Island flavor in an Aurora strip mall

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AURORA | If it were on Havana Street, the marketing may have taken care of itself. As it is, owners of Cuba Bakery Cafe have authentic Cuban sandwiches, comfort food, pastries and iconic Cuban bread to do the work for them.

While federal Census official say the city is home to only about 550 Cuban immigrants, the flavor of that island nation is well known to anyone who’s spent much time in Florida. And in a community that draws foodies to a growing menu of ethnic options, owners predict they’ll do well in their strip-mall location at East Mississippi Avenue and Chambers Road.

Orlando Colome, who opened the cafe with his wife, Nicole, in early October, said that between curious American diners and immigrants from the Caribbean, the restaurant at 15028 E. Mississippi Ave. has had no trouble keeping the tables full.

“We’ve just relied on word of mouth, and we’ve been doing excellent, excellent,” Colome said as a steady stream of customers strolled to his counter on a bright afternoon.

Colome, who was born in Cuba and moved to Florida at age 6, is no stranger to the Cuban restaurant business.

He opened his first in South Florida in 1995 and grew the business to include two more.

But, about six years ago, as he was closing one of his shops, two men robbed Colome at gunpoint and shot him in the back.

The attack left Colome hospitalized for seven months, and eventually he had to close his shops in South Florida.

He and his family eventually moved to Colorado and, when he was fully healthy again, he decided to launch the business in Aurora.

“I just tried to bring the South Florida concept over here,” he said.

Opening a Cuban restaurant in Aurora is a different animal than opening one in South Florida.

For one, Colorado is home to only about 6,000 people who identify themselves as Cubans, according to the 2010 Census. Just 560 of them lived in Aurora, and just about 1,000 in Arapahoe County.

Miami-Dade County has more than 850,000 Cubans — and thousands of Cuban eateries.

“There’s one on every corner,” Colome said.

That means plenty of clientele and plenty of competition, but it also means finding suppliers who have the ingredients restaurateurs need is pretty easy in South Florida.

When he set out to open Cuba Bakery Cafe in Aurora, Colome found that wasn’t the case in metro Denver.

He contacted the suppliers he used during his days in Miami, hoping they could provide the guava paste, sweet-smoked ham and other essentials he needed to make iconic Cuban dishes, but they wouldn’t ship this far, he said.

Finding the right flour for the Cuban bread was tough, too, but Colome said he would never consider ingredients that weren’t just right.

“If I do something, I’m going to do it right,” he said. “If not, I couldn’t make the Cuban bread, I couldn’t make the guava pastries, the flan, none of that stuff.”

Eventually, Colome found a freight company that could bring him a massive pallet every week stocked high with the authentic ingredients he needs.

Colome’s loyal customers seem pretty happy to have those tastes of south Florida and Cuba in their own backyard.

Greico Herrada, 37, has been in metro Denver for three years and said finding pastries like the ones Colome makes was never easy.

“My wife’s grandfather, every time he came from Miami, I would send money for him to bring food,” he said.

Herrada and Colome have been friends for years and he regularly encouraged Colome to open a restaurant like the ones he had in South Florida.

Colome said there have been plenty of Cuban immigrants who told him after he opened that they had been yearning for something like this for years. Before the shop opened, he said he had people knocking on his door who had been in the states for more than 50 years, all the while craving a taste of Cuba.

“Sometimes,” he said, “you crave your own stuff that you grew up on.”