Cuba Culture

Restaurant owner brings a taste of Cuba to Central Falls Rhode Island

Posted July 28, 2003 by publisher in Cuba Culture.

Kevin P. O’Connor | Pawtucket Times

CENTRAL FALLS—When you left Miami, you were certain that your memories would be of pastel buildings, palm trees and impossibly beautiful people in rollerblades and almost nothing else.

So it is a surprise to find yourself, when you miss Miami, thinking first of food.

Still, a Cuban sandwich and a cafecito for lunch makes every day a little sweeter.

Savory pulled pork and smoked ham on a flaky roll with lettuce and tomato. A single gulp of coffee so strong it threatens to blast out the back of your skull.

How could you help but miss food like that?

“You don’t have to go to Miami,” said Julio Sanchez. “I’ll bring Miami to you.”

Sanchez is the owner, operator, cook and bottle washer at El Divino, 508 Dexter St., the city’s newest restaurant. El Divino offers Dominican and Cuban food—the first in the city to specialize in the cuisine of that corner of the Latin American world.

Opening the restaurant fulfills a lifelong dream, Sanchez adds.

He was born in Cuba to a Dominican father and a Cuban mother. They moved to the Dominican Republic when he was young. As a boy in the Dominican Republic, his first job was for his grandmother in the tiny restaurant she ran in the town of Bani.

That was enough to give him the restaurant bug. And even though his father, a businessman, tried to steer him away from the business, Sanchez could never shake his love of food.

“As soon as I came to Rhode Island, I knew this was the place for me,” Sanchez said. “I knew it even after I went back to my country.

“When I returned to Rhode Island, in 1998, I started looking for a place for a business. I knew I wanted to start a restaurant. That has always been my dream.”

Sanchez began building that dream last fall, when he took over raw space and tore down walls to transform it. He worked in the space at night and during the day worked at his regular job, running his own painting and contracting business.

The work is evident. The walls are bright yellow and red, the floors are newly tiled. Appliances and chairs are made of polished stainless steel. Ceramic tiles on the counters continue the theme of bright Caribbean colors.

“It took me a year to do the work in here,” Sanchez said. “I was still running my other business, so it was really hard.

“I’m happy with the way it turned out.”

Then he started cooking.

He learned Dominican cooking from one side of the family, Cuban cooking from the other. An uncle taught him the secrets of the Cuban sandwich.

“I tried every Cuban sandwich for sale in Providence,” Sanchez said. “I can tell you, honestly, mine is the best.”

But that is not the only item on the menu.

There are pastries, soups, daily specials, several types of rice, beans, dinners, sandwiches, shakes and sodas. There are usually two or three types of flan made every day and batidas—fruit-based milk shakes—made fresh to order.

There is also an ice cream counter—a popular stop for those working or doing business on Dexter Street.

“I’ve met a lot of my neighbors,” Sanchez said. “I’m really happy to be here. Dexter Street is a nice street, a friendly, peaceful street. I like it a lot.”

And while most people start with food that is familiar, Sanchez said many eventually get to one of his favorites on the menu—mofongo, a dish based on plantains and spices that can be served with chicken, shrimp or beef.

“What I’ve seen is that people like everything here,” he said. “If they come in to taste the food, they’ll come back.”

The restaurant is open from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m., every day but Tuesday.

English is spoken and everyone is welcome, Sanchez said.

“We invite everyone here,” he said. “We put some love in everything we do. Everything here is special.”

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