Part one in a Hispanic Heritage Month mini-series.
“I opened Luna Cabana in East Meadow because I want the community to experience a real Colombian meal,” Yovanny Perez said. “I want people in the community to say, ‘¡Vamos a Luna Cabana!’”
Perez, 41, took ownership of Luna Cabana — previously known as Mi Cabana — five months ago, in the hope of sparking a taste for Colombian cuisine within the community. The restaurant, at 2366 Hempstead Turnpike, kicked off National Hispanic Heritage Month with a special DJ night on Sept. 8.
Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 by Americans whose ancestors came from Spanish-speaking parts of the world, including Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. According to HispanicHeritageMonth.gov, Sept. 15 is significant to the Hispanic community because it is the anniversary of independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
The U.S. began observing Hispanic Heritage Week on Sept. 15, 1968. The celebration was expanded to a month in 1988.
“This country is my country,” Perez said with a slight accent. He immigrated to the U.S. from Colombia when he was 10 years old in 1987. His father, who had been living in New York since the 1970s, paid for Perez’s travels to a new country. He learned English, went to school and soon discovered a passion for stone crafting. He co-founded Abana Stone Design in Westbury 20 years ago, and continues to install granite and marble countertops while operating Luna Cabana.
“We have a full Colombian staff,” Perez said. “Todos somos Colombianos.”
The restaurant, he said, uses sauces made from scratch. Ingredients — like the specialty yucca or platanos — are never frozen. Perez, who also has a passion for cooking, often helps out in the kitchen.
“My mother cooks too,” he said. “And my sister is a waitress. It’s really a family business. We all help each other. That’s who we are.”
Bright yellows, reds and blues are splashed throughout the restaurant. Classic and modern Colombian music pours from the speakers, and several Colombian flags decorate the walls.
But five months of hard work, Perez said, have yet to pay off. He admitted that the restaurant has not been as busy as he had hoped. Still, he said, “This country is built on dreams. It’s built on opportunities. I have the opportunity to own two businesses, and that’s a blessing. That’s America.”
He plans to host DJ night on Fridays, and opens the restaurant for breakfast, in addition to dinner.
“Everyone who walks through the door is family,” Perez said. “That’s the Colombian mindset.”