By Sylvan Hardy
Although it was an instant hit with University of Cuenca students, MeLatte Café in Esquina de las Artes has been discovered by only a handful of expats.
MeLatte is the cornerstone of a project to revitalize Esquina de las Artes, an attractive Spanish-sytle commercial center on Av. Doce de Abril and Agustín Cueva that has struggled to establish an identity since it opened in 2009.
Although it is still a work in progress, the new managers have a clear vision for Esquina, one that emphasizes youth, casualness and public events. In addition to MeLatte, the complex will feature a second, larger restaurant, an art gallery, space for meetings and social events, a bar, and several gift and craft shops. They also envision an events-filled agenda that will include a Saturday organic market in the courtyard.
MeLatte Café uses the traditional North American and European delicatessen order-at-the-counter approach, featuring a wide variety of coffees made from home-roasted coffee beans, a variety of sandwiches and quiches, and an impressive choice of desserts, all delivered quickly at surprisingly low prices.
One of the café’s most attractive features is the outdoor seating area, nestled among large potted plants and covered with an awning. For cool days, there’s also a few inside tables. Like the overall concept for the new Esquina, the atmosphere is one that encourages patrons to settle back and ‘set a spell’.
“There is no rush here. The idea is enjoy good coffee and good food at low prices and to have a good time with friends,” says MeLatte manager Mario Lopez, a native of Barcelona.
Coffee, including tinto and espresso are 99 cents while a capuccino is $1.20. There are also a variety of teas, frappes, chocolate and frozen drinks.
Sandwiches, including the Panini Caprese and Toastado Classico, are $2.50, while the most expensive offering, the Panini Santa Fe, is $3. You can add an order of fries for 50 cents. The MeLatte quiche is $2 while pan de chocolate and croissants are $1 each.
Desserts are a highlight of the menu, with lemon pie and an over-sized brownie running $2, while the triple chocolate cake and red fruit cheesecake are $2.50.
Most orders are served using recyclable paper plates and cups. There’s no time here to wash dishes.
MeLatte will be joined next Tuesday by the larger Placita Restaurant, across Esquina’s plaza. The theme at Placita will also be casual and inexpensive, with an American – Ecuadorian menu. Both MeLatte and Placita are operated by Cornelio Vintimilla, owner and manager of Hotel Santa Lucia and the Villa Rosa Restaurant in the historic district. He is also one of the new managers of Esquina.
“We want to attract a young crowd, not just to MeLatte but to the whole complex, and this is why we are keeping prices low and the service casual,” Vintimilla says. He also believes the concept will be attractive to Cuenca expats. “Expats have leisure time and just like the students, they appreciate good service and good prices and spending time with their friends.”
Plans are in the works to open new MeLattes at Mall del Rio and Milenium Plaza. “The idea is to build a small chain and we’re considering other locations in Cuenca too, possibly one on the west side of town on Gran Colombia or Ordoñez Lasso.”
Vintimilla, who has been instrumental in developing Esquina’s new theme, sees it as place filled with activity and is working on ideas for attracting a youthful, sophisticated crowd. “We want this to be a place where people can enjoy good food in a comfortable atmosphere, participate in activities, enjoy good art, and buy local crafts,” he adds.
In addition to the Saturday organic market, Vintimilla plans to invite artisanal merchants to Esquina to sell their goods and demonstrate their skills. The Italian Filippo cheese-making family will be one the first, he says.
MeLatte Café y Chocolate, Esquina de las Artes, Av 12 de Abril at Agustín Cueva; Hours: Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tel. 096 909 4701.
[googlemaps width=670 height=400]