Jorge Moreno likes to blend things. The Cuban-American Latin Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter was born and raised in the record industry in Miami, Florida. At first, he rebelled against his father’s type of music: Salsa and Merengue, as he was mostly influenced by The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. In trying to discover his voice, he mixed Salsa and Merengue with Rock and found the blend—that tropical rhythm with Rock & Roll—to be his favorite sound.
Madonna, America’s Pop Queen of the 80s and 90s was the first to recognize the new sensation’s hot talent. Maverick, her record label, launched its Latin division and Moreno was the first Latin artist to get signed. In 2008, after an incredible music career, Moreno’s vision for more and better things led him to TV land, where he ventured in Beach Pictures, his own TV production company that produced reality shows and documentaries about Cuba and other things. Not totally satisfied with the record industry’s $14 billion dollar business and TV’s “big fish eat little fish” monopoly structure, Moreno went out looking to find his own hook as a restaurateur. He borrowed his mom’s Cuban recipe book and worked with a good chef and the result was a Cuban café and bar called, Moreno’s Cuba.
Set in Cuba’s golden era of the 1950s, the hipster restaurant is located at the Dorchester Hotel, 1850 Collins Avenue in the heart of Miami Beach, not too far from Wynwood, where he grew up. The tropical courtyard type eatery features a bar made of reclaimed wood like those from the island, and its Cuban décor resembles those of an old Havana club.
Moreno shares the name of a granduncle from Cuba who ran a restaurant in a Havana hotel in the 1950s. “My granduncle was a revolutionary. He used to hide the guns and ammunition in the bar for the revolutionaries. When the government found out about this, they murdered him. His name [was] Jorge and that’s who I am named after,” Moreno said.
Being Cuban, el cafecito, [coffee] is part of his blood. And so, when he learned about Grand Havana, a new supreme coffee blend created by no other than legendary Cuban roaster Luis Bustelo, he nose-dived, head first into the venture. The head rush was fuel to his blood.
When you taste Grand Havana, it’s like tasting a little bit of Cuba. And when you read about Moreno’s story, it’ll probably make you run to the nearest “ventanita”—that addictive little Cuban window—for a shot of authentic Cuban coffee and a slice of Cuban food and fare.
You’ve had quite a career as an artist. How did you arrive to Moreno’s Cuba? Tell me your story from the beginning. From the beginning? Like from the dinosaurs time?
Okay, well, perhaps not… Not that far back? [laughing]
Not quite. [laughing] How about when you got inspired to create this café and bar, this little piece of Cuba? Okay, cool. I’m a Cuban-American singer, songwriter. I was born and raised in the record industry. My father was a record producer. He was one of the pioneers of Salsa and Merengue music here in Miami. He was not a musician, but he was a great record producer.
And in Cuba? No, in Miami and in Puerto Rico, where he had other recording studios. And he would find talent and sign them to his record label.
Who were some of the talent he represented? Oscar De Leon, Tito Rojas [aka Salsa Rooster], Eddie Santiago, Lalo Rodriguez, and a million other artists. So, I grew up in that vibe, and was often in the recording studios to see that. And when I grew up, I naturally became an artist myself.
Did you like the same style of music? Actually, no, I rebelled against my father’s type of music. I did more of a rock take on tropical music.
Who influenced your style? I was heavily influenced by The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and I mixed it with Salsa and Merengue, so what you got was tropical rhythm with Rock & Roll.
That’s quite an interesting mix! Who did you attract with your music? Madonna. And soon after I was signed to Maverick, which was her record company. She had just launched Maverick’s first Latin Division and I was her first Latin artist.
What happened after you signed with Madonna? I released my first album called Moreno. And it got really good reviews, thank God! I was nominated for a Latin Grammy and won it for brand new Latin artist.
And what happened after that huge success? Well, the next year I got nominated for Best Latin Album for Anglo Grammy’s and I lost that to my friends Los Bacilos. Their song, “Mi Primer Millón,” was a big hit that year, and rightly so. It was great! After that, I had a huge roller coaster ride through my artist career, touring all over the place. I was one of the first Latin artists to perform in Spanish on Good Morning America.
