Soul de Cuba celebrates its 8th anniversary today, January 24th, 2013! The restaurant has served four tons of black beans and sixteen tons of white rice since its doors opened in 2005!
"What is 'New Haven' in Spanish? Nueva Havana. This is the link with New Haven," explained Soul de Cuba owner, Jesus Puerto.
Jesus Puerto's family emigrated from Cuba to Ybor City, Florida in the late 1800s when many Cuban cigar cutters and other Cuban artisans were coming to the U.S. Puerto grew up in Tampa and attended college in Ybor City, keeping close connection with his Cuban roots. He began dreaming of owning a restaurant in the 1980s when he discovered his love of sharing his Afro-Cubano heritage through art, music, and food, but this remained a hobby - a gift he shared with loved ones - for a few decades.
Puerto joined the Peace Corps in 1998 and was stationed in the Pacific Island of western Samoa until the end of 2000. anHed stayed an additional year with a United Nations' program. In 2003, Puerto was recruited by Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Camps, a resource for seriously ill children and and their families throughout the Northeast, in New Haven, CT.
By early 2004, Puerto's dream of opening a restaurant and sharing his heritage with a greater community began to take shape. There was very little going on in the neighborhood when Soul de Cuba opened at 283 Crown Street (corner of Crown Street & High Street) in 2005. But Puerto and his team believed it was an up and coming area - that it just needed a little more investment, and believes that he made the perfect choice.
Puerto began bottling his immensely popular Soul de Cuba's mojo (a traditional garlic and onion sauce) in 2007. The mojos are now sold in over 500 stores around the United States, including Whole Foods.
Puerto opened a second location in Honolulu, Hawaii in the summer of 2006 in a neighborhood similar to the New Haven location. Since then, he and his partners have created a franchising opportunity so other people may replicate the model and bring the unique dining experience to other communities.
As a Cuban-American, "I personally like to help my family in Cuba since we can now. For the first time in 60 years we can send resources to our families. Because of my background and living in the Pacific Islands for so long, I found deep cultural connections." Puerto wanted to connect all of these people so they can share idea. He founded Cubana Koa in 2007 as a way for these different communities to dialog and exchange sustainable and ancient agricultural practices. In 2012, Puerto brought an environmentalist group from Hawaii to Cuba to meet with various horticulturalists.
Cheers, Soul de Cuba! Here's to many more years of being an active member in the New Haven community, and to all of the global community contributions that have grown out of your corner of Crown and High Streets!
Soul de Cuba
283 Crown Street
New Haven, CT