The Other Cuba: Luxury, Good Taste and Outrageous Prices from the Hand of a Successful Italian

The new Home Deli store in El Vedado, Havana, is a magnet. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez and Olea Gallardo, Havana, 26 June 2023 — The new Home Deli food store on Calle 12, between 21 and 23 in the heart of El Vedado, Havana, was inaugurated at the beginning of June and is not like the ones you usually see in Cuba. Clean and stocked, decorated with a certain European “rustic” style, it became a magnet days after it officially opened its doors. The emotion waned when checking the prices of the products, almost all imported.

A bag of bread, with six pieces costs 800 pesos, a small bag with washed and cut lettuce, 70 pesos, and 2,100 pesos for a small cheese. The cost of the meat was stratospheric: 20 pork skewers for 1,400 pesos, 4,500 pesos per kilogram of beef, 2,000 for chicken breast, 2,000 for ground beef, 3,000 for Italian sausage.

The powdered milk bag, similar to the one sold in other places, looked repackaged, unbranded, and cost 1,900 pesos for a kilogram and 950 pesos for half a kilo. As a curiosity, they had “artisan” pasta for sale, pumpkin and moringa, at 450 pesos a bag.

Home Deli looks clean, stocked, and decorated in a certain European “rustic” style. (14ymedio)

Promoted as a store specializing in Italian products, they offer Arioli oil (3,600 pesos a liter), Balocco and Mulino Bianco biscuits, De Nigris vinegar, De Cecco pasta, Lavazza coffee or Scotti rice. Also, other import labels, such as the Spanish Vima or Carbonell and the Japanese Kikkoman.

The store employees, all young and good-looking, are lavish with attention and kindness towards any possible client, although they do not stop watching the slightest movement and discourage taking photographs with a severe gesture.

Most of those who entered the store, dazzled by the variety and quality of the products, left discouraged after a tour of the shelves. “It’s very pretty and well put on, but this is the most expensive market I’ve seen so far,” said one woman as she left empty-handed.

Arioli brand olive oil is 3,600 pesos per liter. (14ymedio)

However, the law of supply and demand is implacable even in Cuba: if they set those prices, it is because someone pays them. This newspaper is aware that Home Deli has a large clientele among diplomats stationed in Cuba, in addition to emigrants who, through pages such as Katapulk or TSO, buy food for their relatives in the country in hard currency.

Those who can shop at the store are happy, despite the costs. “It’s the only place where I can get the products that a true Italian recipe requires,” says Lucía, a Cuban who lives in Milan and is on vacation in Cuba visiting her parents.

In addition, she praises her loyal clientele, “they make really tasty and unique spinach tarts in Cuba, not to mention the desserts. It’s not like other private companies, who live by reselling products.”

Homemade pumpkin and moringa pasta sold at Home Deli for 450 pesos a bag. (14ymedio)

The success of Home Deli has been amazing. Not only does it have that new store in El Vedado, but another in the municipality of Playa (19 avenue between 74 and 76) and a third in Cerro (318 Daoiz street, between Colón and Pizarro). In addition, they have a point of sale at the 3rd and 70 market. An efficient home delivery system makes it as modern a business as any in a country where the free market rules.

The company, however, does not only operate with that brand. Directed by the Cuban Diana Sainz and her husband, the Italian Andrea Gallina, as they appear on their social networks, is registered under the name of Mercadiana in the list of micro, small and medium-sized companies (MSMEs) and with the purpose of “gastronomic services”. In Italy, they have the company Gainz SRL, a name that combines the surnames of Gains the owners and that at the time is the provider of Home Deli.

Café Bohemia, adjacent to Estancia Bohemia, is a meeting place for cultural officials. (14ymedio)

Together, they also run the Café Bohemia and the adjacent hotel, Estancia Bohemia, in Old Havana, as well as the Paseo 206 Boutique Hotel and the café on the ground floor, Ecléctico, in El Vedado. It is not uncommon to see them in one of these places, serving the clientele with exquisite treatment, as this newspaper has verified.

“The word standard does not exist for us,” Gallina declared for a report published in “OnCuba” about his establishment on Paseo 206, which they define as “a place with its own stamp, born from the combination of both cultures” and “a warm hug between Cuba and Italy”, and where luxury and good taste are evident.

The same is observed in Estancia Bohemia (San Ignacio 364), where a one-night stay costs 187 dollars, according to the reservation pages. The Café Bohemia is, moreover, a meeting place for culture officials, ostensibly from the Office of the Havana Historian, according to its own publications on networks.

Since they began to proliferate in the streets of Havana, more than a year ago, private businesses generate, in the first instance, mistrust. The fact that some of these (MSMEs) operate in state premises without any type of announcement or public tender, only increases suspicion.

Diana Sáenz, at her Café Bohemia. (14ymedio)

If we add to this the agreements between Cuba and Russia, the last of which were ratified last month at a business forum between the two countries in Havana and which show that Moscow wants to play a leading role in the imminent economic opening of the Island, doubts are difficult to dispel.

On the other hand, especially in all private and successful businesses in the country, since self-employment was allowed, they always raise questions: “They don’t let just anyone do this, what influential figure will be behind it?”

It is not uncommon to see both Diana Sáenz and Andrea Gallina serving their premises with exquisite kindness, (14ymedio)

In the case of Home Deli, its owners have never hidden themselves, on the contrary, they boast of their achievements both in their networks and in business forums and even official media. “Diana is a Cuban entrepreneur who has established important guidelines in the leisure and food sector in Cuba,” they extol in an Instagram post.

The firm has given sensible capitalist advice: “Mercadiana, a food marketing and production MSME, emphasized the need to eliminate bureaucracy when managing business procedures, as well as a review the high tax amounts that go with how prominent they are, since it could jeopardize the survival of companies”, indicated as an example Cuba en Resumen last year.

However, Diana Sainz has not said why she suddenly decided to change the surname that she inherited from her father, Ricardo Sáenz, one of the founders of the Prensa Latina agency and the Bohemia magazine.

Translated by Norma Whiting


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