Visions of the Soul de Cuba Cafe restaurant concept first came to Jesus Puerto in the mid 1980’s while attending college in Ybor City, Florida. Just outside of Tampa, Ybor City is rich with a history of pioneering Cuban, Italian and Spanish immigrants and is where Jesus’ great grandfather, Santiago Gonzalez of Guanabacoa, Cuba, first settled his family in 1898. Cubans had begun immigrating to Ybor City as a result of the flourishing cigar industry. Jose Marti Many of the Cubans of African and indigenous decent, including the Gonzalez family, brought with them traditional methods of preparing food and traditional ideas regarding spirituality. In 1900 they formed “Soceidad la Union Marti y Maceo,” one of the first Afro Cuban mutual aid societies in the United States. The name is a celebration of the leadership of Jose Marti and Antonio Maceo against the Spanish army during the Cuban war of independence in 1895.
It was after his 1991 layoff in the wake of Eastern Airlines’ collapse that Jesus decided to invest in his vision by enrolling in a two-year restaurant management course.
On Easter weekend 1993, Jesus was diagnosed with spinal meningitis. Doctors gave him a few hours to live and advised his family that the slight chance of survival would come at a cost -- loss of sight or hearing, or even mental impairment. In what doctors described as “without scientific explanation,” “a miracle” and “lucky,” Jesus survived and recovered without complications. In the Afro-Cuban tradition of spirituality practitioners believe the duties of miraculous healing are taken on by the Orisha (Angel), Babalu Aye. While in recovery, realizing his tremendous fortune, Jesus made a promise to dedicate his life to service and human enhancement. Though at first it wasn’t clear how, his will and perseverance helped to enlighten his journey.
Since, Jesus has served as a Peace Corps Volunteer, a United Nations Volunteer, and as a Charter Board Member and Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity in Western Samoa. He also worked in the Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C. where he served as country officer for Peace Corps programs in the Caribbean and Central America. Before opening the first Soul de Cuba Cafe he was recruited to work in New Haven, Connecticut by Paul Newman’s Association of Hole in the Wall Camps to develop and support programs and activities in Thailand, Southern Africa and Japan.
In the summer of 2004 Jesus led the development of the first Soul de Cuba Cafe in New Haven, Connecticut. Two years later, in July of 2006, Jesus opened Soul de Cuba Cafe in Honolulu, Hawaii and launched Soul de Cuba Specialty foods. Soul de Cuba Specialty Foods is the first ever nationally distributed Cuban food product line. In 2010, the Soul de Cuba Cafe franchise program was launched. To learn more about Soul de Cuba Cafe, Soul de Cuba Specialty Foods and Soul de Cuba Cafe franchising opportunities, visit www.souldecuba.com
The Soul de Cuba Cafe concept is rooted in the idea of promoting and preserving Afro-Cuban culture through sharing traditional Cuban and African food and art. The concept begins in a cozy dining-room setting that incorporates Cuban memorabilia, family photos, and Afro-Cuban religious artwork displayed over soft, earth toned painted walls. The ambiance is enhanced by the infusion of Cuban Salsa, Boleros, and Son music as well as traditional Yoruba Rhythms and African and American Jazz.