Every now and then we are rewarded with a new dining venue that transcends the parameters of the typical restaurant by offering food and drink that not only surpass expectations but provide a vibrant new meeting place to those who have called Cuenca home for years as well as fresh arrivals anxious to establish roots.
The proprietors of such establishments understand the importance of their mission; not only to serve good food but to be a catalyst that accelerates the pace of inclusion through interaction and incorporation. They learned that proprietorship is more than being the name above the title, it requires being a trusted friend eager to be of assistance.
What distinguishes these leaders is that they have no interest in chasing after the “next big thing”, they are playing the long game — integrating themselves into the fabric of the community by serving as a vital resource encouraging inclusion, diversity, and seeing to it that you feel right at home.
This is a high peak summited by only the most determined and forward-thinking.
One of the most rewarding success stories of this stellar group is Kolo Restaurant and Bakery (mezzanine floor, Hotel Viega, Luis Cordero 5-65 y Juan Jaramillo), an American-style diner that opened in March, 2021 under the leadership of the “front of the house” man, Frank Gonzalez.
I stopped by Kolo the other day and spoke with my server, Carlos Chacon, and asked him to describe the most important aspects of his job. Surprisingly, he did not begin by saying how he takes food orders and offers a beverage. He said, “Our job is to make our guests feel welcome and to let them know that Kolo is for them.”
He continued, “Some of our guests are new arrivals who are intimidated by the language barrier. They feel uncomfortable speaking Spanish or do not understand it at all. Our job is to make them feel settled, at home, and to let them know that we are glad they have chosen Kolo.”
The staff has learned from Gonzalez that nourishing people means more than just slapping a plate down in front of a diner; it requires attending to their needs as well as their desires.
One of the most immediate ways to make a guest feel at home is to offer home style cooking, and few are as adept as the cooks and bakers of Kolo. Their cinnamon rolls ($1.50) are perfectly delicious, not too doughy and not too sweet; these little puppies have just enough crunch to sink your teeth into and all the caramelized sugar and cinnamon needed to make a man say grace…or thank the server, or Frank, or all three.
The ‘fresh sheet’ is a blackboard illustrating special creations while the printed menu reflects fond memories of road trips I took as a young man out to see the USA in his Chevrolet.
Lunch at Kolo is a real treat. I ordered a Cuban sandwich ($6.50), and later ordered a to-go container for the half I could not finish but did not want to put down. A light dinner loomed in the twilight future.
Although Frank goes to great lengths to put a signature spin, and improvement, on classic dishes, nothing strays too far from home or puts on pretentious airs. Kolo relies on solid cooking by professionals, well-trained and friendly staff, and attractive presentation. Every time I visit Kolo I know I can depend on prompt and friendly service that never feels rushed or distracted. Instead, you can expect to be called by name if you are a repeat customer, with your beverage of choice ready on arrival.
Kolo is certain to become a landmark restaurant in a city of good restaurants for a reason; it is managed well and has its priorities in order.
Frank will occasionally host art exhibitions, tiny concerts, readings, and performances in the restaurant’s spacious front room. He is committed to helping the community .
I finally caught up with Frank, a native of Cuba, long after chatting with his staff and enjoying my lunch. When I asked him what folks should know about Kolo he was quick to respond, “Tell them that the coffee pot is on and your friends are here.”
Kolo Restaurant and Bakery; Hotel Viega Mansion mezzanine, Luis Cordero 5-56 y Juan Jaramillo; Hours: 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. Wednesday – Monday, closed Tuesday; Phone 099.297.5788; Facebook; Contact firstname.lastname@example.org