GRAND RAPIDS, MI -- Stefan Nava says Grand Rapids is ready for a taste of Cuba.
And residents will soon be able to find it at his new restaurant, Danzon Cubano, in the city's Fulton Heights neighborhood that's slated to open by the end of October.
Inside, customers will find a menu complete with four types of Cuban sandwiches, stews and soups, yuca fries, Cuban paella, and entrees such as "Picadillo a la Cubana," which features traditional Cuban beef hash in a white wine tomato sauce served with white rice and sweet plantains.
Nava, who works in the tech industry and is making his first foray into the restaurant business, describes the food as a blend of European and Spanish influences, and says the restaurant brings a new twist to the Grand Rapids culinary scene.
"We feel we're unique in the sense that we're bringing a new type of cuisine for people to experience," said Nava, 35. "Grand Rapids hasn't had anything like this, and so we wanted to introduce it because we believe Grand Rapids is ready."
The restaurant is located on the ground-floor of Fulton Square, a mixed-use housing and retail development at 1 Carlton Avenue SE. Including its outdoor patio, the restaurant can seat 142 people.
Its centerpiece is a wood bar, some of which was built using repurposed wood from a former barn. Painted above it is the Cuban flag. There's plans to put a map of the island nation, about 90 miles south of Miami, near the entryway.
Nava estimates he spent about $311,000 renovating the space, and between $50,000 and $60,000 on equipment.
Nava is not of Cuban decent - his parents are from Mexico - but when he was planning the restaurant concept he was inspired by the story of Cubans who fled to America in the wake of the Cuban Revolution and Fidel Castro's rise to power in 1959.
He says his goal is to create an authentic, family-friendly Cuban restaurant. He wants to introduce West Michigan residents to the island nation's cuisine but also provide members of the Cuban community with a taste of their homeland.
"That's the one thing we want to make sure of, that this food isn't fusion," Nava said. "We wanted to keep it authentic because a lot of people don't know about the Cuban food and the Cuban food has a lot of history. It has a lot of flavor."
The restaurant features beer, a selection of Spanish wines, and Cuban-inspired rum cocktails. Nava says he wanted to get Cuban beer, but the U.S. trade embargo against the communist nation kept him from doing so.
Named after a song by American composer Aaron Copeland, Danzon Cubano will feature live Cuban music and dancing on weekends, Nava said.
"They're very lively people," he said. "They love the music. Cuban music is fantastic."
Nava works as director of managed sales for CenturyLink, a global telecommunications company. His job has taken him to locations throughout the world, and he says one of his favorite things to do while abroad is to sample the local cuisine. Owning a restaurant is a chance to dive deeper into one of his favorite pastimes - and expose people to good food.
"I love cooking, I love the foods, I like trying everything," he said. "I get frustrated when I go to a place and the food is just not there. I'm the kind of guy that I'm just looking for the flavors."