So what happened after the dissolution of Maverick? Clive Davis, record producer, asked me to record a track “Satellite” with Carlos Santana for the movie soundtrack Miramax film “Havana Nights,” which was produced by my record producer and songwriter, Lester Mendez.
Lester Mendez, Shakira’s record producer and songwriter? Yes, he produced Shakira’s hits “Underneath Your Clothes” and “La Tortura”, and Nelly Furtado’s “Te Busqué” and so many other artists.
I’ve read you performed with our Cuban legendary Celia Cruz. How was that experience? Performing with Celia was the best. I have pictures of her here in the restaurant.
You also performed on the Victoria Secret Fashion Show, which was broadcasted worldwide and seen by over 40 million people. How was that experience? Incredible! Usher and me were the two artists performing in the show. I performed my signature version of Babalu’.
The Victoria Secret show. That’s kind of wild… [laughing] Yeah, I’ve done a lot of crazy stuff. My kids are going to have a ball when they’re old enough to Google me in the future.
So after the kids came along… did that change your life in any way? Yes, it did. In 2008, I began scaling back from touring all around the country, and a few years later started a TV production company called Beach Pictures with a friend of mine called Adrian Bashuck, who worked at CNN.
What kind of shows did you produce? Documentaries and Reality content. I also produced content for MTV, Current TV, TLC and the CW. And I was the creator and executive producer of the summer series The Catalina, a big summer, one-hour show based on the Catalina Hotel in Miami Beach. It aired on the CW network.
What was the show about? It was based on the real life employees of the popular South Beach hotel. We also did Miami’s Finest, a documentary based on the Miami Police Department, which we got into a big situation with the justice department and they pulled the show that was on TLC. We did a documentary on Cuba called Cuba Waiting for a Revolution, which was produced on Current TV, Al Gore’s old news network, which is equivalent to today’s Viceland, a channel of personal perspectives on music, food, sex, fashion, technology, etc.
Did Beach Pictures ever produced TV dramas or sitcoms? No, we were going to do a scripted show but it failed through. What happens in this business, just like in the record business, you invest a lot of time and money into something, and then you pass it over to a record company or someone else and then, they’ve got to run with the ball. And if they don’t run with the ball, then you just lost your time and money, and your passion! You get kind of bummed out, and after that happens over and over, you kind of realize, wait a second, I’ve just spent a lot of time and money on things that are out of my hands. And that was happening too frequently, not only in music but also in television. We would create these pilots, everybody would love them, we’d go to sign them and suddenly the executives would get kicked out and a new one would come in. Suddenly our project would get canned, and hundreds of thousands of dollars would just go out the window.
And so, in 2014, you decided to create a new window of opportunity for yourself. That’s right. I decided to open up a restaurant with a buddy of mine, who used to own many hotels here in Miami Beach. In one of his hotels there was an alleyway between his two buildings. And he’s like, “You want to put like a bar here and we can have some live music and stuff?” And I said, “Dude, let’s do it!” There would be a Cuban Night, this night, that night… And then he said, “But there’s a catch. You have to do breakfast because it’s a hotel.” And so, we opened it and it became very successful. It was just this little patio on an alleyway between two buildings!
And are you still partners? Well, no. Ultimately, I wanted to expand, and he didn’t. I’m very ambitious. I want bigger and better things. I want to keep going.
You’re Cuban! [laughing] I’m Cuban!
And here you are at the new Moreno’s Cuba, a 1950s speakeasy café and bar in Dorchester Hotel, celebrating that era that has encapsulated Cuba’s fame. Yes, this is a bigger and prettier location and I can accommodate twice the people.
How many to be exact? Around 300 people. It gets pretty lively. We have live music and plenty of space outside in the patio area. We are planning to change up the rooms, where they all become galleries, with satellite bars everywhere and live music. On New Year’s Eve, we’re planning a big Havana Night, with a fixed price with all you can drink, with a bar on the street, and a cover charge to come in.
