Jorge Llapur wants to take the Cuban frita to the masses in South Florida.
Welcome to Cuban Guys, where the seasoned hamburger patty comes topped with fried shoestring potatoes on a toasted Cuban bun. It’s served in a stylish red, white and blue fast-food setting, at a bargain price of $3.50.
Llapur and his partners launched the new restaurant concept earlier this year in Hialeah and are hoping to build a South Florida regional chain, combining the Cuban favorites with the convenience of a fast-food restaurant. While the frita is the star, the menu also includes a variety of Cuban sandwiches, rice bowls, salads and breakfast served all day.
“It’s about bringing the professionalism and efficiencies of a chain restaurant together with the flavor of authentic Cuban food,” Llapur said. “We know the Cubans love us already. We’re trying to earn the palates of the non-Cubans as well.”
The frita patties are hand-formed from 100 percent beef and seasoned with a distinctive mix of spices. Shoestring potatoes are cut and fried in-house every day. Other sandwiches include a pan con bistec (steak sandwich) and medianoche ( pork, ham and cheese). The menu includes three varieties of homemade flan and homemade Cuban-style ice cream sandwiches on thinly sliced poundcake. The average check is between $8 and $10.
Vivian Hernandez discovered Cuban Guys recently when she was visiting her sister and liked it so much she came back the next day. She was having a hard time deciding which she liked better: the frita or the pan con bistec. The Hialeah restaurant is at 3174 W. 76th St.
“It’s excellent, probably better than what you get in Cuban restaurants,” said Hernandez, a teacher who lives in Pembroke Pines and can’t wait for one to open closer to her house. “You get the best of both: something home-cooked and fresh, plus quick-service.”
Initial results have been so strong that Llapur and his partners are already looking for additional locations in strip shopping centers in Kendall, Pembroke Pines, Midtown Miami and Aventura. They hope to have another location or two open before the end of this year.
The idea for the Cuban Guys concept started out of Llapur’s personal frustration. The fast-food industry veteran found himself on the road frequently for work. But every time Llapur stopped for a frita or a Cuban sandwich, he found himself in a mom-and-pop restaurant upset by poor service or lack of cleanliness.
“The fritas were delicious but the restaurants were not up to standards,” Llapur said. “A restaurant isn’t just about the food. It’s about the entire experience.”
Llapur, whose 25-year career includes stints in regional management for Burger King and Boston Market, saw the benefits of taking the Cuban food he loved and combing it with the chain restaurant industry standards he knew so well.
He met one of his partners, Isaac Sklar, when Llapur approached him about leasing space in a shopping center on Miami Beach. Sklar, an early investor in Pollo Tropical and the architect who designed the chicken chain’s signature look, had long harbored a similar idea.
They teamed up with Spanish radio star Enrique Santos and also raised capital from a small group of family and friends. The first unit cost about $300,000 in start-up costs. The goal is an average unit volume of $1 million. That’s just a little lower than what the average Burger King rings up today and about half the sales of an average Pollo Tropical.
Industry analysts believe the Cuban Guys chain has potential in South Florida but are skeptical about whether the concept will work outside this region. That’s the same issue Pollo Tropical faced in its early years until it moved its products more toward a mainstream audience.
“There are more than enough potential growth opportunities to keep these guys busy for a long time,” said Dennis Lombardi, an executive with restaurant industry consultant WD Partners. But “if they grow beyond South Florida they’re going to run into the same problems as Pollo Tropical did. There may not be enough people and demand for that type of cuisine.”
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/04/06/2733857/miamis-cuban-guys-fast-food-restaurant.html#storylink=cpy