A taste of Cuban food and culture is coming to Woodruff Road.
Havana Kitchen, from the owners of Tropical Grille, is slated to open in December in the 7,200-square-foot restaurant at 1133 Woodruff Road left vacant since Mimi’s Cafe closed in 2014.
Lazaro Montoto, co-owner of the Tropical Grille chain which will soon expand from six to 10 locations, and his partner on the project, Frank Roman, had been eyeing the Mimi’s location for the last few years with the thought of doing a full, authentic Cuban-style restaurant to fully showcase their heritage.
“It’s something we wanted to do for a long time,” says Montoto, who moved to Greenville with his family from Miami, Florida, about a decade ago. “This is a passion. Tropical Grille was a necessity.”
The property has been owned since 2014 by Kairos of Greenville LLC, which is registered to Spero T.H. Elipoulous. Montoto says many other potential tenants prior to them were planning on razing the building, and the owners weren’t comfortable with that. Montoto says the design was perfect for their concept so most of the changes they are making are cosmetic.
The restaurant is segmented into four distinct areas, Montoto says. To the right of the entryway is a large dining room that will feel like a “Cuban grandma’s living room” with dozens of photos of colorful Cuban scenes on the wall and tiled floors. A second connected space with an arched brick ceiling will have a patio-like feel. To the left of the entrance is the bar, which will feature an extensive bourbon and scotch list at “reasonable” prices, along with a “real mojito” and wines.
The final dining area to the left with high ceilings and brightly colored walls will have a courtyard feel complete with a palm tree in the center. After 9 p.m. on weekend nights, the tables will be cleared from the center to make room for dancing and salsa lessons.
“The vibe will be, you’re walking into Havana,” Montoto says.
The restaurant will seat about 200 guests.
Havana Kitchen will serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, complete with a full bakery and coffee counter for the morning to-go rush.
Montoto and Roman have hired a chef from Miami with decades of experience cooking Cuban food. He moved to Greenville Oct. 18 to begin working on the menu, which will include oxtail, skirt steak, yucca, tostones, shrimp, and whole fried snapper. Fish will be flown in daily.
The two partners, while expanding Tropical Grille and keeping the current stores operational, are also working on the new building.
“We’re doing a lot of the work ourselves,” Montoto says. “We believe in having something more than just [putting] money into a building. There’s something [about] a hard day’s work that makes you appreciate something more.”