Gilbert Hernandez who, along with wife BJ (Betty-Jane), founded Havana Cafe in Phoenix and Havana Patio Cafe in Scottsdale, has died at age 85.
Hernandez, who passed away on April 21, was born in Havana, Cuba, on July 24, 1927. He came to America in the 1950s and settled in New York City, where he worked in upscale restaurants and eventually met BJ, whose family owned a bakery in New Rochelle, New York.
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The two made their way to the Valley in 1978, opening Havana Cafe on Camelback Road in 1989 and, two years later, Havana Patio Cafe on Bell Road in Scottsdale. (A third location, opened in 1995 in Ahwatukee Foothills, shuttered in 2010.) Many of the recipes used at the Havana Cafe locations are from Gilbert's mother, "Mima."
The Republic reports that Hernandez passed away after a long illness and that, in addition to working in a Cuban cigar factory, is said to have met Fidel Castro as well as Ernest Hemingway, "with whom he drank mojitos."
The Republic adds that Hernandez worked in Valley restaurants such as Durant's, Golden Eagle, Palm Court, and Vincent on Camelback before opening Havana Cafe and that BJ, Hernandez' wife of 45 years, will continue to operate the two restaurants.