A couple of weeks ago, I popped in on our friends at Cuban Window Cafe in downtown Savannah. It’s a neighborhood spot for me. I live not too far away from their gas station turned Cuban food oasis at Duffy and Abercorn Streets.
I was there for an interview for our television show (Saturdays at noon on WTOC-TV). I knew the story. I’d written about Cynthia and Mike when they first opened their doors last year. The food is great. The vibe is as close to Miami as you will get without hopping in a car. I also knew they’d been well received by this city.
Things were going well at Cuban Window and I was more than happy for them.
What I didn’t know was just how high their star had risen in Savannah. Skyrocketed is a better word.
By the time our visit was done, and I mentioned this in our show last week, I came to the realization that there is probably no bigger food story in Savannah in 2021 than what is happening at Cuban Window Cafe. The only other story that even gets into the conversation is what is happening this year at Common Thread. Those guys and girls are crushing it with a capital “C” and I couldn’t be more excited about their future on Abercorn and 37th
Which of these gets a bigger ‘atta boy’ depends entirely on your preferences. But either one is fair game.
So what gives? Why so serious? You need to pull back and look at this from a few hundred feet to understand what a feel good story this is.
If you are familiar with the intersection of Duffy and Abercorn streets, then you know all about the El Cheapo gas station there. It’s been an otherwise forgotten street corner in this town. I’m sure people stopped in there for gas on occasion, but I never have. Frankly, I don’t know anyone that has. A buddy of mine who lives about 4 doors down once told me the same thing. The only thing he could really count on from that ‘convenience store’ were the empty bags of potato chips tossed in his front yard by people who’d buy them there, and discard when they were done.
Clearly they eat fast.
The building looked like it needed a coat of paint to condemn it. Blighted? Sure. Appeared that way anyway.
Enter Cynthia and Mike. Fresh off a road trip from Miami to Asheville and Charleston. They settled on Savannah. “Because the cost of housing was much more affordable than Asheville or Charleston” Cynthia admits.
The plan was to open a Cuban food cafe. The kind of street food you will find on just about every 3rd corner in Miami. They approached the owner about renting the other side of the property but he wasn’t interested. It needed too much work.
They were persistent and ultimately convinced him to go for it. A decision that is literally about to change the face of the neighborhood. They cleaned it up, tossed some pink and teal paint around and opened the doors.
Fast forward a year or so. The ‘mom and pop’ cafe they thought they’d run together is now up to 12 employees.
Parked out front? A brand new beautifully wrapped Cuban Window Cafe food truck which will begin making the rounds across the region. They are even delivering to a couple of bars downtown in the evenings. None of that, however, is the biggest part of this story.
Seeing how well things are going, they’ve now convinced the property’s owner to allow them some more space. The entire property is getting a complete makeover. “El Cheapo” will be gone. A major gas retailer coming in to replace it. The entire convenient store is getting a power wash. In sharing his story, Mike mentions wanting a “Fancy Parker’s” type of feel.
That’s a high bar, pal. Good luck with that. But I feel you. And frankly, anything will be an improvement over what it has been since well, since as far back as I can remember.
They’d been operating six days a week until 6pm. Just this week they’ve extended their hours until 9pm. Which is great news for those wanting a taste of Havana in Savannah after dark.
They are even making plans for a presence on Savannah’s Southside. More on that another time. They don’t even have a website yet.
So what’s their secret? Good food? Absolutely. What they have figured out is a way to provide value for Savannah’s dining dollar. $8.50 will get you enough roasted pork, rice and beans likely for two meals. Their $5 breakfast including bacon or sausage, eggs, toast and coffee is maybe the best deal in the city. If there is something comparable out there, I need to know.
Clearly, I am fan who also happens to be of Cuban descent. That helps, but really I’m just as excited about what is happening at Duffy and Abercorn because I am obviously a fan of Savannah as well. It is always nice to see cases of “if you build it they will come.”
If the food is good enough, the masses will find you. Period. We are clearly hungry enough.
Let’s hope we see more of this down the road in other corners of town.