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Doors will reopen at beloved Café Tropical this weekend

Cafe Tropical closed its doors this week. Here is one last look at the restaurant on the last day it was open, Thursday, November 30, 2023, in Silver Lake.
Silver Lake's Café Tropical on the last day it was open, Nov. 30, 2023. It returns on Saturday. (Lucas Kwan Peterson / Los Angeles Times)

Neighborhood residents snapped pictures of their guava cheese pastelitos and greeted old friends inside Café Tropical in Silver Lake on Thursday. It was a sweet reunion for the cafe’s patrons who have missed the Cuban institution since it suddenly shuttered in November.

At Thursday’s soft-reopening event, new owners Danny Khorunzhiy, Ed Cornell and Rene Navarrette welcomed customers back to the almost 50-year-old establishment and served a limited menu that included breakfast sandwiches and coffee.

“The outpouring from the community has been really cool, ” said Khorunzhiy.

Café Tropical will officially reopen to the public on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Regular business hours moving forward will be Tuesday through Sunday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., the owners said.

Tropical has been a Sunset Boulevard fixture since 1975, when the street connecting Silver Lake to Echo Park featured many Cuban American businesses. A family legal dispute contributed to the unexpected closure of the cafe as well as its sister businesses, restaurant El Cochinito and bar Bolita.

The cafe was not only a treasured coffee shop but an unofficial beacon for people in addiction recovery. Meetings were held day and night in a rear room.

“I’ve frequented the community room back here for the last 15 years,” Khorunzhiy said. "This place has really had an impact on my life.”

Read more: Shuttered Café Tropical was also a beacon for people seeking sobriety

When Khorunzhiy heard Tropical was closing, he tapped Navarrette to help him gather a group of people from the community to save it. Navarrette connected the group with his brother, Eddie Navarrette, who is executive director of the Independent Hospitality Coalition.

“Recently, they have been trying to save older restaurants that are getting eliminated here in L.A.,” said Rene Navarrette. “This was already in our minds.”

Cornell was working at nearby Quarter Sheets when Khorunzhiy reached out to him to step into the Café Tropical kitchen.

“We restarted the menu, but we kept a few things that we felt were the most popular, beloved things,” Cornell said. “We pared it down so that we can actually reopen and not destroy ourselves or ruin anything.”

For roughly the past four weeks, the group has been working to get the restaurant ready to reopen and even brought back some of the former staff, many of whom were left unpaid after the unexpected closure.

People sit on an aqua molded banquette at tables in a restaurant
Some guests at the Café Tropical soft reopening on March 14 were eager to get back to their favorite tables. (Sarah Mosqueda / Los Angeles Times)

More items will be added to the menu once Café Tropical is fully staffed again, with a better idea of how busy it will be, the new team said. Cornell assured guests they can count on cafe con leche and at least three Tropical staples.

“The guava cheese, the guava pastries and the Cubano sandwich; those are three things that we said, 'We know we cannot open without these,'" Cornell said.

Local writer nurtured at cafe

Poet, author and Silver Lake native Yesika Salgado days ago sparked initial buzz about a reopening when she posted on her Instagram account that she was nearly moved to tears when she bit into a guava cheese pastelito at a preopening visit.

“I have been going to Café Tropical my whole life. I have lived in Silver Lake since birth and I don’t have a single memory where Café Tropical was not on the corner of Sunset and Parkman,” Salgado said.

Salgado began going to the cafe as a child with her mother and continued to do so as a teenager, when she had friends who worked there. As an adult, she said, Café Tropical became her preferred work space early on in her writing career.

“When I started writing more seriously and needed somewhere to go outside of my house, it was the closest cafe within walking distance that was welcoming,” she said.

Café Tropical was where Salgado wrote her first collection of poetry, "The Luna Poems," and where she took her first meeting with her publisher.

“I worked on the manuscripts there — that was my office,” Salgado said. “I think I just became another piece of furniture in the cafe.”

Read more: Poet Yesika Salgado blew up on Instagram. Now her books are breaking literary boundaries

Like Salgado, some guests at the soft opening were eager to get back to their favorite table and settle in with their laptops. Others were looking forward to the return of the sobriety meetings, which will start again next week, Khorunzhiy said.

“That was how I was introduced to this place, through the meeting room. That is a big, vital part of why we are doing this,” said Khorunzhiy.

Cornell, Khorunzhiy and Navarrette each recognize that Café Tropical has become that third place for many in the community, and the partners are working hard to make sure the sun will not set on Café Tropical.

“It feels good to be part of something that wasn’t lost,” said Navarrette.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.