Not far from the White House and the white-shoe law firms and lobbying shops lies a small taste of South Florida in the form of a Cuban cafeteria: Colada Shop.
“More than anything, we’re bringing a different coffee culture to D.C. The cafeteria style of an everyday eatery is more the norm in Miami,” Colada Shop’s Food and Beverage Director Mario Monte told SFMN. “We bring a little bit extra flair of how Cubans treat their day-to-day (life).”
Cuban-style coffee, sandwiches, pastries, croquetas and flan are just a few of the many traditional foods that help capture the vibrant and colorful flavors of Little Havana at Colada Shop. Monte, a chef who has worked with famed chef José Andrés, was born in Miami to a Cuban father and Italian mother and raised in Venezuela, arriving back in Miami as a teenager. Monte has chosen to both retain the traditional cues of Cuban culture in South Florida – with some South American influences — while still evolving with the market in the nation’s capital. The philosophy of Colada Shop is deeply rooted in presenting the best of Cuban culture to the residents of Washington, D.C., with a little twist.
“I don’t have a lot of those old viejitos coming at me for putting cilantro aioli on my Cuban (sandwich), you know?,” Monte said, referring to the old men steeped in tradition that you find at Cuban establishments in Little Havana.
Cilantro aioli is very common in Venezuelan food. While the cultural makeup of Washington — with a majority of Latinos of Central American background — does not mirror that of South Florida – and more specifically, Miami – Monte knows there is still a timeless and universal charm to Cuban food. “People enjoy it and they want the change. It’s different flavors, it’s things that don’t exist here, so we become a cultural hub to bring a little bit of authenticity without feeling restricted.”
Aside from all the traditional Cuban meals and treats served at Colada Shop, locals find the rooftop area to be a good spot to unwind and feel like they’re right smack in Little Havana, even if the real deal is more than 1,000 miles away. The cafeteria has many of the same bright colors painted on its walls that are prevalent across Little Havana and other parts of South Florida.
“It’s a great happy hour spot in D.C. that doesn’t feel so D.C., so you kind of feel like you’re in a different town that’s a little prettier, a little more relaxed,” said D.C. resident Elena Scott.
Colada Shop hosts a highly popular weekly social event where patrons can stop by and have a taste of the island’s most iconic drinks for an all-night happy hour known as Havana Nights, paying homage to Cuba’s capital city.
“It’s a time for us to open our doors and play really good music. It’s a way for us to give people a different vibe when they’re looking for a happy hour, especially on Thursdays,” said Monte.
“One of our biggest slogans is ‘Come Curious, Leave Cuban’,” said Monte. “So Colada Shop for us is coffee, food, cocktails, and Cubanism. Cubanism, for us, is what it means to be Cuban and what it means to keep the culture alive and celebrate it. That’s what we’re all about.”
Owners of the Colada Shop, which opened two years ago and already boasts another location in the Virginia suburbs, say they are looking to expand into other neighborhoods in the Washington area to bring even a little piece of South Florida to as many spots as possible in the nation’s capital region.
Daniel Lederman, Osman López-Barraza and William Prego are reporters in the South Florida Media Network’s Washington, D.C., Bureau.