"A little piece of Cuba in the heart of a small town in Maryland. Towson to be exact."
That is how Martha Inéz Quintana described it in launching Havana Road Cuban Café in Baltimore County, Maryland. She is now working on developing her first cookbook. "Buen Provecho desde Havana." Havana Road has been nominated by the Restaurant Association of Maryland as one of the Top Five new restaurants to open in Maryland, and she has won Baltimore's Best for her Cuban Sandwich.
Her recipes stem from her mother's and grandmother's vast knowledge of Cuban and Spanish cuisine. At any given time you will find three generation of Quintana women in the restaurant's kitchen. Her mother keeps the menu down home Cuban, however, Marta expands her weekend specials to include various dishes from other cultures that lives in Cuba prior to Castro- from Lebanese to Asian, that is how diverse Cuban cuisine can be.
Martha's style of cooking can be described as authentically Cuban, using all-natural, wholesome ingredients, with every recipe based on her motto, "Fresca, siempre fresca!" As you enter Havana Road, you will walk into a little piece of Cuba, with the sultry music playing, the smell of homemade dishes and the warmth that is a great part of the Cuban culture.
About Martha Inéz Quintana
Marta Inés Quintana is a Cuban chef and proprietor of Quintana Enterprises based in Baltimore, Maryland. She was born on the island of Cuba and spent her early formative years surrounded by the exotic flavors, scents, and sounds of her native country. Her love of Cuban food and distinct style of cooking emanates from childhood memories of her extended family, their friends, ethnic traditions, and island culture.
Upon fleeing Cuba in 1962, the Quintana family settled in Hollywood, Florida. It was there that Marta first learned to cook, watching her grandmother and parents create delicious meals in their tiny kitchen with only a meager budget for food. From this humble beginning, Marta developed her personal style of cooking that she carries through to this day, understanding early on that by using fresh ingredients she, too, could capture the essence of Cuban flavor, please palates, and make the recipes accessible to many people.
Baltimore Business Journal
Profile in Diversity: Martha Ines Quintana
by Staff, Baltimore Business Journal
Marta Ines Quintana is a survivor. Nothing has kept Quintana from calling it quits — not the Great Recession, not the market demand that caused her to remake her company's traditional Cuban pork-based sauces using all-vegetarian recipes and not a dramatic downturn in her wholesale business.
"When I take my last breath, I don't want to think, what if? I'm a very determined person. Very adaptable," Quintana said.
In 2008, the Cuban-born senior marketing and sales executive was laid off by her employer, a pharmaceutical distributor.
Quintana grew frustrated by the grim hiring prospects she faced during the recession. So she decided to start a career that blended her professional marketing acumen with a love of Cuban cooking.
In 2009, Quintana began a small catering business specializing in Cuban food. That led to a chance meeting with Mark Smallwood, a former executive of Whole Foods Market tasked with increasing the store's locally grown products. He suggested her salsas and condiments would sell well at Whole Foods.
But there was a catch: They'd have to be vegetarian and gluten-free.
"Being Cuban, pork rules," Quintana said.
Nevertheless, she changed her recipes, retaining the traditional smoky Cuban flavor while leaving out the pork.
Later that year, five of her Cuban-inspired salsas and sauces lined the shelves of Whole Foods stores.
Then, in 2010, Quintana expanded, opening Havana Road Cuban Café and Artisanal Products in Towson.
Eschewing the vegetarian requirements of her retail line to give customers the truly authentic experience of Cuban dining, she uses some recipes that date back 200 years; on many nights, her 85-year-old mother prepares them in the restaurant's kitchen.
The following year, the Restaurant Association of Maryland named Havana Road Café one of the state's top five new restaurants.
That's a good thing. Quintana's wholesale business, which replaced her retail operation after she discovered wholesing to be less labor-intensive and more lucrative than retail, was in trouble. Losing her primary client when it consolidated vendors, Quintana saw the most profitable piece of her business plummet by 80 percent in one month.
"I work really well under stress," said Quintana, who has poured her life savings into the enterprise. "I am hell-bent on making this work."
Whether Quintana can grow her business remains largely up to her customer base. Being a minority business owner has worked to her advantage, she said.
"A lot of the older crowd remembers Cuba pre-Castro. But sometimes it's an obstacle because you try to break through cultural barriers that still exist."