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 González, who was originally from Guanabacoa (Cuba) first settled his family in 1898.
By that time, Cubans had begun immigrating to Ybor City as a result of the flourishing cigar industry. Many of the African and indigenous descendants in Cuba, including the González family, brought with them traditional methods of preparing food and traditional ideas regarding spirituality. In 1900 they formed the Sociedad la Unión Martí y Maceo, one of the first Afro-Cuban mutual-aid societies in the United States. The name of the organization is a celebration of Jose Martí and Antonio Maceo's leadership against the Spanish army during the Cuban independence war in 1895.
Jesus Puerto grew up with all that traditional Cuban culture and spirituality. It was after his 1991 layoff in the wake of Eastern Airlines’ collapse that Jesus decided to invest in his personal vision by enrolling in a two-year restaurant management course.
On Easter weekend, in 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. But, in what doctors described as “without scientific explanation”, “a miracle”, and “luck”, Jesus survived and recovered without complications.
In the Afro-Cuban tradition of spirituality, practitioners believe that the Orisha (Angel) Babalú Ayé is the one in charge of the duties of miraculous healing. While in recovery, realizing his tremendous fortune, Jesus made a promise to dedicate his life to service and human enhancement. Even though at the beginning it wasn’t clear for him how he would do it, his will and perseverance helped to enlighten his journey.
Since then, 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.
Soul de Cuba's story dates back to the summer of 2004, when Jesus led the development of the first Soul de Cuba Cafe in New Haven, Connecticut. Two years later, in July of 2006, he 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. And later in 2010, the Soul de Cuba Cafe franchise program was launched.
The Soul de Cuba Specialty Foods' efforts are dedicated to preserve and to spread the flavors and culture of Cuban traditions.
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.
If you want to hear more about Soul de Cuba and Jesus Puerto, visit one of our locations and enjoy the memorabilia and stories that fill the soul of our place.
Stop by to say Hi! or Stock up from our Online Store
Enjoy Soul de Cuba’s experience your way. Visit our restaurant in New Haven or order online one of our Cuban-style products to continue enjoying the cuban flavors.