I’m going to have to stay at the Doschester that night. Absolutely!
How did you come up with the name, Moreno’s Cuba? At first, it was kind of a mistake. It was supposed to be Moreno’s Cuban Restaurant. Actually, I didn’t want my name in it, as I thought it was kind of tacky. But then I started getting a lot of feedback like, ‘you’re the singer, you’ve made the career, the personality…you’ve got to name it after yourself.’ And then, one of the first few people I sent information about it, wrote back in an email but left out the “n” in Cuban. When I saw it, I realized that I liked the sound of that: Moreno’s Cuba. It’s like my vision of Cuba. It’s like what my Cuba would be like. My Cuba is Wynwood, Hialeah and Miami growing up, as well as Havana, which I’ve been to a bunch of times. That blend of my family’s tradition, my grandmother’s table [placed in the center of the dining room in Moreno’s Cuba], my brother’s record company in Hialeah near the Apollo Cinema, and Cuba. And so, that’s Moreno’s Cuba.
Doing anything with your music nowadays? The last thing I did was a cameo appearance on the first or second episode of the show Ballers on HBO. Ballers is a hip sports talk show with an urban edge. I did two songs, where The Rock and Guy Torry were messing with me. And I’ve been very busy with the restaurant. I’m opening up a second restaurant in Wynwood.
You’ve definitely been quite busy, because I’ve heard that you’ve also partnered with Grand Havana Supreme Coffee. Yes, very thrilled about that.
How did you get involved with Grand Havana? So, Grand Havana has been a big vision from the beginning. At Moreno’s Cuba, I’ve always had Cuban coffee as a main ingredient. We have it in our cocktails, we have a Moreno special style coffee, which is basically café Cubano, but instead of sugar, we put agave in it, which derives from the Agave nectar, a concentrated sugar syrup. And instead of regular whole milk, we put almond milk, plus ice. That’s the Moreno’s Ice Coffee. It’s really good.
So, is Grand Havana a solo or group effort? It’s a group effort. It’s actually spearheaded by Tanya Bredemeier, who’s the chairwoman of the company. She is our fearless leader and the heart and soul of the company who’s taken Grand Havana to the extra mile. And she’s a gringa, but she’s a gringa from Miami. From the very beginning I was involved in it and believe in Tanya’s vision. And so, I was like, I’m the token Cuban here. We have to do this and this, and this to make it authentic.
So, what’s your definition of authentic? Basic Cuban coffee, like Café Bustelo. We have to have a piece of that old school authenticity. But, with a new twist, a new blend characteristic of the times, such as Starbucks. It became a fad in the last fifteen years, and it created a culture. We need to create our own culture, outside of just the Cuban community, and make it cool like rocket fuel. We have to be like the five-hour energy drink, because Cuban coffee is like liquid crack! Really, Grand Havana is an elegant and cool version of Cuban coffee.
Like “La Ventanita”? Yes, La Ventanita is cool and authentic Cuban, but we want a cool hipster ventanita. We want this to be elegant so that it can lend itself for a higher class, but can also go with the artistic crowd.
So how do you blend the two: Moreno’s Cuba and Grand Havana? Moreno’s Cuba is the restaurant component of Grand Havana. We are like brother and sister.
How many locations do you have? For locations, it’s not like a shop, or like you have a store somewhere. What we do, just like any other coffee company does, is provide a machine and coffee grinder and then they buy the coffee from you.
So, it’s like Coca Cola. You have a refrigerator and you can sell Coca Cola as long as you put Coca Cola in the refrigerator. Perfectly put. We have hundreds of machines on the streets right now—from gas stations to high-end restaurants, from Dade to Broward County.
So what you are saying is that Grand Havana could be the next Cuban Starbucks… We’re modeling ourselves after that. Listen, I’m still a customer of Starbucks because it has created a culture and following. When I go there, I already know what I want. I get the soy tazo chi tea latte. It’s good for my throat. I always get one of those teas when I perform.
