May 16, 2015

Austin Cafe Becomes a Hub for Local Cubans

Reporting Texas

In 2011, in a strip-mall storefront in North Austin, Enrique Reyes laid the foundation for what has become a hub of Cuban culture in the city. With island staples ranging from ropa vieja (a shredded meat stew) to the potent, sugary Cuban coffee, the idea behind Cuban Sandwich Cafe was to offer Texans a taste of Reyes’ cultural heritage and to give local Cubans a taste of home.

Reyes was born in Miami to parents who fled Cuba shortly after the 1959 revolution that put Fidel Castro in power. Patrons at his restaurant on North Lamar vary widely in ethnicity, age and mother tongue, and the conversation about changing relations between the United States and Cuba takes on a more personal tone here.

In recent months, President Obama has made a string of policy changes that have opened the door to the possibility of full relations with Cuba after more than a half-century of political and economic isolation.

“If I’m here, in this country, eating well and living well, I also have to want the same for the people in Cuba,” says Reyes. For those like Reyes, every change means that family and friends on the island could win more personal freedom and benefit from economic growth. It also could mean that some of the recipes that Reyes’ family brought over from Cuba could return to the island.

“We have lots of products that Cubans coming from Cuba have never heard of,” he says of his the myriad and multicolored baked goods that he and his assistant Alejandro Del Real bake fresh every morning. Del Real arrived from Havana only three months ago, but Reyes said he has been quick to pick up the old Cuban recipes quickly and is settling in well in Austin.