Latin atmosphere, larger concept at Café Don Juan in Winter Park

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Some of the customers at the new Café Don Juan in Winter Park have come because they know something its growing local fan base doesn’t: it’s not exactly new.

In Puerto Rico, the brand is almost 10 years old.

“A lot of people left the main island to move here and when they found out the concept was coming they were thrilled,” says co-owner Axel Otero. Better yet, they showed up. But loyalty is only one of the determining factors in attracting customers. Newcomers who showed up initially for coffee and pastries, Otero says, would see the menu and say, “Oh, you sell food?!” I’ll be back.'”

If on a weekday morning a friend and I arrived, then they also kept their promise.

Winter Park’s diversity, Otero says, is what prompted him and brand co-owner/founder Juan Pablo Torres to choose the location for the first continental boutique.

“We wanted to impact this mixed demographic,” he says, “because the concept of Café Don Juan is very broad.”

There are definitely Latin touches to the menu – for which broad is also a good word. Take the Tripleta ($16.95), here served open (but with an option to make it a more traditional sandwich), “or the quesitos ($3.95), which are hugely popular in the Puerto Rican market. We also have the empanada pastelón ($4.50) with ground beef and plantains,” says Otero, pointing out a few.

But, he says, “we like being here in the northern part of Central Florida because it’s a bit of a different market than down south where we find a lot of Latinos — Puerto Ricans, Venezuelans, Colombians. Even so, in Puerto Rico, the menu is very similar,” he notes.

It’s a tough menu to choose from, honestly. Many things sounded good, so we ordered accordingly: pumpkin pancakes ($11.50), mixed tofu ($11.50), a slice of pressed sandwich called toast in pan sobao, the bread slightly sweet and chewy with a generally soft crust gets a bit of a texture makeover in the press. We chose the Brie, Bacon and Guava ($12.50) and enjoyed the polar opposite of crisp in its rich filling.

The pancakes, a blaze of deep autumn orange alongside the cooler hues of fresh blueberries and other fresh fruit, were even lighter than expected next to this sandwich. The tofu, in far more bland tones, was perhaps the biggest surprise of all, so drenched in flavor was the sautéed vegetables.

Everything is from scratch, virtually nothing is pre-made (some items, he says, are baked in the early hours), says Otero, revealing the secrets of Sweet Potato Bread ($3.95). Dense, like a plus-ultra pound cake, this heavy slice was probably my favorite taste of them all. “We receive the potato as a product, we peel it, cook it, mash it in flour.”

The bread arrives every one or two days is baked locally at Tainos Bakery here in town and – Otero and the gang have even jumped into Orlando’s super open collab scene – an entirely organic event.

In one scenario, the coffee-focused shop sourced a blend brewed by Axum Coffee of Winter Garden and in another, a potent serving of brand loyalty beauty, much like the Puerto Ricans who were customers home now back.

It happened in the lobby of Kissimmee’s Crocante Rotisserie Kitchen, where Otero had stopped for dinner — unknowingly — at the establishment of a brand founder whose business he frequented in Puerto Rico.

Trendy Yam Burger, with two locations in San Juan, was a regular stop for Otero at home. As he scanned the wall of Crocante, he realized that owner Yamuel Bigio was the “Yam” whose burgers he had so often eaten.

The two struck up a conversation.

“He told me about his project, bringing Café Don Juan – which I know, of course – here in town.”

Now Bigio’s gorgeous porchetta is the star of Café Don Juan’s new Mallorcan sandwich, which debuted on Father’s Day weekend and proved so popular it stuck.

Torres, says Otero, has a passion for coffee — which showed up in both the macchiato ($3.95) and latte ($3.50) that I enjoyed on my visits — but the food, clearly, had an impact. On both of my visits, the tables – even those of people working solo on their laptops – were spinning halfway, each full of plates. A few people hit the take-out fridge out front, but most settled in for a bite.

New regulars, joining the old ones, asked for more locations around town. Otero says he and Torres would like to help.

“We hope to have one or two more in the next two or three years,” he says. “But for now, we want to continue to be a place that welcomes everyone: people who want to have business meetings, meet friends, do a bit of work — and hang out with good food. and good coffee.”

  • Coffee Don Juan: 1100 Orlando Ave. at Winter Park, 321-972-2705; cafedonjuan.com

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