Monday, June 13, 2011 | 3 a.m.
Celebrated restaurateaur Sergio Pérez proudly says his restaurants are simply culinary love letters to his native Cuba.
“When you come here, you’re in Cuba,” he says. And, as he likes to say, the restaurants give a new meaning to the term “Southern hospitality.”
Few people can testify to the fruits of hard work more than Pérez. Sitting in his Florida Café Cuban Bar & Grill in Las Vegas, where walls are painted with banana leaves, and sexy Cuban music fills the room, the Havana native smiles with pride. He knows he’s earned it.
Pérez, who also co-owns Havana Grill Cuban Cuisine in Henderson, says he likes to create an authentic Cuban experience in his restaurants. It’s not just food, he says, although that’s a big part of it.
Food is, in part, about creating a bridge from culture to culture. Pérez says many patrons are apprehensive when trying Cuban food because they don’t know what it tastes like. So, he created a buffet—a Vegas restaurant staple—offered on weekends at Florida Café. The buffet serves dishes á la carte so patrons can choose what items they like, he says.
Pérez knows how to bridge cultures. He moved to Las Vegas nearly two decades ago, where he took on a slew of jobs before opening his restaurant. It taught him a lot about what it means to be an American, he says.
“I worked in a carwash, in restaurants, bakeries,” he says. “Whatever I could.”
After awhile working odd jobs, Pérez noticed that there weren’t any Cuban restaurants in town. It was time for action.
Pérez, says he wants to share his culture with everybody. So, he opened his first restaurant with an all-Cuban staff.
It’s that staff, he says, who keep his restaurants thriving. In a city known for great food and service, making customers happy is everything.
Business has been impacted by the recession, but that hasn’t broken the restaurateaur’s spirit. “The door’s open, although I don’t always make money,” he says.
His love for Vegas is tempered with a longing for his beautiful Havana and the family members who remain on the island nation.
Though Cuban through and through, Pérez calls himself a proud Las Vegan.
“When I travel, I always miss Las Vegas,” he says.