Colada Shop — the Washington, D.C.-based Cuban café with five locations and two more on the way — is nearly impossible to fit into a singular category. With each location open 15 hours a day, Colada Shop is a celebration of Cuban culture and cuisine across dayparts, from café con leche with Cuban crema in the morning to empanadas and variations on Cuban sandwiches during lunchtime, with rum-based cocktails in the evening (including, of course, the eponymous piña colada).
Although the brand is limited-service, Colada Shop founder Daniella Senior said she prefers the term “fine-casual” to describe Colada Shop’s relaxed, stay-all-day atmosphere.
“Colada Shop is all about the 4 c’s: Cooking, coffee, cocktails, and Cubanism,” Senior said. “Cubanism is the hospitality component of our business. It's how we make you feel, the music, the colors, the vibrancy, and how we welcome you into our space as if we're welcoming you into our home.”
The culture of Cuba penetrates every aspect of Colada Shop, from the food and drink menu to how Senior runs her business. Although she is originally from the Dominican Republic — where her love for the hospitality business began — Senior’s grandmother is Cuban. After Senior moved to the U.S. to attend the Culinary Institute of America, she was doing consulting work in Miami and was inspired by the strong Cuban culture there.
“[When my business partner and I] started traveling across the U.S., we saw a void of how the Latino cafe experience was underrepresented, and how Latino food in general was not represented correctly, so we set out to change that,” Senior said. “Obviously, each Latino country is very different. But we do have the same base of food and rum as, I would say, a common denominator. … There’s a lot of mystique around Cuba, and we wanted to share a piece of that heritage.”
The first Colada Shop location opened in 2017, and then it took three years until the second location opened. Then, during the pandemic, Colada Shop was able to sign a few more leases until it got up to five locations. Although the concept is limited service, Senior said the team executes the traditional Cuban dishes with the utmost care.
“From a hospitality standpoint, we're really making sure that we're using the best ingredients that we can, treating the product with respect, and serving it to you in the most pristine environment,” Senior said. “It's very casual food, but the flavors are very concentrated. For the Cuban sandwich, we’re using the best pickles, our pork is roasted over 12 hours and marinated for 72 hours. Even though it's a very casual, everyday food, we put a lot of love into it.”
Over the past year, Colada Shop has tweaked the menu and added some more non-rum-based Cuban cocktails, and the brand also started roasting its own coffee. But something that has been a part of the Colada Shop culture from the very beginning is encouraging customers to stick around for multiple meal periods, which Senior acknowledges is antithetical to how most operators approach table turnover.
Senior said this “all-day philosophy” was inspired by her days traveling for work, when she would end up working in cafes a lot. But after working for many hours throughout the day, she realized she could not stomach ordering yet another cup of coffee and would leave earlier than she wanted.
“I couldn’t work here past noon because I would get hungry,” she said. “I’d want to stay there, but the products and space did not allow me to do so.”
So she decided to fill in that whitespace in her community and be the change she wanted to see in the foodservice world.
“We call it an all-day affair,” Senior said. “We want you to be able to come in as you please and transition to meals throughout the day. … We’re one of the few places that are able to consistently have a lot of traffic in an all-day space, which makes it very attractive from both a landlord standpoint and a neighborhood standpoint because we’re bringing that vibrancy all day.”
In the long-term, Senior wants Colada Shop to expand nationally, but for now, she is focused on the next two store openings — both in Virginia. Colada Shop will be expanding regionally throughout the D.C. metro area before widening its scope.
Contact Joanna Fantozzi at [email protected]
Hear from Daniella Senior and other Hot Concept founders at CREATE: The Experience, Oct. 1-3 in Palm Springs, in a panel sponsored by The Coca-Cola Company.