Lost Cuban restaurant owner Jess Streit missed the foods of his Cuban heritage after moving to Iowa with his girlfriend a few years back.
“It wasn’t until after I’d moved here that I realized I couldn’t go out and get a good Cuban sandwich or Cuban bread anywhere,” he said.
He even had his mother send care packages filled with Cuban brean from Florida since he couldn't find any in the city. He thought about it and realized there was only one thing to do.
“So I decided I was going to open up a Cuban Restaurant and call it the Lost Cuban because I didn’t know why I was here in Iowa,” he said.
It opened in October 2012, taking over the former Salsa del Rio restaurant space downtown.
The restaurant is filled with rhythmic music in the background and paintings of vintage American cars on the walls. Items such as pastelitos, a pastry filled with guava and cheese, and lechon asado — a slow roasted pulled pork marinated in mojo seasoning — and Streit’s beloved Cuban, a pressed sandwich made with ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard, are a few things on the menu.
“Everything on the menu is made from either my grandmother’s, or my great-grandmother’s recipes,” he said.
The Cuban bread, while not baked at the restaurant, is specifically made for the Lost Cuban at another location in the city.
Streit admitted that he wasn’t sure what he was getting into when he first opened the restaurant but is glad he did.
“It is a lot of work, but it also is really worth it when I see everybody’s happy faces, enjoying their food and drinks, especially now that we are getting a little more attention.”
Busiest times for the downtown spot are between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. for the lunch crowd, and again from 5 to 7 p.m. Streit employs seven people to help him run the operation.
“We just started staying open late on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights,” he added. “We are open until 2 a.m., and we’ve seen a big influx between the midnight and 2 a.m. hour.”
Once it warms up, the restaurant will reopen its Third Street patio, which is lined with pots containing homegrown varieties of the mint used in drinks like mojitos.
Streit said the restaurant doesn't have one type of customer, pointing out that the menu serves everyone from meat lovers to vegetarians. “... And we are able to satisfy people who just want some little appetizers along with a great rum and Coke or a mojito,” he said.
“We’ve been lucky to fill a niche that Iowa really doesn’t have,” he said.
At a glance