Cuban Gypsy Pantry
Serving: Lunch, Dinner (daily), Breakfast & extended hours (N.Chs. location)
141 Calhoun St. Downtown
5060 Dorchester Road. North Charleston
The "big sister" location to downtown's Cuban Gypsy Pantry is now open at 5060 Dorchester Road. At 4,200 square feet, the second spot is almost five-times larger, allowing for a much different experience than the fast-paced downtown restaurant.
Combining owner Will Vivas' longtime experience in the food industry and his wife Chloe's expertise in project management and marketing, the couple took a leap of faith after moving to Charleston in 2015, opening the Cuban Gypsy Pantry food truck on King Street and filling a cultural food gap in the Lowcountry.
"We started with a food truck to see if people like Cuban food or understand what it is," Chloe says. "There are a lot of misconceptions about Cuban food versus other Latin food. It's not traditionally spicy — everyone always asks that — it's a different flavor profile than say, Mexican food."
"This gives people an opportunity to try Latin food. I always say, 'We have steak, brisket, and pork.' I don't say it's the ropa vieja or the pernil, or its traditional name — I make a recognizable connection for new eaters."
Cuban Gypsy Pantry, though, isn't traditionally Cuban, either. Will is of Cuban background, while Chloe is Hungarian Gypsy. Taking from their "respective pantries" of food knowledge and combining them, Cuban Gypsy Pantry is dedicated to creating both non-traditional and traditional Latin food.
One of their menu items, Lomo Saltado, isn't even a Cuban dish — it's Peruvian. Will's extensive knowledge of different Latin cuisines has found its way to Cuban Gypsy's menu, giving customers, and ultimately Charleston, a chance to taste this array of flavors.
Of course, Will doesn't do it alone.
"I bring in my own taste preference and flavor palate, which are very different from Will's," Chloe says.
"For example, when I cook at home, I cook Mediterranean food. It's a unique complement to Latin food in its own strange way. That's why when you come in, you'll get saffron yellow rice. That's not traditional in Cuba, you'd get white rice."
One of the most unusual menu items (and a personal favorite) are the Green Fries. Think of a sports bar's loaded fries, but with cilantro, mustard sauce, dill and sweet pickles, scallions, and pork or beef. It's a delicious blend of sweet, spicy, tangy, and umami in one plate.
The best part about this dish? It was created by Chloe in the food truck while she was pregnant.
"Will wasn't 100 percent sold on the idea," she says about the Green Fries. "In Hungarian culture, everything's pickled, so I'm a huge pickle person, but it isn't something someone would eat in Cuba or another Latin country."
After close to a year working in the food truck the couple secured their 141 Calhoun St. location and worked both the food truck and restaurant. Eventually, they sold the truck to focus on the brick and mortar, but a 900-square-foot restaurant can only handle so much. It was time to find a larger space.
"We've done weddings of 100+ people in that tiny little kitchen," Chloe says. "During dinner service! It's 900 square feet, only 400 of which is dining space."
With this new, larger location, Cuban Gypsy has the space for large dine-in parties and will offer new dining experiences. A larger space also means a larger kitchen, which allows them to expand their catering reach.
As part of a new dining experience, Cuban Gypsy is introducing family-style dining options for larger parties.
The family-style dining options will be platters of whole roasted chickens, pulled pork, and brisket or steak, served with bowls of rice, beans, plantains, and whole salads for sharing.
The new space has an open kitchen, so customers can watch fresh salads, Cuban coffees, and desserts being made to order.
On Sundays, the restaurant will be closed so they can use the space for private events. They also plan to host cooking classes, so groups can learn to make paella, Cuban coffee, and other CGP specialties.
"This is all because two people fell in love," Chloe says.