"Today is a special day," says Sergio Negrin, his voice booming. The former corporate America businessman, who just opened Frijoles Colorado Cuban Cafe in a Lakewood strip mall, repeats the same sentiment to just about everyone who walks through the door of his new Cuban restaurant -- a labor of love that he shares with his wife, son and mother-in-law.
"It's a special day, because you're here, and because we have ropa vieja," he declares. Five minutes later, his wife, Roxanne, delivers a plate to the table, half of which is ropa vieja, the other half, picadillo, a Cuban ground beef hash. It's accompanied by housemade Cuban bread. And it's delicious.
Negrin and his family moved to Denver from Florida earlier this year, following the death of one of their two sons, Anthony, who passed away from a rare form of cancer. "We needed a change, and I had a business proposition on the table," explains Negrin. The business deal fell through, but Negrin, who was born in Cuba, had other plans, namely to open a Cuban restaurant with the financial assistance from his mother-in-law, Anna.
"We looked all over for locations, and initially, we wanted to see if we could open a space in the new St. Anthony Hospital to honor our son, but they weren't accepting any retail tenants, so we kept looking for another spot," says Negrin. "We found this space -- a former sub shop -- and they already had a hood installed, which was a $30,000 savings, so we took it."
Everything, he notes, save for a few of the desserts, is made in-house -- the bread, the croquetas, the empanadas, the pastelitos and the soups. And the menu, Cuban through and through, is a journey through sandwiches, including a terrific Cubano smeared with mustard and decked with ham, Swiss, pork and pickles, and traditional Cuban plates, most of which are served with the typical accompaniments of black beans, rice and yucca.
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"I've always wanted to do a Cuban restaurant, and when we went to Cuba Cuba, and saw that the wait was two hours long, we knew that this is food that Denver embraces," says Negrin. And judging from the customers streaming through his own doors, he's right. "We've been received so well here, and while we're passionate about our food, we're equally as passionate about our customers.
Negrin notes, too, that he'd love to expand. "We just opened a week ago, and I want to get my arms around this place first, but we'd love to have more. It's what we love."
Frijoles Cuban Cafe, located at 12095 West Alameda Parkway, is open for for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. For more info, call 303-716-4587.