SCHENECTADY — If you step inside Caribe Spanish Restaurant & Sports Bar on Broadway in Schenectady, the first thing you’ll hear is upbeat Hispanic music filling the space.
You’ll smell a mixture of jerk chicken and sweet plantains. The decor, a combination of booths and bar seating tied together with Latin American flags and pieces of Latin American and Hispanic culture, can make you feel like you’re in a restaurant in one of those countries — even if there is snow outside.
“It’s about the experience,” said owner Fermin Fabian.
Fabian opened the restaurant three weeks ago, making his mother Altagracia Sanchez’s dream come true.
“It was always her vision to have a big restaurant where people could sit down,” Fabian said.
Sanchez immigrated from Venezuela to Albany with her family in 2002, bringing along all the recipes she had learned over the years. She began cooking food for people out of her kitchen, showcasing her Dominican heritage. Then in 2003 she decided to open Mami’s Restaurant on Pearl Street in Albany. In 2008 she moved the restaurant from the Albany location to 911 Crane St. in Schenectady, which is still the restaurant’s current location. Since opening she has served up Latin American and Hispanic cuisines to people, but has also offered some American foods like French fries and macaroni and cheese. Her sons, Fabian included, eventually took over Mami’s and decided to expand on the business.
Sanchez still spends a lot of time at the restaurants.
The design of the restaurant and the food it offers is designed to provide people with an idea of Hispanic and Latin American culture and cuisine. For Instance, the diner features a mural of one of the most famous streets in Puerto Rico. Another seating area is meant to make people feel almost as if they’re at their grandma’s house with a cabinet full of items representing Dominican culture — like a baseball, the most popular sport in the country, or a pilon, which is used to mash ingredients for dishes.
The restaurant offers both a take out menu for people who need to grab something quickly, and then a more elaborate menu for people who want to dine-in, with items like mofongo, which is fried green plantain mashed and served with meat.
Fabian said his mom, whose recipes they use, is always trying to improve on her recipes and add more to the restaurant.
“I’m like, ‘Mom, relax, we don’t want to have a Bible as a menu,’ ” he said.
Maggie Fabian, Fermin’s wife and co-owner, said she likes oxtails, but would recommend someone new to the restaurant try the stewed chicken.
“It’s easy, most people like chicken,” she said.
Fermin Fabian said he’d recommend the pepper steak, because it’s tender.
He said at Mami’s Restaurant, pork roast was very popular for the last 15 years.
“Now over here jerk chicken is the one we sell the most,” he said. “This is a big Guyanese community and they love jerk chicken, so I think that’s the reason why.”
Fabian said since the business opened it has been non-stop.
“It’s been very busy, especially the weekends, the evenings of Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” he said.
In the summer, he wants to offer outdoor dining and eventually expand the menu to have specialties from various cultures each week.
“Every weekend, Saturday or Sunday, we don’t know yet we’re going to have a Peruvian dish, Colombian dish, you know Costa Rican dish, Mexican,” he said.
While the restaurant is up and running now, it hasn’t come without its challenges.
“These walls have the most expensive studs you can find,” Fermin Fabian said.
That’s because during the pandemic, costs for construction increased immensely.
With construction over, Fabian faces a new issue — finding certain products. He said some things like juices that come from Ukraine are harder to get. He also said items like passionfruit and longaniza, a sausage used in Dominican recipes, can be hard to come by. Many of his employees travel to New York City often, where he can find some of the products, so he tells them to buy it if they see it.
The couple said they hope their restaurant will make people want to learn more about Hispanic and Latin American countries.
“We’re not in a location where there’s a lot of Dominicans or Puerto Ricans, but what we want is to introduce our cuisine to cultures that are not familiar with it,” Maggie Fabian said.
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Categories: Business, News, Schenectady, Schenectady County