The two of them worked as social workers for a refugee resettlement organization.
While Oregon is beautiful, the weather didn’t always cooperate for the couple.
“It rains a lot over there and we wanted to be where the weather is sunny,” said Mary.
“His son is stationed at Patrick Air Force Base, so we made the jump here.”
At their Melbourne restaurant, the couple is trying to recreate the tastes, sights and sounds of Cuba.
Every Saturday, El Ambia Cubano roasts a suckling pig the traditional Cuban way, outside.
“That’s our main event,” said Mary.
Ten dollars will buy you a plate of the succulent meal, which also includes fried green plantains, rice and black beans, as well as live music on the porch.
Weekday specials, only $7.50, include all the traditional Cuban dishes, from ropa vieja to arroz con pollo and boliche, sautéed beef stuffed with chorizo sausage. Meals are typically served with sides that include black or red beans, rice and plantains.
Whenever the work allows it, Alfredo will grab one of his guitars and begin playing.
“I used to be in a band in Portland,” he said.
Mary is usually in charge of the fascinating guarapo machine, which transforms sugar cane stalks into perfect summer drinks. Silky smooth and amazingly not sugary at all, guarapo is simplicity itself served with a bit of lime juice.
“It’s awesome with a twist of lime,” said Mary.
The machine is almost as much fun as the drink.
“The kids love to make their own guarapo,” said Mary.
“We always invite them to try it.”
In addition to guarapo, El Ambia features tropical batidos, or shakes, as well as cafecitos, the tiny demi-tasses that are the ultimate Cuban coffee experience. For variety, try a cortadito, a little Latin latte.
Hernandez has a simple recipe for success.
“You need to learn what the customers want and provide it when they want it,” said Alfredo.
He also will tell you that he already had an advantage even before he got started.
“If the food is Latino, it has to be good,” added Hernandez.
El Ambia Cubano is located at 950 E. Melbourne Ave. in downtown Melbourne. The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. For more information, call (321) 327-8389.
By Maria Sonnenberg
For Al Día Today