MIAMI — A Manhattan restaurant planning an expansion to Miami has drawn the ire of some Cuban Americans after its use of Communist lore was pointed out on social media.
Café Habana, which plans to open a branch in the Brickell neighborhood this spring, was inspired by the Mexico City restaurant where Fidel Castro and Che Guevara were rumored to have planned the Cuban revolution, according to a history now deleted from the restaurant’s website. The Miami Herald first reported the story.
This is the latest stumble for an out-of-town restaurant tone deaf to the histories of the local residents, many of whom still blame Castro and Guevara for upending their lives in Cuba. In 2017, the Turkish chef Nusret Gokce, known as Salt Bae, faced criticism online when he posted a photo of himself posed as Castro, according to the Miami Herald. He later opened a restaurant in Miami.
“Many Cubans living in Miami now, and its descendants, blame Fidel personally for being here,” said Jorge Duany, the director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University. “The level of hatred, for quite a number of Cuban immigrants, is quite intense.”
Café Habana, which at its location in the NoLIta neighborhood of Manhattan sells Mexican-style grilled corn and a Cubano sandwich with chipotle mayonnaise, has opened branches in Malibu and Tokyo. Sean Meenan, the chain’s founder, did not return repeated calls for comment, nor did others affiliated with the restaurant, including the company’s chief executive and partner, Luke Thomas.
In the past, Mr. Meenan has also played on the imagery of Cuban communism with a large mural in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, which married the iconic Alberto Korda photograph of Guevara with the face of the rapper the Notorious B.I.G. That mural was painted more than a decade ago for the chain’s Habana Outpost location, which has since closed.
“I was honestly shocked they had the audacity to open up in Miami,” said Josue Alvarez, 31, the son of Cubans who left the island in 1980. He was inspired to post a TikTok that spread on social media.
Lillian May, 62, took issue with the politics and the menu. “He has no right to be appropriating something for his own benefit and hurting the community he’s appropriating the culture of,” she said.
Others, like Jose Manuel Palli, 70, of Miami, were not bothered. Mr. Palli, who was born in Cuba and moved to Argentina when he was 8 years old, said it wasn’t surprising to see the community in an uproar, and added that he views the response as “just a way of trying to re-fight a battle that they lost many years ago.” He feels that many Cubans and their descendants have “built their lives and their identities on their anti-Castro stance.”
Mr. Palli said he would eat at the restaurant when it’s open. “My fellow Cubans will brand me as a Communist, but I’d love to make a statement there.”