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Orlando Ortiz and Sunrise Cafe: Down-home cooking and great customer service build a solid reputation on Calle Larga

By Sylvester Grahame

Even the most casual observer is aware that Cuenca is a restaurant town. Every neighborhood has plenty of places to choose from, some with well-deserved reputations honed over years while others are just getting off the ground and working to earn their place in a competitive environment.

It seems that for every new dining establishment in town, another one is shutting its doors for good. Indeed, it is a sad fact that the average lifespan of a restaurant in Cuenca is under three years and that nearly 95 percent of the eateries that open this year will not ring in 2023 under the same management.

And then there is Sunrise Cafe. Open since 2016, this American-style cafe is the defacto place for expats and visitors missing Yankee home cooking as well as a faithful clientele of Cuencanos, many of whom have lived in the U.S. and Canada.

Orlando Ortiz

Actually, the space that Sunrise occupies has been a gringo hangout since 2009 when Australians Chris and Jenny Bluefields opened Kookaburras. For several months before Sunrise, it was Bananas.

The owner/manager of Sunrise, Orlando Ortiz, is one of the Cuencano returnees. He explains it this way. “I was working in Minneapolis, Minnesota for a man with several restaurants. During my six-year employment, I was able to advance from a cafe setting to fine-dining. There was one obstacle: getting a green card to work legally in the U.S. I finished the application but when I learned that it would take months before a card would be issued, I returned home to wait for word while visiting my family. Shortly after that, my wife and I decided Cuenca would be a healthier environment to raise our family and my thoughts of permanent residency up north faded.”

Ortiz began a search for opportunities in Cuenca but never lost his passion for cooking. After careful consideration and consultation with his family, he decided to make the plunge and open his own place. The style of restaurant was never in doubt — an American-style diner.

Sunrise Cafe has earned the loyalty of its customers.

“I loved my time in Minneapolis for many reasons, but foremost was the many friends I made. I wanted to bring to Cuenca a slice of the easygoing camaraderie and team spirit I experienced up north and share it with the expats living here. I recall the times I missed home and felt I could provide a place that offered nourishment to a community that I came to respect and whose company I enjoy.” That said, Ortiz turned away to greet his patrons and pour what would seem an endless river of coffee.

Landmark restaurants are a feature of many first-class cities, and Cuenca has its share. Fabiano’s, around for nine years, has long been a standard bearer and favorite vendor of Italian cuisine. Tiesto’s, which is five years older, is ranked among the top 15 South American restaurants for its inspired adaptation of regional specialties and Sunrise Cafe is home to folks who enjoy down-home cooking just like mamma used to make. These three establishments, as well as several others, have created a niche for themselves and share a commonality — hard work, great customer service and keen attention to detail.

Sunrise has developed a loyal clientele that Ortiz estimates to be 80 percent of his business. Although he did not have any numbers available, he said there was barely a vacant seat on Mother’s Day, all day long. When I asked him to explain his success he replied: “My success is due to the effort of the entire staff. Every employee plays a role and no employee is more valuable than any other. We are a team determined to be the best.”

Restaurants will continue to come and go in Cuenca. Some fail to follow basic business practices, some don’t advertise and others are simply unlucky. However, those that are successful share a commitment to excellence, a belief in the importance of personal service and the energy to persevere in the face of difficulty. Sunrise Cafe stands tall in the pantheon of food service establishments that help define Cuenca.

15 thoughts on “Orlando Ortiz and Sunrise Cafe: Down-home cooking and great customer service build a solid reputation on Calle Larga

  1. A restaurant review that never mentions a single article of food. What to think?

    1. You may have never eaten there but anyone who has loves the “downhome cooking”. Which is mentioned in the article by the way. Try it, you will love it. Breakfasts are huge and delicious and the Saturday BBQ lunch is a show stopper.

  2. Customer Service is not a hallmark of the dining experience in Cuenca, but Sunrise Cafe, is most definitely the exception. The moment I walk in the door I am warmly greeted by the entire staff. it’s just like walking into the home of a family member. And like the ya show “Cheers”, everyone knows your name and even remembers your regular breakfast order. There are many restaurants you can choose from in Cuenca, but Sunrise Cafe is the “feel good” place to go.

  3. Yes it’s a# 1 place. Last few times i went there i couldn’t even get a seat because it was so packed.

  4. We have been coming here since the Kookaburras days. When we returned the following year, we thought we had forgotten the address of Kookaburras, so we went to Sunrise.
    What makes Sunrise stand out besides the great food, ever flowing coffee, is the fact that even when we are gone for a year, Frank remembers us from one year to the next. Orlando makes a point of coming around and greeting all of his customers. All of the staff are great, even if I cannot remember all of their names. This is one restaurant where I feel at home regardless of how crowded it is.

  5. Yes I like this restaurant and Orlando and staff are great. Its kind of funny you mention many restaurants last under 3 years but Sunrise is roughly 3 years old, no doubt they will be around much longer if they wish. But I can think of plenty of places that have been around for years, Inca Lounge, Common Grounds, Chipolte, Anubus, El Mercado and many others. I have seen many come and go too. Customer service and management are key indeed, good food and consistency help too.

  6. The food is very good, consistently year after year high quality all day everyday. From expertly crafted omelettes, outstanding fresh crisp romaine Cobb Salads, perfect french fries made from fresh potatoes, (try their Garlic Fries.) Giant Quesadillas covering the plate with a romaine side salad. Endless coffee refills and everyone does know your name. The Gold Standard of consistent, friendly, efficient service, offering beautifully prepared, fresh, quality food.

  7. We have always had a great experience dining at the Sunrise Cafe. Bravo Zulu Sunrise Cafe.

  8. I would love to eat there . It is one of the few restaurants who won’t allow my dog. She has more paperwork concerning her health and good behavior than some of the other patrons.

    1. Can’t you leave your dog at home for an hour while you eat at Sunrise? Are one or both of you so neurotic that you can’t bear to be apart for a short while?

  9. I have been in the Restaurant business since age 12. Have owned and operated many restaurants from fast food to top shelf 5 star establishments. As a district manager for 4 different hotel operations, I have traveled the US eastern portion and have eaten OUT thousands of times. Orlando and Sunrise exemplify the words of service, quality, great portions and cleanliness. They give the rules of success openly to those that actually are smart enough to recognize them. Have been a customer and friend of Orlando for 2.5 years and this will never change.

  10. Congratulations Orlando, never have I seen a restaurant review and customer commentaries that coincide so much about all the attributes you have afforded to the make up of an outstanding restaurant such as yours. Exaggeration is totally absent. I too had the pleasure of tasting your menu, and I wholeheartedly agree with all the commentary.
    All the best to you and your family.

  11. Looking forward to getting back to some of the best Eggs Benedict!! I’ve had them in 2 excellent restaurants on this US trip, but nothing compares.

    See y’all soon!

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