Hispanic Heritage Month: Cuban cuisine comes to Johnstown despite challenges in a pandemic

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JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (WTAJ) — “It’s almost like every Cuban,” says Tico Ortega. “You come here, you want something, you work hard for it and you get it.”

Ortega is serving up the only authentic Cuban cuisine in Central PA.

“Everything’s from scratch,” he says.

“I’ve been planning this for four years but I had to take steps,” explains Ortega. “You know, hustling the food first of all. There ain’t no Cuban food out here so I had to make a name for the Cuban food.”

While he had the plan for Ortega’s Cuban Cafe, he didn’t expect it to happen in 2020.

In February, he had neck surgery. Two discs had to be replaced in his neck.

“I lost my job and I just dove for it, I just went all in,” says Ortega.

In the coming months, as he used his savings to get his restaurant ready, even a global pandemic couldn’t stop him.

“I’m already in too deep. I’m in too deep,” he says. “Why not.”

That leap of faith paid off because the food is unique, authentic, and delicious.

“Flavors, the flavors, it’s all about the flavor,” says Ortega.

But, he wouldn’t know just how delicious his food is.

“Being a vegetarian because you can’t eat your own food, you just gotta make it and you gotta have a passion,” Ortega says.

He’s relied on strangers to give him feedback to find out if his food actually tastes good.

“I have to dive into a meat eater’s mind to what’s tasteful,” explains Ortega. “I would go to the dollar store, I would cook food, I would go up there I would hand out the food here’s try this…I would spend lots of money handing food out, lots of money”

“It has to be ten out of ten, if it ain’t ten out of ten it’s not on my menu at all,” says Ortega.

He’s had lots of dishes make it to his menu and plans to add many more as long as there are willing taste testers.

“It’s the love that you put into the food that makes the Cuban food,” says Ortega.

Ortega’s Cuban Cafe is located at 603 Grove Avenue in Johnstown.

Ortega will create a vegetarian versions of his meals, he just asks you call ahead of time.

You can learn more about Ortega’s Cuban Cafe on their Facebook Page.

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