A Taste of Cuba
Havana Rumba Owner Marcos Lorenzo Talks Success of Louisville Locations
You’ve probably heard it said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty. I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
While Theodore Roosevelt wasn’t speaking about himself when he said this, the sentiment is the epitome of the life of Marcos Lorenzo, owner of Louisville’s Havana Rumba.
When Lorenzo came to the United States from his homeland of Cuba, the restaurant industry was one of the few doors that opened up for him. Starting from scratch with no credit history and speaking limited English, his background in civil engineering didn’t translate to America. With a family to support, going back to school was not an option, either. The restaurant industry was a way to support his family, and what started as a foot in the door quickly became his passion.
“It’s taken dedication,” Lorenzo says. “But it’s interesting and fun. The intense hours and commitment help you see results. It’s a blessing, and I’m proud. It takes a lot of people, but every day is a new challenge that keeps you busy.”
After Lorenzo arrived in the United States in 2000, he spent four years as a server, working his way up at different restaurants in Louisville. After four years, he opened his own restaurant, Havana Rumba, in 2004 in St. Matthews. The small restaurant boasted 16 tables and could seat 64 people. There was no bar or waiting area.
“We were so successful and busy from the first month of the business that one year later we opened a place next door,” Lorenzo says. “This time, it was a full-sized restaurant with a bar, waiting area and much more seating.”
Two years after the expansion in 2007, Lorenzo and his team opened Mojito Tapas restaurant in Holiday Manor Shopping Center. While it had a much different concept and cuisine than Havana Rumba, its wild success led to the next expansion. In 2010 Havana Rumba opened its Middletown location. Most recently, in 2013, the Bardstown Road location of Havana Rumba opened.
“Opening a restaurant takes a lot of energy and time,” Lorenzo says. “We have found ourselves ready to open something else about every three years. It’s kind of like when you forget the difficult newborn stages of a baby and are ready for another child.”
Thankful for the opportunity to open restaurants at such a quick pace, Lorenzo credits his success to his heritage.
“I believe what is making us successful is trying to bring Cuban feelings to the restaurant,” Lorenzo says. “From the colors, decorations, and presentation of the plates to the food itself. It is completely different from what others offer. It’s a lively place. We train our servers to be different and have great customer service. We aren’t just selling Cuban food, we’re selling the Cuban experience.”
According to Lorenzo, when they open a restaurant his attention is needed six days per week from open to close to make sure it’s smooth. Each location offers different difficulties and adaptations. After about six months he can leave it to his team. Someone from the crew with passion and talent receives the opportunity to invest in the business and is trained very well to handle the location. Oftentimes a former chef or front manager will supervise the restaurant as an operative partner. From there, Lorenzo can supervise and advise.
“Anytime there is a problem, they give me a call and I’m there,” Lorenzo says. “We have a great team, and I don’t have to be there all the time because of our good training.”
Because Havana Rumba is inspired by authentic Cuban cuisine, they don’t serve complicated food. They cook classics with big portions and variety.
“That’s how we eat in Cuba,” Lorenzo says. “It’s a very simple, home-cooking cuisine. I have too many favorites: the roasted chicken, empanadas, chicken croquettes and garlic shrimp. The flan is addictive. We have a new dish on the menu that is really good called pollo con queso.”
While all of the locations in Louisville require attention from Lorenzo, he feels a special connection with the Middletown location.
“I feel more attached and familiar at Middletown because I don’t have an operative partner there right now,” Lorenzo says. “It’s our biggest location, and with no current partner, it’s my most challenging location. I’m grateful for our great team there because the atmosphere is unmatched.”
It’s hard for Lorenzo to put a finger on what he loves most about owning and operating Havana Rumba in Louisville.
“When I go outside and everyone wants to meet me and say thank you for being in Louisville, anytime customers want to say hi, shake my hand and give me support, it inspires me to wake up every day and do my best,” Lorenzo says. “It’s very inspiring and rewarding that people are asking, ‘Who is the owner?’, and want to tell you that they love it. I love our clientele, and I love Louisville.”
For Lorenzo, food isn’t just a passion. It’s a lifestyle.
“I’m off on Mondays and dedicate time to family, but I love cooking,” Lorenzo says. “Every Monday I cook at home. I always explore new cuisines and read new cookbooks. I subscribe to food websites, and I love learning new food and getting creative.”
Lorenzo says one of the reasons he loves Louisville is because he emigrated straight from Havana, Cuba, to Louisville.
“It’s a quiet city with a good pace for a family,” Lorenzo says. “It’s a healthy city. We’ve had big success here in Louisville, and it’s my home right now. We’re proud to be a part of the community.”
Lorenzo sees the company continuing to expand at its established pace.
“We want to keep growing the company at a slow pace,” Lorenzo says. “We’re looking into expanding opportunities and keeping our eyes open for more locations. We’re ready to open a new one, and we’re looking around at the market for the right moment and right location. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in Louisville, but we plan to continue at this pace of roughly three years between each new venture.”
Eager to inspire and help others with passions like his, Lorenzo says he believes passion must drive what you’re doing in any business.
“You have to love what you’re doing,” Lorenzo says. “You’ve got to feel it or it won’t suit you. If you want to run a restaurant, you have to be a chef, be passionate and put a good team together. You don’t do it to make money. You have to feel it and engage with your employees and customers to make it succeed. Before you open one, you should work for one and get experience because it’s not easy.”
At Havana Rumba and Mojito Tapas, leaving customers with a lasting impression is what matters to Lorenzo and his team.
“We want to turn customers into repeat customers,” Lorenzo says. “We want to know their names. That’s our motto. Come see us.”
Havana Rumba has three current locations, and Mojito Tapas has one. For more information, visit havanarumbaonline.com.