What is a Cuban-born engineer who graduated from the Instituto Tecnologico de Monterey (ITESM) in Mexico doing as a restaurant owner in Miami, Florida? This intelligent man who traveled extensively throughout the globe, employing his vast knowledge in telecommunications skills, decided to listen to his wife, Sonia, and open up a restaurant. This is the story of a family of six, consisting of a husband, Otto De La Torre, his wife, Sonia, and their four children, Jonathan Alexander, 22, David, 21, Lauren, 14, and Lissette, 10, and how they pursued their American Dream.
Otto and Sonia fell in love when they met in the Dominican Republic. Sonia is a Cuban-American and Otto was born in the Dominican Republic, of a Cuban father and a Dominican mother. Otto says it was love at first sight. They married, soon journeying to Miami, Florida for a six month stint, and within a short time, they moved to Chicago, Illinois.
They found themselves in Miami once again when Otto was relocated by his employer. Due to extensive business travel, Otto would be away from his family for weeks at a time, which neither he nor his wife and children enjoyed. The bright, strong-willed Sonia would find a way for them be able to spend more time together. She found out from close friends that a local restaurant named Wajiro’s was going to be put up for sale and convinced Otto to make a bid on the restaurant.
From the very beginning, Sonia felt the restaurant would be theirs. Her dream of Otto being full-time with the family would become a reality. Their children would be able to spend more time with their father. She knew they had to move on this opportunity that had come their way. Otto made an offer. They waited for the answer. Sonia told Otto, “If it’s meant to be, it will be. It is up to God.”
Their bid was accepted and Wajiro’s was on the way to being their own. The family was ecstatic. Changes were made. The décor remained pretty much the same, but Wajiro’s atmosphere changed. The entire family took up the challenge.
Jonathan, the elder son, is in charge of recruitment, vendor relations, purchases, and marketing for Wajiro’s, yet somehow manages to find the time in his busy schedule to study political science at Florida International University (FIU). He also has big plans for the restaurant, including introducing weekly karaoke and college nights. David, second in birth order, has a passion for cooking. Since the age of eleven, he would create special dishes and meals for his family.
Not surprisingly, David and Wajiro’s executive chef, Chef Jose Angel Perez, have developed a bond.
Chef Jose Angel Perez landed in Wajiro’s by an act of faith. Perez has an illustrious background. He was a menu consultant for Madre Restaurant, a now defunct restaurant owned by actress/singer Jennifer Lopez, http://www.seeing-stars.com/dine/madres.shtml and also at Sabor in Glendale, California. Perez, of a Cuban father and a Russian mother, speaks Russian and Spanish fluently. He expresses himself by waving his hands excitedly when he speaks about his food creations.
He shows off his perfectly clean hands,
“You see my hands? Everyone in the kitchen must always have clean hands even when wearing gloves. A chef must always be clean. The need to eat is what allows you to live. Unfortunately, no one understands the work and dedication behind cooking. There are five main points to cooking: Food must be abundant, healthy, presented like a work of art, thoroughly clean, and nutritious. I teach my kitchen helpers that. I tell them, ‘If you see me holding a cleaning rag, you better be holding two.’ They listen. They learn and someday they will leave the nest and be on their own, running their own kitchen. That is what I want for them.”
Perez studied political science in Russia until he convinced his parents that he wanted to be a chef. His parents wanted him to have a degree, so he learned his culinary skills in Barcelona, Spain. Upon arriving in Miami, he learned that Wajiro’s was under a new administration. He showed up to offer De La Torre to work one week for free as a chef. De La Torre’s gut feeling was that this man must have been sent to steer the restaurant towards the right course. Perez transformed the kitchen’s set-up. He chose some helpers to train and undertook mentoring David.
The name Wajiro’s has a story of its own. In Cuba, guajiros were those who tended the farms, but since the Mambises in Cuba were brave warriors who liberated Cuba, they were ‘war heroes’. Using the first two letters for ‘war heroes’ and removing the first two letters from guajiros, the restaurant was named Wajiro’s.
Otto and Sonia De La Torre receive the customers at the door. Otto walks the floor, asking diners if they are enjoying their meals. Regular customers invite him to join them at their table. Lobster, shrimp, steaks, pork, chicken, and sausages emanate an appetizing aroma. Patrons smile as their orders are served, with many opting for wine to accompany their meals. The wine selection ranges from the House Wine to choices from the Chilean vineyards. There is also beer available.
Wajiro’s offers breakfast specials on weekends. Most include café con leche (steamed milk mixed with Cuban espresso), potatoes, toast and an egg or two, depending on what breakfast you order. One of the breakfast specials is chicken breast steak with potatoes, toast, and coffee and milk. Breakfast specials cost between $2.25 and $7.95.
To start, I recommend the Wajira Platter, which brings Tamale, Chicken and Pork Chunks, Croquettes, Stuffed Yuca, and Stuffed Potato. These last two are stuffed with Cuban-style ground beef, seasoned with green peppers, red pimento, onions and more. The Wajira Platter is only $14.95, and feeds more than two. There are also daily soups. We tried the Chicken Soup, which is prepared every day and found it delicious.
An array of dishes was served for author and columnist Ily Goyanes and me to taste. These included one of their most popular plates, Mar Habana Wajiro’s (Havana Sea Wairau), Snapper covered with Shrimp and Melted Cheese, accompanied by your choice of two side dishes, for $19.95. There is also the tender and well-seasoned Masas de Puerco Wajiro’s (Fried Pork Chunks Wajiro Style) for $9.95. A tasty Churrasco Steak Wajiro Style, so large that it curled on the plate, is served with Chimichurri Salsa, accenting the pure meat flavor. Prices on the Churrasco Steak vary because of the different dishes and sizes. Tax is not included on prices quoted.
The overall experience of dining at Wajiro’s is a delight, from the food, to the ambiance, to the friendly service and personal family touch. I would highly recommend Wajiro’s to anyone.
For any additional questions, call Wajiro’s at 305.227.9604. Wajiro’s is the restaurant for everyone.