I grew up just a few blocks away from the Ayestaran restaurant and their Cuban supermarket next door. Located in the heart of Little Havana on 27th avenue and 8th street (Calle Ocho), it seemed like every Cuban in the area ate or shopped there. Although we rarely ate out (my father preferred home-cooked meals), the Ayestaran grocery as where my mother would do most of her grocery shopping, and even though it was literally only 2 minutes away from our home, I cannot remember ever seeing a loaf of hot, freshly baked Cuban bread surviving the trip without being devoured in the car. It was where I would buy 45 RPM records of the latest hits, including Free Ride by the Edgar Winters Group; an unlikely selection in a thoroughly Cuban establishment.
All of us who grew up in this area in the 60s and 70s knew Ayestaran and the folks there, like Rodolfo, Orestes, and Roberto. El carnicero (the butcher) at Ayesteran always gave us the best cuts of meat, even though it was usually only picadillo (ground beef) or bistec de palomilla (thin-cut Cuban style steaks). And when my mother could not make it to the store, she could always call and place our grocery order. They would then promptly deliver it to our door, free of charge, and many times by one of the owners, Rodolfo or Orestes. But more importantly, the folks at Ayesteran knew us — the kids from the neighborhood. And if any of them caught sight of our shenanigans or mischief in the parking lot behind Ayestaran, our parents would soon find out on the next visit.
This Cuban business was the epitome of the resourcefulness and the solidarity of Miami’s Cuban exile community. Although they ended up selling the grocery store years later, these Cuban exiles continued to work hard, take care of their customers, and give back to their community.
It will be hard to drive past this building and no longer see the Ayestaran sign. Yet another piece of my childhood and my heritage will be gone forever. I will have no choice but to continue with just the memories, but memories that are oh so sweet.
After nearly 50 years, family-owned Little Havana restaurant Ayestaran serves its final meal
For nearly 50 years, plates of lechon and ajiaco have passed through the kitchen of Ayestaran to feed hungry politicians, celebrities and just regular folk in Little Havana.
Now, the tradition has come to an end.
The family that owns the small Cuban restaurant, and the shopping center where it’s been located all these years, is selling the property at Southwest Seventh Street at 27th Avenue. Ayestaran served one final meal Wednesday to friends, family members and employees.
After the last diner left, the doors closed for the final time on a piece of Little Havana history. People said farewell to the restaurant and to the brothers who built the family-run business.
Rodolfo, 84, and Orestes Lleonart, 81, created a name for themselves in 1966, when three months after arriving from Cuba, they opened Ayestaran Supermarket. They later opened the restaurant.
“I think the combination of success they have had has been the best Cuban food … for very good prices,” said Rudy Lleonart, Orestes’ 40-year-old son. “Everyone that entered through these doors felt familiar because the brothers were always attentive to everyone who came through.”
Working tirelessly from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, the two used all their money to slowly buy up the property on the block. In 1975, they closed the supermarket and opened what has become a landmark of the community.
For 38 years, 3 months and 3 days, the red and gray striped building has stood as the home of what Orestes said is the best Cuban food in Miami.
Open from 7 a.m. to as late at 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, seven days a week, 364 days a year, Ayestaran has seen generations of families, singers, politicians, journalists and even some movie stars cross its doors.
In 1995, the restaurant enjoyed a moment in the spotlight as one of the sites for the Antonio Banderas and Mia Farrow film, Miami Rhapsody. The restaurant was closed for several hours at night for the shooting of the film, in which Orestes was an extra.
Among the star-studded list of customers: Cuban singers Celia Cruz, Olga Guillot and Orlando Contreras, as well as Cuban journalist Agustin Tamargo.
The success of the business was built on Cuban sandwiches — and hard work.
The owners worked at least 12 to 14 hours a day. They would take one Sunday off every 15 days and only closed on nochebuena.
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