A touch of Cuba in Glenwood | AspenTimes.com

A touch of Cuba in Glenwood

April E. ClarkGlenwood Springs correspondent

Post Independent/Kara K. Pearson

Antonio Galvan waits at the door of his father’s new restaurant. He peers through the glass, excited to see a visitor.As he opens the door, the soft skin on his tiny cheeks scrunches. He’s flashing an approving smile.At only 3 years old, Antonio is quite the host.Just like his mom, Venessa Drai.Even more like his dad, Hugo Galvam.Stepping inside Mojitos, Hugo’s Cuban restaurant on Grand Avenue in downtown Glenwood Springs, is similar to taking a trip to south Florida. The space feels tropical and warm, with walls painted shades of yellow and decorative door curtains made from coconut shells. A menorah sits atop a cabinet near the door.

For Hugo and his family, the restaurant-lounge is an extension of their home. “I wanted to open a beautiful place where people could hang out, something for the local people that’s not too expensive,” said Hugo, who was born and raised in Santa Fe, Argentina, and lived in Miami before relocating. “I love cooking, seeing people happy, having a good time.” Hugo opened Mojitos about four weeks ago with the help of Virginia Adducci, who owns the building. He met Adducci when he first lived in Colorado 12 years ago. Back then, the building was a bed and breakfast.”Virginia Adducci is a wonderful person. She believed in me and called me about starting the restaurant six or seven months ago,” Hugo said. “If it wasn’t for her and my wife and my buddy Rafael … I wouldn’t have been able to do this on my own.”Most nights at Mojitos, Drai works as bartender and host. Hugo said his wife likes to be in the front of the house.”She’s very friendly,” he said. “She’s a wonderful host, a beautiful lady and an excellent wife.”Hugo and Drai met while working together at Spice nightclub in Miami. On their first date to a little place called Café Abracci, Hugo knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life with Drai, who grew up in Spain.”I asked her to marry me on our first date. She was laughing because I tell her, ‘Instead of us losing time dating, being boyfriend-girlfriend, we should get married,'” Hugo said, with a velvety South American accent. “One month later, we were living together and getting married, having babies. The last seven years have been happiness, full of good things.”

Before Hugo and Drai exchanged vows in a small ceremony in South Beach seven years ago, Hugo converted to Judaism. The couple is passing their faith on to Antonio and daughter Fiorella, 5.”I started late, had them at 35,” Hugo said. “It’s the most wonderful thing that can happen to a human being. My kids are great, beautiful, healthy, independent.”Hugo moved the family to Colorado with his children in mind. Someday, he would like to move his 68-year-old mother here from Argentina.”That’s why I came to Glenwood, to raise my family in the mountains, the safety,” Hugo said. “They’re going to be in touch with nature … hiking, camping, fishing, skiing.”Close friend Rafael Arias, his wife and his 7-month-old son relocated with the Galvan family four months ago. Hugo also met Arias while working at Spice.”We’ve known each other for 10 years,” said 26-year-old Arias. “I can describe him in one word: like a father. He’s there for me the same way I’m there for him.”

Since moving, Hugo said he and his wife have made many friends in Glenwood Springs.”There’s a big Argentinean community here,” he said. “We have people who come three-to-four times a week. The people who come here, they eat, they feel at home. They have kids, we have kids. We have something in common.”Treating customers like family is an approach Hugo learned at a young age. He has spent 30 years of his life working in the hospitality business, including waiting tables at Cuban singer Gloria Estefan’s restaurant in Miami and owning two of his own Italian restaurants.”My family had a bed and breakfast in Argentina,” he said. “I started with my grandma in the kitchen, her homemade cooking. Nothing gourmet, nothing fancy. Just good food.”Along with creating Mojitos’ menu and cooking the food, Hugo enjoys playing the congas and bongos and dancing the salsa and merengue at his restaurant.”Every night is special in here,” Hugo said. “If we’ve got people, we make a party.”Antonio and his family will be waiting.