This story was translated from Spanish.
My name is Iris Dalia Diaz. I was born in Camaguey, Cuba, in 1949. I left Cuba in 1985 to go to Guatemala, and then Mexico, and then I arrived here in the United States.
I had a friend from Camaguey who worked at Sergio’s Cuban Kitchen & Bar and he told me, “When there’s an opportunity, you’re going to come to Sergio’s.” In 1987, the opportunity was there and I started immediately. I’ve been working at the same location and at the same spot, the counter, since I moved to Miami.
At the counter, I grab the orders. I attend the counter and the window, and I take orders to the window. I make cafecitos – cortadito, café espresso, colada, café con leche. Customers really like the café con leche.
We also serve croquetas, empanadas, papa rellena, sandwiches – everything that people want to take with them.
We’ve had a steady clientele in the three decades I’ve worked at Sergio’s. Many people who used to come here have passed away, or moved on, but we now have lots of Venezuelans and people from other countries. It’s not just a Cuban clientele anymore.
They come all seven days of the week. I arrive at work at 5:30 a.m. and prepare the window to open at 6:00. When it’s open, people are already there, waiting to buy. In one day, 100 people might come to the window. I’m at work five days out of the week, from Monday to Friday. Although I am retired, I still need to work and make money.
I’ve lived all of these years in Westchester. I love it here. I can’t hide anywhere in this area. I walk here and everyone knows me, everyone talks to me, everyone stops me. The people are very lovely.
There is a little girl who is 4 years old who comes up and says, “Abuela! Mennn! Come!” to let me know where she is at the table. She’s the cutest.
Other people call me “Camaguey,” like “Camagueeeyyy!”
I am very passionate about making cafecito. I am a graduate in chemical analytics; I worked in that for 11 years in Cuba, in a candy factory.
But for me, I have loved preparing café con leche since I was 9 years old. My grandmother would get everything dangerous out of the way, and I would prepare the mix. I love when people tell me, “The café con leche came out delicious. It’s divine.” The flavor of the perfect cafecito, it’s the best. It’s very bitter and also very sweet. You can feel that it’s café. Pilón is the best brand for me.
Using the espresso machine, I make the coffee by shooting the water from the machine through the espresso, and I add sugar and milk. The coffee machine gives it natural foam. You put the sugar in after that. This is what my grandmother taught me and I haven’t varied it, unless someone asks me for more or less or no sugar. There are also people who want it darker or lighter, and there’s a saying here that whatever you want for your café, we’ll make it.
The secret is that I put love into what I do. I like working with people. There are times when the customers treat me as a confidante. I like recommending remedies to people, like a tea with natural ingredients. I’m a psychologist, I’m a psychiatrist, I’m a doctor, I’m everything.
I give the public a service that I feel I give from my heart. I’m not feigning this; I mean it when I say it’s from my heart. It’s not about being distinguished or anything like that. It’s something that is born to me, to be an attentive person.
It’s very sociable here. If someone enters the restaurant and they don’t say hello to me, they haven’t actually entered. If I don’t know them, I’ll know that they don’t come here much. But if I know them, they’ll say, “Hello, Iris! How’s your family Iris?” and I’ll have their meal ready. In my entire time working here I’ve prepared the orders for regulars because they stay the same, and if they ask for something different I change it. They say “lo mismo, the same please,” or “hay cambio, something different.”
It’s a family thing, too. In this whole area, there are the families whose children have moved away from Florida and their children want to see me, and the parents share information about their son who got married, with photos. They bring me photos, tell me they love me and that their children are finally learning Spanish, that kind of thing. It’s a very beautiful thing.
The mother, the owner, has her children, who have all worked here. Now Carlos is the owner, and he has two children. I knew him when he was only 4 years old. So, for me, it’s always been family here.
The connection is with cafecito and Miami. It doesn’t matter the nationality of the person who drinks it. Some take it strong, some take it with milk, but everyone drinks it.
I believe that Sergio’s and the little serving windows contribute to this identity. It unites everyone; it unites families. You come and there’s a person you haven’t seen in a year. There have been a lot of encounters, many “Aye, Fulana, do you remember me?”
In the window, you see everything.