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Culture

Ruben's Restaurant Calls It Quits After 34 Years

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Gregory Castillo / WLRN
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As soon as Kimberly Standiford walked in, she noticed something was different. 

It was a Thursday morning and at Ruben’s Cuban Restaurant in Pinecrest, 34 years of home cooking would soon be gone.  

"We just had breakfast there and I didn't realize that they were closing,” says Standiford, a longtime patron. “It's a special place and it has told so many stories from years in this community."

Across the yellow walls and cream-colored counters, customers from the area scribbled their goodbyes. "We'll miss this place," and "we love you" adorn every surface in jet-black ink. After all the years and memories, the restaurant closed its doors on November 1. 

Owner Denise Yaniz says closing her parents' restaurant has been emotional. She’s been working at the spot since she was 13. For the people who frequent and work at the tiny cafè, leaving it all behind means leaving behind years of memories.

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Credit Gregory Castillo / WLRN
Denise Yaniz is the owner of Ruben's. After 34 years, the Pinecrest restaurant has called it quits.

“People loved my father [Ruben]. He passed away four years ago,” she says. "This is like a Cuban version of the 'Cheers' bar. We know our customers by their names.”

Yaniz says the shopping plaza's landlord is looking to remodel the space. With those changes goes the beloved $1.50 cups of café con leche and signature braised ox tails people have come to love.

"I've been coming every morning for 16 years," says Jackie Downs. "My mom had surgery on her eyes just a little while ago. I have her waiting in the car. I had to have my coffee."

Ruben's wasn't always serving up classic Cuban food. Originally, it was a small bakery, run by Ruben and Maria Yaniz. They catered mostly to the American population in Pinecrest. A year after opening, Denise's mom Maria started playing with the menu. They added a sandwich here, some dishes there and soon, the switch to a full-time cafeteria was set in stone. 

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Credit Gregory Castillo / WLRN
Ruben's special, Ox tails with rice, beans and plantains, is shown on Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014.

They've been through it all -- staying open after hurricanes and even hosting a wedding for two customers who met there. They're proud of the family-vibe they've established, even now as their doors are shut.

Yaniz has helped relocate most of her staff of 14 into new jobs with longtime customers and local businesses.

She hopes to reopen in the same spot when the landlord is done remodeling the shopping center. She's not sure if they'll get their space back.

But whether they get to come back or not, she wants her customers to know what they meant to her Ruben's family.

On closing day, customers lined the doors in the hundreds, with tables set up outside to be able to accommodate the massive crowds. A customer petition book for the landlord reached over 400 signatures by 2 p.m.

"We want to thank our customers for their loyalty," she says, as tears begin to fill her eyes. "It has been the happiest time in my life to do this, this is the only thing my family knows."

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Credit Gregory Castillo / WLRN
Customers adorned the walls and counters of Ruben's with messages. Many said goodbye to their favorite cafe after 10's of years as patrons. Rubens closed on Saturday, November 1, 2014.