One of the best parts of traveling is trying the cuisines of other places. But for many people the ability to travel is limited. Stefan Nava said that is one of the inspirations behind Danzón Cubano.
“Primarily, it was wanting to show Grand Rapids the culture, the food and the music [of Cuba]. We wanted to create something new that would excite the crowd and also educate them about Cuban food. A lot of people don’t know what Cuban food is,” Nava said.
Danzón Cubano, located in the new Fulton Square development at 1 Carlton Ave SE, opens on Friday, Oct. 26 at 11 a.m. The restaurant will be open from 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. – midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, and 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday.
The restaurant’s lunch and dinner menus are full of Cuban staples, from Cuban sandwiches like the well-known Cubano, made with mojo-braised pork, ham and Swiss cheese, to items like Cuban paella, oxtail stew, and a Red Snapper plate. You’ll also find plantain-based dishes and desserts. The restaurant has vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options as well.
Nava said one of the misconceptions about Cuban food is that it is spicy like Mexican food. He said while Cuban food is full of different flavors spicy is not part of the Cuban menu.
“It’s not Mexican food. But it has spices for flavor,” he said. “Cuban food has a lot of European and African influences and also a blend of Caribbean influences, and Latin American as well.”
The cuisine is steeped in history and Nava hopes introducing these menu items to West Michigan will help people get to know the country’s culture better.
“You have a cuisine with a lot of history and influences and there’s a lot of ethnicity in it. That is part of the Cuban culture, they are very embracing and the diversity is huge,” Nava said.
The menu will rotate on a quarterly basis so you can expect new items as the seasons change.
The restaurant has 10 beers on tap including local favorites like Founders and Bells and will offer wines from France, Spain and California. Its specialty cocktails all have ties to Cuba. Enjoy a traditional Mojito, El Presidente or The Hemingway and pretend you are living that lush island life.
The restaurant plans to offer live entertainment as well, both music and dancing.
In fact, it takes its name from Cuba’s official musical genre and dance. Nava said Danzón is a formal, ballroom-style dance.
The restaurant is steeped in the colors of Cuba and the Cuban flag is painted on the wall behind the bar. The bar is made of reclaimed wood and reclaimed metal was also incorporated into the design.
Danzón Cubano is Nava’s first foray into the restaurant industry, but he said his business partner, Brian LaFranboise, has been in the industry for a while.
Nava conceived of the restaurant during a transitional period in his career. “I’ve always wanted to have something like this. It was always in the back of my head, but I wanted a theme or a concept that was unique, something that was new.”
Nava’s background is actually Mexican. His parents were both born in Mexico City, but he said he has many Cuban friends and is very familiar with Cuban food, which was part of the restaurant’s inspiration. In particular, he was inspired by the “American Dream” journey of one of his close friends, Carlos (Hidalgo).
“My friend Carlos was brought to the U.S. when he was 15, as part of the Peter Pan program. The U.S. government airlifted 14,000 unaccompanied kids…and Carlos was one of those children that came in after being oppressed in Cuba. He worked hard, and in the autumn of his life, he is very successful. He’s contributed a lot to the West Michigan community.”
Nava said he hopes the restaurant serves as a tribute to the Cuban community.