose votes determine the winners of the annual event — often wait in lines that span city blocks. According to Tulio, more than two million burgers were sold during the 2022 Burger Master.
The event launched in 2017 is so popular in Colombia that it spawned Pizza Master and Sushi Master, which are also under the Tulio Recomienda umbrella, not to mention countless imitators across the country.
"Many of the Miami restaurants that I've recommended asked for a Burger Master in Miami," says Zuluaga. "And since I have a following in Miami, I figured we could do something there. I couldn't work in Miami, but we could run it from Colombia."
Though the Colombia version of Burger Master is underway, Zuluaga still hopes he can pull off a sister event in Miami. "If there's a way to speed up the visa process, it's possible that we can do Burger Master in Miami this year. But ideally, I'd like for it to coincide with the Colombian version. Those plans are dormant, so to speak until I get my paperwork in order."
Zuluaga says his international Burger Master aspirations go beyond just Miami, with hopes to include burgers from Quito, Ecuador, and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. As for other future plans, the influencer and burger maven says he has had talks with an international television network about a project that would promote restaurants, not unlike what he does on social media.
One South Florida restaurant that can attest to the power of Tulio Recomienda's promotion is Lechona la Colombiana. Tulio recommended the Colombian food booth in Hollywood's Yellow Green Farmers Market in 2022.
"Tulio's visit helped us out a great deal," says Lechona la Colombiana owner Diana Solina. "We tripled sales and, thanks to that, were able to open another location in Pembroke Pines. It's been a year since he visited, and we continue to have good sales and many people visiting us saying they found out about us through him."
Zuluaga has frequently insisted that he doesn't get paid for his recommendations. He instead monetizes his brand with his food festivals, courses, conferences, and sponsors for his cooking videos and books.
The former singer also had a few songs catch on back in the day, including one that appeared in the 1996 William Baldwin film Curdled, executive produced by Quentin Tarantino.
Zuluaga is fully aware of his Midas touch, as the Colombian media puts it, and he doesn't want to take it for granted. "I've been given the opportunity to help different businesses over the years," he says. "I'm very fortunate."