The New Complejo Zapata y 12 Cafe, a Public-Private Partnership in Havana, Is Never More than Mediocre

“[The waiters] are slow, unfriendly and take their time bringing out orders,” complains one customer. (14ymedio)
14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodriguez, Havana, 6 April 2023 — Complejo Zapata y 12, an “all-terrain” cafe, does not live up to the hype that Havana’s state-run media heaped upon it a few weeks ago. A public-private partnership, it was supposed to be the flagship of a “culinary revival” in the island’s capital. Though it struggles valiantly under the constraints imposed on it by the Provincial Food Industry Company, the results are never more than mediocre.

According to official media, the state provides the location, the workforce and the technological infrastructure while the private-sector partner provides all the raw materials and, presumably, handles the production process. It is the same formula used at Grocery, a recently opened food store in the Miramar Trade Center, and at branches of the Sylvain bakery chain before that.

The ice cream at Complejo Zapata y 12 is made onsite using imported ingredients and some domestically produced flavorings. Ivan Avila Lopez, director of private-sector side of the operation, claims it can produce up to 400 liters a day in five different flavors.

The reality is quite different as 14ymedio found out on Thursday. Customers must deal with inattentive waiters who come up with excuses as to why someone cannot order the flavor of ice cream he or she wants. “We don’t have chocolate,” an employee told one customer, who then had to point out that it was advertised on the menu.

“O.K., we do have it,” the waiter admitted, “but it’s too hard to scoop out.” Frustrated, the customer had to settle for coconut, which itself was not properly frozen.

“It’s edible,” said a woman seated at one of the cafe’s white tables, “but you can’t really say it’s good ice cream.” Someone else pointed out, “The worst thing is the service, which on television they said was the best thing.”

Parsimonious and ill-tempered, the waiters take their time getting to the tables. Gone is the dynamism of opening day, when a squadron of local leaders, led by Havana communist party chief Luis Antonio Torres Iribar, made an appearance at the facility and checked out the public-private ice cream parlor’s “production line.”

Things are different now. “[The waiters] are slow, unfriendly and take their time bringing out the orders,” complains one customer, who was waiting for a hamburger, one of the specialities that was touted on television with great fanfare.

The prices are also hardly worth celebrating. A plain hamburger costs 150 pesos, a double 300. A single scoop of ice cream goes 40 pesos. Soft drinks are not well chilled while the water borders on being hot. To top it off, the salt shakers are filled with coarse salt so you have  to unscrew the tops to be able to use them.

Customers have drawn their own conclusions about the public-private experiment. “Supposedly, they put the word complejo (complex) in the name to indicate it’s a joint venture,” says one woman, “but the only thing complex about this place is trying to get good service.”


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