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The saga of Havana Restaurant

posted on January 19, 2010 at 7:42 am

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Debbie Benedit and Willie Benedit
On Oct. 6, 2008, Debbie Benedit watched as 32 years of her family’s backbreaking work was reduced to nothing but a soggy mess of char and ash. “Half of me died when my husband passed away,” says Benedit. “The other half died the night Havana caught on fire.”

Debbie and her family weren’t the only ones who were affected. Loyal customers were beside themselves. Many showed up in the following days to help Debbie, her son, Eddie Jr., and “her girls” wade through the muck and salvage whatever they could. At the time, Debbie told the Cherokee Tribune she had no plans to reopen Havana on Buford Highway, and was going to instead focus on the second location she’d opened near her home in Canton. “We’ve lived up here 20 years,” said Debbie. “We decided to stop feeding strangers in Atlanta and start feeding our neighbors.” That statement would come back to haunt her.

Havana Sandwich Shop started as a bona fide American dream and became a livelihood for the entire Benedit clan and the restaurant’s extended family of employees. The first of the Benedits, brothers Eddie and Guido Jr., immigrated to America in 1962. In 1964, their parents, Felisa and Guido (or “Mami and Papi”), followed with the third brother, Willie.

One of Guido’s dreams was to bring the food of Cuba and his family’s arsenal of time-tested recipes to America. Shortly after the Christmas of 1975, Guido found a space to make his restaurant a reality. The building was old and the family had little money or restaurant experience, but they opened Havana Sandwich Shop on Feb. 9, 1976.

Buford Highway wasn’t the mainstream culinary destination it is today, but people came to eat and became instant regulars. The restaurant earned around $200 on its first day, which was a fortune considering that a sandwich only cost a dollar and a Coke was 25 cents.

Continue Reading “Cuban unrest”

(Photos by Joeff Davis)

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