By Sylvan Hardy
When Frank González noticed the old California Kitchen location above Hotel Mansion Viejo on Luis Cordero was for rent, he knew it was the right place for his new restaurant. “I worked there for several years and it’s where I met a lot of my friends,” he says. “I had been thinking about starting a restaurant and since I have good memories there, it was the obvious choice.”
Besides occupying the same space, González’s restaurant Kolo Restaurant and Bakery shares other similarities with California Kitchen, which closed in 2015, catering primarily to expats and tourists, serving dishes familiar to North Americans and Europeans.
“What I wanted was a place with a homey atmosphere where folks are served home-cooked meals,” González says. “I wanted a space where friends could meet and relax, chat over morning coffee and maybe set up their laptops and do a little work. Mostly, I wanted a place where people could enjoy themselves and be served the kind of meals they’re familiar with. Kolo isn’t fancy, that’s not my style, but it’s comfortable and offers high quality food at a fair price.”
González, who moved to Cuenca from his native Cuba in 2012, is asked occasionally why he doesn’t offer Latin American and Caribbean dishes. “I tell them that what I serve is what I know. Since I came here, I‘ve worked in restaurants that served meals for foreigners, mostly from the United States, and that’s what I have been cooking and serving.”
Among the restaurants in which Frank worked, besides California Kitchen, before opening Kolo in March 2021, were La Parola, Domesan, the Black Olive and Sunrise Café. “I’ve been working for expats for years,” he says.
Among the most popular home-cooked breakfast offerings at Kolo are the Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon, the American Breakfast with eggs, hashbrowns and a choice of sides, the Mediterranean scramble and biscuits with sausage Gravy.
Lunch choices include meatloaf, a Cuban Sandwich, hamburgers, country fried steak, fish and chips, pot pie and chef’s salad. Frank points out that the Cuban sandwich is not really Cuban. “It’s from Calle Ocho in Miami. We don’t have them in Cuba,” he says.
In addition to daily specials, Frank is happy to accommodate his vegetarian and vegan customers. “We want our friends get what they want and I’m happy to make changes to the menu to meet their needs,” he says.
To see the full menu, check out Kolo’s Facebook page.
Frank emphasizes that Kolo’s home-cooking approach means that he doesn’t serve fast food. “I want people to understand that we prepare almost all our meals from scratch and we make sure it’s done right,” he says, suggesting that those who are in a hurry go to McDonalds or KFC.
The Kolo Bakery has developed a top-drawer reputation for its baked goods, including pies, cakes, biscuits, dinner rolls and sour dough bread. Especially famous among expats, are the oversized cinnamon rolls and oatmeal and chocolate-chip cookies. The baking is supervised by Frank’s wife, Milena, also Cuban who he met in Cuenca in 2013. Like the meals, the baked goods are produced fresh daily.
Frank and Melina’s ties with expats go far deeper than the restaurant business. The couple’s first son, Frank Angelo, was born with severe disabilities and foreign residents sponsored fund-raising events to provide support for the family. “This is why my connections and friendship with the expat community are so strong. They were here for Melina and I when we needed help and I don’t forget that. I owe them a large debt of gratitude.”
One way Frank pays back the community is by offering use of the large front room of Kolo’s for formal and informal gatherings. Civic clubs, cycling, hiking, writing and travel groups meet there, a tradition that began years ago with Carol and George Evans at California Kitchen.
Several major fund-raising events have been held in the front room in recent months, including benefits for the Cuenca Soup Kitchen and Hogar Esperanza. On Saturday morning, October 15, the animal rescue and protection service Fundación Familia Amor Animal (FAAN) will hold a fundraiser there.
Kolo Restaurant and Bakery, Second floor, above Hotel Vieja Mansión, Luis Cordero 5-65 between Juan Jaramillo and Honorato Vásquez; Open every day except Tuesday, from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m.; Tel. 099 297 5788; Facebook