Editor’s note: This story was published through a partnership between KSAT and Live From the Southside, a new local- and Latina-owned magazine that works to improve & expand community relationships through promoting events, stories and businesses.
When attorney Maria Chavarria purchased the property at 2809 W. Southcross Blvd. decades ago, she never would have imagined that it would turn into a Cuban restaurant.
Maria, the oldest daughter of Mexican immigrants, had grown up around hard work. Throughout her childhood, she worked as a migrant farm worker with her parents and siblings. She became the first in the family to get a degree, graduating from Our Lake of the Lake University and then going to law school at St. Mary’s University.
“She has always been brilliant and resourceful,” says her niece Erica Rodriguez. “She purchased this property as a ‘retirement fund’. She had a friend named Betty who convinced her that it was a solid investment. She was always ahead of her time.”
But for years, the building sat vacant. Being a self-employed attorney that served the community didn’t afford Maria the revenue she needed to do big-scale improvements.
“There were many times she gave her legal services away. Pro-bono was a word she knew well,” stated Rodriguez.
Then, four years ago, Erica and her husband Ray Colao began the task of cleaning out the property on Southcross. “Our intention at the time was just to clean it out. But the more junk we pulled out, the more beauty we unearthed,” Colao said.
The building that now houses the café, named Cuba 1918, was built in 1918 in what is now known as the historic Quintana neighborhood.
Quintana has seen its share of glory days. Right outside Kelly Air Force Base, which is now Port San Antonio, the neighbors and neighborhood thrived because of the base.
“When Kelly closed, Quintana felt it. The neighborhood and its people were forgotten” Rodriguez said.
She has spent her life helping others — a quality she learned by watching her aunt. She has raised over $33 million for local nonprofits such as the San Antonio Food Bank, KIPP San Antonio, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Colao is a nationally recognized musician and vocalist who has performed for People en Espanol, Google and Coca-Cola.
Today, they manage an Afro-Latino marketing, event planning and entertainment company.
Cuba 1918 is as much a passion project as an economic development project.
“We want Cuba 1918 to be a reflection of all of our passions: food, music, and the diverse culture of our team. Half of our team is Cuban. The rest are Puerto Rican, Mexican, Venezuelan, Dominican, and Costa Rican,” Rodriguez said. “We chose to celebrate Cuban culture because of Ray’s strong Cuban influences growing up. Our hope is that all the things we love help breathe life back into Quintana, starting with Cuba 1918.”
Cuba 1918 is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Evenings are reserved for private events.
This article initially appeared on Live from the Southside.
Do you know of someone or something on the South Side that deserves some news coverage? Let us know in the prompt below.
Read more content by Live From The Southside Magazine: