MIAMI – A Manhattan restaurant planning an expansion into Miami has sparked the ire of some Cuban Americans after social media pointed to the use of communist lore.
Café Habana, which plans to open a branch in the Brickell neighborhood this spring, is inspired by the Mexico City restaurant where Fidel Castro and Che Guevara are said to have planned the Cuban Revolution, according to a history now released from the website of the restaurant has been removed. The Miami Heral first covered the story.
This is the latest stumbling block for an out-of-town restaurant that has turned a deaf ear to the history of its local residents, many of whom still blame Castro and Guevara for turning their lives around in Cuba. In 2017, Turkish chef Nusret Gokce, better known as Salt Bae, was criticized on the internet when he posted a photo of himself posing as Castro, according to the Miami Herald. He later opened a restaurant in Miami.
“Many Cubans now living in Miami, and his descendants, personally blame Fidel for being here,” said Jorge Duany, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University. “The level of hatred, for quite a few Cuban immigrants, is quite intense.”
Café Habana, which sells Mexican-style grilled corn and a Cubano chipotle mayonnaise sandwich at its location in Manhattan’s NoLIta neighborhood, has opened locations in Malibu and Tokyo. Sean Meenan, the chain’s founder, did not answer repeated calls for comment, nor did others affiliated with the restaurant, including the company’s CEO and partner Luke Thomas.
In the past, Mr. Meenan also featured in the images of Cuban communism with a large mural in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, who married Guevara’s iconic Alberto Korda photo featuring the face of the rapper the Notorious BIG. That mural was painted more than a decade ago for the chain’s Habana Outpost location, which has since closed.
“I was genuinely shocked that they had the audacity to open up in Miami,” said Josue Alvarez, 31, the son of Cubans who left the island in 1980. He was inspired to post a TikTok that spread on social media.
Lillian May, 62, disagreed with the politics and the menu. “He has no right to appropriate anything for his own benefit and harm the community whose culture he appropriates,” she said.
Others, such as Jose Manuel Palli, 70, of Miami, were not bothered by it. Born in Cuba and moved to Argentina when he was 8, Mr Palli said it was not surprising to see the community in turmoil, adding that he sees the response as “just a way to try again-fight a battle they lost many years ago.” He believes that many Cubans and their descendants have “built their lives and their identities on their anti-Castro attitude”.
Mr. Palli said he would eat at the restaurant when it is open. “My fellow Cubans will label me a communist, but I’d like to make a statement there.”