There’s the Sound of Miami, an ever debatable subject that could find KC at the top in one ’hood, freestyle bass in another and Gloria representing in yet another part of the 305.
The Taste of Miami?
That’s probably easier to pinpoint and place on Caserita, a frozen food line of Cuban foods like ham croquettes, Cuban-style tamales, chicken and cod dishes that filled supermarket shelves, restaurants, bakeries, hospitals and schools from a 47,000-square-foot factory near Miami International Airport.
Adelina Fernández, who died at 83 on March 11, co-founded the company with her husband, Felipe Fernández, in 1969, about eight years after they arrived in Miami from Cuba “with $27 and a dream,” said niece Jackeline Di Paola.
“He saw the opportunity, especially back in the ’70s when they didn’t have Spanish products. They wanted to bring good products that reminded the Cubans, especially, of their hometown. The croquettes and tamales were the best you had ever eaten. There was a passion, that was her baby,” Di Paola said of her Havana-born aunt who was known as Lila to friends and family.
Di Paola estimates some 300 people worked at that factory over the years her aunt and uncle owned the company with about 40 working at any one time.
“They were grateful; it was more like a family,” she said of the employees.
The dishes were patterned after recipes the couple’s parents made back home on the island. Adelina and Felipe were hands-on in the production, which served as an inspiration to their four nieces. The couple had no children.
“They weren’t bosses sitting there in the office. They were hard-working people and I know I’m a good worker because I worked alongside them,” Di Paola, 49, said. “My aunt and uncle helped me raise my child and I have no words to express how grateful I am to them both.”
By 1988, Caserita was so successful in Miami that its original factory had expanded to the “humongous” location near the airport where Di Paola and her younger sister, as children, would ride around the building in carts with Adelina and Felipe. The company’s reputation spread nationwide. That year, a Campbell Soup subsidiary, Casera Foods (no relation), acquired Caserita Enterprises of Miami for an undisclosed sum.
“They worked so hard and it was time for them to move on. Campbell wanted the product and offered a good deal. They decided it was time,” Di Paola said.
The sale gave the couple opportunities to partake of their adopted home.
“Miami was their hometown,” Di Paola said. “She loved the Marlins. My aunt was a No. 1 fan.” The new Little Havana stadium, too. “She loved it.”
Six years after Campbell bought Caserita, two entrepreneurs, Juan Monroy and Bruce Corson, bought the company.
“Caserita is a name that represents Miami, is representative of Cuban food,” Monroy, a Guatemala-native, said in a 1994 Miami Herald business story.
The products are still available at stores and various food outlets in South Florida and in Puerto Rico, New York, New Jersey, California, New Orleans and Chicago.
“Same packaging at Publix,” Di Paola said. “That name is growing strong.”
Fernández is survived by her husband, sisters Martha Di Paola and Georgina Rodríguez, nieces Carla and Jackeline Di Paola and Elizabeth Lugo and grand nieces and nephews.
Services were held.
Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.