Cuban cuisine classics like ropa vieja, mojitos and churrasco can now be found in the Bronx, at the recently opened Havana Cafe.
The restaurant, at 3151 East Tremont, is the first and only establishment offering Cuban cuisine to a borough hungry for something different. A grand opening ceremony was held on Wednesday, January 19.
“In Spanish neighborhoods you only have Spanish restaurants and in Italian neighborhoods, you get Italian restaurants,” said Troy Perez, one of the establishment’s three owners. “So we thought, let’s diversify. Let’s put a nice Spanish restaurant in an Italian neighborhood.”
Perez, along with Kevin Alicea and Ruben Rodriguez, all of whom have spent decades working in the restaurant business, decided to open a Cuban restaurant in the Bronx about three years ago. The three had visited an upscale Cuban establishment outside the borough and wanted to open a similar restaurant in the Bronx, which is home to the three restauranteurs.
“We are hard working family guys, and when we have an opportunity to go out to dinner, we want to go to a nice place and we want to go somewhere in our neighborhood,” Alicea said. “We saw a void in the market and we saw the perfect opportunity right here.”
They spent three years scouting out neighborhoods to find the ideal location in the borough. They took over the corner property, formerly an Italian restaurant, in August and spent the next few months outfitting it with a full bar, dozens of black tables, couches and paintings of the Havana landscape.
If the crowd at the grand opening is any indication of its popularity, the restaurant is already on the road to establish a large following.
“It’s a very nice place. And a beautiful restaurant,” said Kenneth Kearns, district manager of Community Board 10, adding that he and several co-workers frequently have lunch at the restaurant. “The food is wonderful. It’s a nice thing for the neighborhood. There’s definitely room for a restaurant like this here. It’s different.”
Along with the classics, including Cuban sandwiches, lechon – a roast pork dish- and arroz con pollo, the restaurant offers a menu of new foods the owners call “nuevo Cubano”, which allows the chef to put a Cuban twist on standard American and Latin dishes.
“We have a Cuban pizza, which is awesome,” Perez said. “So you have Cuban’s making pizza now!”
Within the next few months, the restaurant will employ about eight to ten people – not to mention the owners who are busy at the place every night making sure the Cuban pizza’s are hot, and the mojitos are cold.
“We’ve had an overwhelming response so far,” Alicea said. “It’s definitely exceeded our expectations.”