For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly making it. Here’s one of them: Cafecito.
Loisaida was a very different place when Cafecito opened on Avenue C in 2003. “I remember people thought we were crazy, because back then we were the only ones on the block,” said owner Manny Garcia, who celebrated the restaurant’s tenth anniversary last week. “Well, we did it anyway.” A decade later, the Cuban joint is still going strong, and selling about forty slow-roasted pork shanks per week. We spoke with Mr. Garcia about life on C.
Why did you choose the location you are in? Ten years ago Avenue C was such a remarkably different place for a small business.
It was the only avenue that was still reasonably priced to get a location we could afford to rent. We saw that the neighborhood was rapidly changing. It was a Latin-based neighborhood of families and it was getting gentrified pretty quickly so that is good for a new business – all these new people coming in and exploring.
Why did you name it Cafecito? It’s so much more than a little shot of espresso.
Originally when we opened, we didn’t have a dining room and we didn’t have a liquor license. We just served coffee, sandwiches, milkshakes and a few entrees. We became popular pretty quickly because we were the only people there. When the place next door became available we took it over and expanded.
The open window and the outdoor counter seating feels very unique for New York.
In Miami, where I’m from, it’s very traditional to go up to the counter and window outside to get your coffee and hang out. That’s how we have it here. Because of that, we get a lot of people from Miami here. People feel right at home here and it’s become that place people have to stop by when they’re in town.
How does a Cuban place do in a Dominican and Puerto Rican neighborhood?
We were embraced warmly. We have a lot in common and fit right in. We’re similar to Puerto Rican and Dominican food. We have the basics rice and beans, plantains, we just cook it a different way. We use soybean oil and not lard so we’re a little lighter food that most traditional Spanish food. We make our seasoning in-house and don’t use the powdered sazon.
What do you think of what Avenue C has become now, ten years later?
It is very expensive to live here now that it is so popular. When we first opened it was a raw area. We were really the only people here and so we were really popular being the only one. As years passed, businesses opened and there were other options. Before the economy changed it was way better. Also, the hurricane made a lot of people relocate so we lost some of our regular customers.
How has your rent changed?
It has quadrupled in ten years. When we first got here it was $1,500 a month for the 1,500 square feet, and now it’s $6,500 and we have almost 3,000 square feet.
How have costs changed for food over the years?
Our skirt steak used to be $ 2.70 a pound. Now it is up to $7.25 a pound and keeps going up. Food costs have for the most part tripled. Coffee and rice have gone up 50 percent. Everything has gone up, but you can’t keep doubling your prices. We try to adjust a little the price, but it’s really about getting more business and doing more work for less.
Have you had any famous faces dine at Cafecito?
Ryan Gosling, Adrian Brody, Rosario Dawson, Jason Williams, Don Cheadle. John Leguizamo.
What is the future of Cafecito?
We want to keep this location and we want to expand and open new locations. We’re thinking in Brooklyn and Long Island. We’re looking for spaces. There are shortages of restaurants in Long Island that aren’t chain restaurants. It would be nice to give them some of what is offered in the city. There are more families there and more space for the money. It is more affordable to open a bigger restaurant outside of the city. Plus, we could have live music more easily and parties more easily.