So, what do you want for Grand Havana? For someone to identify it with like, when I get up in the morning and I want to get a shot of energy, I want to get a Grand Havana.
It’s the fuel that you need… It’s the fuel. There’s a kiosk in the Grand Hotel and they have Lavazza Italian espresso there. And people are walking out saying why does the hotel have such crappy coffee? And then they tell me, why is yours so much better?
Well, is all about the roast. And you have Luis Bustelo, the Cuban roaster and creator of Café Bustelo as Grand Havana’s roaster. That’s right! Grand Havana will eventually become a type of Starbucks store, where we’re open until 10 o’clock at night, and have all the small plates, but right now we are providing just the coffee. Just the fuel. We also have a line of teas, from mango teas, mint teas, and all kinds of crazy flavors.
So, how did Luis Bustelo get involved? Luis Bustelo created our coffee blend. But, Café Bustelo is no longer part of the Bustelo Family. They started Café Bustelo, but they sold it a long time ago.
Who owns Café Bustelo now? Smuckers Jelly! They own Folgers and a bunch of other things. Bustelo Coffee today is as Cuban as…
Peanut butter and jelly? [laughing] That’s right! Luis Bustelo is the king of Cuban coffee and I’m honored to know this man.
You mentioned you had a kiosk, where’s that? We just signed a shop in Coconut Grove. We don’t want to start by creating this restaurant types or storefronts; we want to start with a kiosk. We want to continue doing this one-man kiosk. It’s simple, it’s easy, you get in and you go. We don’t want to create a place where you sit there all day in your ‘computer type of shop,’ with all the overhead. We want to keep it mean and lean… and grow the company.
And at the kiosk, can you also buy bags of the product? Yes, you can buy the bags of Grand Havana coffee and you can also just buy a cup of coffee.
With Grand Havana and Moreno’s Cuba working together, where do you see this union venture going five years from now? We’ve been playing with the idea to have a coffee shop inside of Moreno’s Cuba. I mean, everything that we offer here is made with Grand Havana coffee. One idea is that Grand Havana absorbs Moreno’s Cuba and so, Moreno’s Cuba is the restaurant arm of Grand Havana.
We actually are about to open Grand Havana stand-alone kiosks in thirty different college campuses all around the U.S. And that is great because it helps spread our vision, and you know, college kids need fuel to study.
So, in five years, hopefully we will have figured out the perfect marriage between the two: Grand Havana and Moreno’s Cuba. For me, I’m a big part of Grand Havana, but I’m kind of solo in Moreno’s Cuba. So, I would love to marry both of them. It would be a marriage made in Alabama!
Anything else you’d like to add? We’re about to launch our online store for Grand Havana. It’s been on the works for a long time now. Our stock, GHAV, which is our symbol on the stock market, is a very cheap stock. Right now you can buy a share for two cents. Imagine when the stock goes up to a dollar or more…
Well, I can just imagine. I mean, Tesla’s stock has gone up incredibly in recent years. So, whoever went into it a few years ago… Exactly! Whoever did, saw it go up and duplicate a thousand percent of their money. So, I feel Grand Havana is like that too. I would definitely tell people, start buying our stock, because this is as low as it is going to be. And I would also say, look out for our online store, www.grandhavanacoffee.com.
As I sipped on Jorge’s own concoction that contained tequila, almond milk, agave, and a shot of Grand Havana coffee, I saw one of Moreno’s staff members gesture to him.
“The party is here?” Moreno asked and the man nodded. Then, he turned to me and said, “You’re going to see something fun now.”
Moreno was on. He got up on top of a chair and welcomed an Australian group of 50 people visiting Miami for the first time. “Welcome to Cuba, well…Moreno’s Cuba!” He said as Mojitos were being served all around the room.
For more information about Moreno’s Cuba, visit: www.morenoscuba.com.