'Fernando's Footsteps': Las Novedades

Las Novedades was the first café in Ybor City. It was a staple for Ybor City for many years and a competitor to The Columbia Restaurant.

On the return from downtown, they got off the trolley at the corner of 14th St and 7th Ave. On the south side of La Séptima, taking up the whole block up to 15th St, was a large wooden building. As they approached it, Ignacio stopped and pointed to it.

"Mira, Gaitero. Aquí es done trabajo, y con buena suerte, trabajarás allí también. Esta es la fábrica de puros de Sanchez y Haya."

Ignacio told Fernando that this was the Sánchez and Haya cigar factory where he worked, and with good luck, he will work there as well.

Fernando was impressed by how large the factory was. Ignacio went on to explain that all the factories had very large rectangular windows and were oriented on an east-west axis. This design maximized the amount of light entering, while preventing the rising or setting sun from blinding the workers as they rolled cigars all day. Seeing the factory made Fernando all the more anxious and curious about his interview the next morning.

Zapato gestured to his friend to follow him as he crossed the street.

"Te invito a tomar una merienda en mi café y pastelería favorito."

Ignacio had invited Fernando to join him in a snack at his favorite café and pastry shop.

As they entered the pastry shop, Fernando noticed the name, "LAS NOVEDADES", prominently painted on the store front display windows. The display cases were full of traditional Spanish and Cuban pastries. In Spain, such delicacies were appropriately referred to as "novedades", or "novelties" in English. Hence, the name of this most interesting café. He also noticed that a variety of sandwiches were offered as well.

When they entered the cafe, Gaitero felt he had been transported back to Spain. It was full of people, and the aroma of sweets, strong coffee, and fine cigars filled the air. They took their seats and a waiter hurried over.

"Hola, Zapato. Que tal?"

"Muy bien, Pepe. Y tu?"

Pepe, the waiter, greeted Ignacio warmly. It was obvious that he was known here, as Pepe used his nickname. Ignacio had returned the greeting.

"Por favor, empezamos con dos Cubanos mixtos y dos cafés con leche, después dos cremas catalanas."

Pepe acknowledged Ignacio's order with a nod and a smile and scurried away to fill the order. Fernando understood that he had ordered two coffees with milk and two Spanish versions of creme brûlée. But the third item, "mixed Cubans" was baffling to him. He asked Ignacio to explain.

"Zapato, que son Cubanos mixtos?"

"Gaitero, sabes lo que es un sándwich? Parecido a que llamábamos en Asturias 'emparedados'?"

Ignacio had asked if Fernando knew what a sandwich is, referring to the term they had used at home for a similar version, before the English invention became well-known in many other countries. Fernando said he did, because they had become increasingly popular in Cuba since the American occupation after the Spanish war.

"Bueno, son sándwiches hechos con el pan Cubano, jamón, puerco asado, un salchichón Italiano seco, queso suizo, rebanadas de pepinillo, y mostaza o mantequilla. Después lo meten en un horno hasta que se calienten un poco. Son deliciosos y son muy populares aquí en Tampa."

The most generous "tour guide" elaborated that a Cuban mix was a sandwich with baked ham, roasted Cuban-style pork, Italian salami, Swiss cheese, sliced pickles and mustard or butter. He considered them delicious, and they had become very popular in Tampa.

Just as Ignacio was concluding his explanation, the coffee and sandwiches arrived. Taking his first bite, Gaitero instantly agreed with Zapato...it was a delicious sandwich.

Little did Fernando know that he had just experienced what would essentially become a rite of passage before anyone could call themselves a true "Tampeño". (Tony Carreño, Chapter 16)