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'It's still surreal to me': Chef at El Cubano Jax reflects on success after being laid off in 2020

Esteban Azofeifa at El Cubano Jax, found inside Lemonstreet Brewing Co., says he started selling Cuban sandwiches off a hot dog cart before opening the restaurant.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Chef Esteban Azofeifa was back in the First Coast News kitchen ahead of National Cuban Sandwich Day on Wednesday, Aug. 23.

Of all of the meals that Chef Esteban has made on Good Morning Jacksonville, this is the first time he's made something that he actually sells in his restaurant, El Cubano Jax, located inside of Lemonstreet Brewing Co. at 2100 Dennis St. in Jacksonville.

Azofeifa made three versions of the Cuban Sandwich: the Tampa, the Miami, and a vegetarian style that uses jackfruit. He told First Coast News on Saturday, that there is a very slight difference between the Tampa and Miami versions as the Tampa has salami on it and the Miami-style of the sandwich doesn't.

Azofeifa says that when he moved to Jacksonville in 2012, he felt there was "a lack of culture in Latin foods in Jacksonville," which inspired him to create change. But, it wasn't until he was "furloughed" from his job in 2020, he said, is when the idea turned into a reality.

"I pretty much just got bored and was experimenting and ended up buying a hot dog cart," Azofeifa said. "Off that hot dog cart, I decided to sell Cuban sandwiches outside of bars, breweries, etc. I really wanted to bring that Latin flavor to Jacksonville and I ended up going with the Tampa-style Cuban."

On May 9, 2020, Azofeifa says he sold his first Cuban sandwich, with the expectations of only doing so, until he got a call back from his job and anticipating that the pandemic would be over soon. He says after people "really received it well," he moved up to selling the sandwich in a 10 by 10 tent and then eventually, opened his restaurant.

"It's still surreal to me," Azofeifa said.

Azofeifa says on Wednesday at El Cubano Jax, both the Tampa and Miami-style versions of the sandwich will be sold.

For more information on El Cubano Jax and catering, visit their website here.

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