Wednesday mornings, a group of retired Cuban opera singers and other Latin Anerican musicians — sometimes eight, and other times, about 20 — sit at their tables in Roma Bakery. They drink coffee, talk about music, opera, concerts and even discuss future trips. Other times, they buy small cakes, tortas, made by propietor Giacomo “Jimmy” Bianchi, and celebrate the birthday of one of the member’s of the group, nicknamed the Literary Bunch.
Bianchi has welcomed them into his business, located in a shopping center at Southwest Eighth Street and 48th Avenue, for 30 years now. However, he’s done so under one condition: They must not talk about politics.
“I told them they could talk about art, culture and music but not discuss politics,” said Bianchi, who was born in Colombia of Italian descent. “I like to listen to them talk about other topics, like when Caruso gave a concert in Havana.”
Recently, the Literary Bunch welcomed Cuban soprano Blanca Varela, tenor Miguel Cervantes and music enthusiast Dr. Raul Reyes Roque.
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“Thanks to God and to Jimmy’s restaurant, every Wednesday I can enjoy the company of other artists and a spiritual moment remembering other times in our lives,” Varela said.
“Our gatherings at Roma Bakery allow us to meet with friends and acquaintances and submerge ourselves into the lyric world. In this space, we can talk to friends and enjoy moments of social relaxation,” Cervantes said.
Aside from being a meeting point, Roma Bakery is a restaurant and bakery that has been frequented for a half century.
“There are parents who now bring their kids to buy our pastelitos de guayaba (guayaba turnovers), which are different than the traditional ones,” said Bianchi’s wife, Mirtha.
The European-style cafeteria includes a dessert shop, bakery, salad bar and hot food station.
Mirtha has set up a television on which she plays a video narrating a 50-year visual history of Roma Bakery.
“Not all businesses celebrate 50 years managed by the same owners,” said Mirtha, who was born in Santa Clara, Cuba.
The couple realized how iconic Roma Bakery became for the community when it caught fire in 2006.
The fire was caused by a short circuit in an electric sign over the salad bar. It took a year and a half to repair the restaurant. During the repairs, the Bianchis opened a small cafe and Italian gelato ice cream bar.
“On the windows, covered with wood planks, clients would often leave notes for us saying, ‘You have to reopen’ and ‘We miss you!’,” Mirtha recalled.
Roma Bakery reopened in 2008.
Mirtha and Jimmy met in the neighborhood where their families lived. At that time, Mirtha had recently arrived to Miami from Cuba, thanks to help from Juanita Castro, Fidel’s sister.
“I had lived for a year in a clandestine manner in Cuba because I was part of a student activism group opposing Castro. In fact, Juanita accompanied me to the airport when I came to Miami in 1962; she included the story as an anecdote in her book,” Mirtha said.
“I think that inside every Cuban, there’s a different story,” she said.
While working as a translator in Miami, Mirtha met Jimmy, a National Airlines pastry chef. They married and opened the first Roma Bakery location on Flagler Street.
Jimmy’s family, originally from Como, Italy, had moved to Medellin, Colombia, where they opened the first Roma Bakery.
The first bakery the couple opened in Miami was small and European-style. As neighborhood businesses, Roma Bakery had two known Cuban pastry shops, La Gran Via and Los Nuevos Pinos.
“People would tell us, ‘But these sweets are not Cuban,’ and my father-in-law insisted that we had to make the cappuccinos and alcohol-infused fruit cakes,” Mirtha said, laughing.
Roma Bakery on Eighth Street opened in 1969.
It employs 24 workers who serve a mixture of Italian and Cuban cuisine. Each morning at 6 a.m., people anxiously await their first Cuban-Italian coffee of the day.
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