From left, Josue Gonzalez, Adiarys Oliva, Erin and Rafael Garcia, owners, and Yarenis Cruz.

A once struggling Cuban cafe in Key Largo has renewed energy and some family flavor, under owners who took over the establishment more than one year ago. 

Rafael and Erin Garcia exuded enthusiasm and excitement as they sat down and looked around at a refreshed Denny’s Latin Cuban Cafe, located at MM 99.6. Much work has gone over the past year to uplift a cafe serving con leches, coffees and Cuban fare to the community and visitors for 35 years and counting. 

Originally from Los Angeles, the Garcias moved to the east coast when Rafael’s advertising job brought them to Miami two decades ago. The Garcias are no strangers to the Keys, as Rafael said his parents retired and moved to the island chain more than 25 years ago. 

The Garcias’ two kids were flying the nest for college, and little did Rafael know he was on the cusp of a career change. Rafael said he stumbled upon the Cuban cafe, which fell on hard times going back to the COVID pandemic. 

“I accidentally found it was for sale,” he said. “I saw the place was struggling. I thought, ‘Wow, we could definitely improve on this. After all, it’s a landmark place that simply went through some rough years.’”

By August 2022, the Garcias signed the papers and started a new venture as proud owners of Denny’s Latin Cuban Cafe. Rafael and Erin went right to work fixing processes, cleaning, replacing refrigeration and giving the restaurant a face lift with new tables and chairs. Rafael was also busy adding some family recipes to the menu. 

From left, Josue Gonzalez, Adiarys Oliva, Erin and Rafael Garcia, owners, and Yarenis Cruz.

“My family were always big cooks and had some restaurant experience in Cuba,” he said. “I always loved to cook as well. I have an uncle who really motivated me in that way and gave me recipes.”

Rafael said it’s been a slow and steady process since taking over the cafe last year. Not only has he upgraded and renovated the cafe, but he also managed to keep all employees while hiring a few more. 

“I found it’s not rocket science,” he said. “It’s basically customer service, changing the mentality of people who work here and providing a good clean atmosphere that’s affordable.”

The Garcias say they’re ecstatic to hear the many compliments from the community since taking over the cafe. Erin said some patrons who visited the restaurant last year were pleasantly surprised to see the changes upon returning a few weeks ago. 

“It’s been kind of cool to see because it’s only been a year,” said Erin, who spent two decades teaching in Miami-Dade. “They’re noticing the difference and they’re glad we’re still here.” 

Denny’s Latin Cuban Cafe is open Sunday through Thursday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Visit dennyslatincafe.com for more information. 

Jim McCarthy is one of the many Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 4-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, hockey, mixed martial arts and golf. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.