Founder / President
Who would have thought that a Jewish guy from the Upper West Side of Manhattan would be the successful brainchild behind Havana Central
- New York City's home of authentic Cuban cuisine?
Jeremy Merrin, Havana Central Founder and President, opened his first restaurant in 2002 and now operates two high-volume locations, each with its own unique personality and distinct clientele.
Each restaurant evokes the golden era of Cuba, capturing Havana's heyday as the world's most tantalizing playground.
Stepping into any one of the lush restaurants outfitted with swanky 1950s décor, guests are transported to another place and time.
attributes the spark of inspiration that led to the development of Havana Central
to a life-long love of Latin food combined with a childhood ... infatuation with a school classmate from Cuba.
Reuniting with old friends at his
25th high school reunion, he
was brought face-to-face with his
"When I told her
I had become a Cuban food fiend, a regular at a place near my home, she
laughed and told me I needed to try some real Cuban cooking-her mother's," recalls Jeremy
During a subsequent dinner prepared by his
friend's mother, Jeremy
had never tasted such richly satisfying Cuban fare at his
neighborhood restaurant, nor had he
been exposed to the authentic culture of Cuba.
It was obvious to him that the quality of Cuban dining opportunities in New York was inadequate and the market was underserved.
Most Cuban restaurants in the area were storefront, family operations.
, who had a history of successful entrepreneurship, sensed opportunity.
pursued a hunch honed by more than 20 years of hands-on business development experience.
Following graduation from Tufts University in 1980, he led the mail order operation of his family's jewelry business, one of the country's largest, and a pioneer in the sale of jewelry by mail.
An interest in entrepreneurial ventures soon surfaced.
"I found the family business heavy-lifting and realized that I needed to do something I could call my own."
Applying valuable development experience from his family business, Jeremy founded a fine jewelry design and manufacturing firm, Ardian Corp.
This innovative new venture earned an international reputation for the creation of trendsetting styles, and in 1997 he
sold the company for a considerable return on his
On the heels of the successful sale of his
first business and at the height of the Internet boom, Jeremy
became intrigued by increasing opportunities in online ventures.
After thorough research, he
came to the conclusion that a party and paper goods business was a great vehicle for a Web-based business.
Rather than start his own company, he joined iParty.com as senior vice president for business development and marketing.
During this time, Jeremy returned to school and earned an MBA at Columbia University.
Following the success of this thriving virtual emporium, and an even more successful combination brick-and-mortar retail unit, Jeremy
was a man looking for a new project when he
high school reunion.
"I never imagined myself in the restaurant business, but identifying an opportunity that addressed a specific niche market - Cuban - that could be properly defined with a truly unique and immersive experience really intrigued me." However intriguing, Jeremy
knew nothing about the restaurant business and decided he
needed a quick education and expert help.
, it was like discovering a vast extended family in his
customers and staff, putting the fun back in his
firmly believes that in order to offer the best experience to his
staff must be well-trained and happy.
From the beginning, Jeremy
made the commitment to operate the Havana Central
restaurants based on analytics.
All of the restaurants utilize a sophisticated point of sale and inventory system that relays real time sales and cost figures, as well as analyzes details such as percentage tip comparisons among the servers.
Additional features allow him to calculate inventory usage of each menu item by hour and day of the week.
This attention to detail is responsible for setting Havana Central
apart from its competitors and other restaurants.
believes that the life of every guest should be enhanced from the moment they enter a restaurant until the time of their departure.
"At Havana Central
, we transport our guests to pre-revolution Cuba, with a total environment that evokes images of the Havana of the 50s.
It's not just the food, but the staff, the colors on the walls, the furniture, the music, even the tableware and the way the food is served, contribute to the overall positive experience."
In fact, Jeremy
maintains what he
has dubbed the 'Cuban Cabinet.' This advisory board is comprised of specialists with individual areas of expertise-cuisine, décor, music, artwork, etc.-with whom he
checks in regularly to make sure Havana Central
keeps the experience real.
Jeremy's painstaking attention to detail and passionate commitment to authenticity clearly resonate with patrons of Havana Central
, whatever their ethnicity.
asked if he
is Cuban, he
often replies, "No, but I plan to convert soon!"
(Read more about Jeremy...)
Toward the end of his three-and-a-half year tenure with Cabana, Licairac came to the attention of Jeremy Merrin
, who had a vision for the creation of an authentic Cuban restaurant several cuts above the typical storefront variety.
A novice to the restaurant industry, Merrin knew he needed a chef and a manager with experience and credibility in the Latin culinary community.