Miami takes its food seriously, and the evidence of a changing neighborhood comes when supermarkets and shops start to stock their shelves with the favorite products of the most recent wave of immigrant arrivals.
The Farm Stores, a chain that opened in Florida in 1957 to offer drive-through sales, especially of milk products, became known as La Vaquita — The Little Cow — when Cuban immigrants started arriving in South Florida.
Today, the Farm Stores offer Cuban coffee and buttered toast — their best sellers at the drive-through windows from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., according to employees. They also offer South American and especially Venezuelan food, reflecting the demographic transformation of the neighborhoods and the arrival of new communities.
“I have only two flans left, but I have chicken, beef and ham and cheese empanadas,” an employee at the Farm Stores at 1800 SW Third Ave. told el Nuevo Herald.
“The Venezuelan products, the tequeños, the cachitos de jamón, are selling very well,” she said, adding that the Colombian pan de bono and arepas were also popular.
Judging from the many customers at the shop, between the Roads and Brickell areas, many Miamians don’t go into the city’s financial district without first eating one of their national snacks.
Ceviche, a dish largely identified with Peru and Chile, also has found shelf space in the Farm Stores. There’s fish and mixed versions made by King Fish Wave and sold for just over $6, making for a fast and healthy lunch. It’s also a good offering for a friend’s party.
Leonardo Saínz has worked for two years at the Farm Stores in Miami Springs, a mostly Anglo area where the number of Hispanics is rising.
“The ‘Americans’ who come here ask for a colada or a cafe con leche,” he said.
His experience working in five Farm Stores has given him a front row seat to the changing preferences of his clients.
“The best seller is the bread, the one with the cheese, which is special to the Farm Stores: the Cuban bread, which some clients take with butter; and the baguette, because we have a special of two for $3,” he said.
Saínz used to work at the Farm Stores on 29th Street and West 6th Avenue in Hialeah, where he said the shop could sell up to four boxes of Cuban bread in a single morning.
The Farm Stores on SW Eighth Street and 47th Avenue is one of the busiest in the area, he said.
“The work there never stops. It’s one car after another,” said Saínz, adding that the neighborhood is predominantly Hispanic and that Venezuelan products are popular.
Luis Fernando Páez, owner of the Miami Springs franchise, said the parent company allows owners to select the products they sell in their stores, as long as they meet quality standards.
The franchises sell for an initial investment of $50,000 to $250,000, and owners can buy a working store or build a new one.
Páez,who owns another Farm Stores in Hialeah Gardens, stressed that the critical part of the business was winning the trust of his clients.
“We usually try a new product once a week,” said the Ecuadorean businessman, whose partner is his wife Paulina Pozo.
The Farm Stores, under the slogan “Always fast, Always fresh, Always friendly,” have survived in Florida for 60 years and recently expanded to Houston, New Jersey and New York’s Hudson Valley.
The Farm Stores also offer items from local producers and distributors such as bocaditos de helado, an ice cream favored by several generations of Cubans that come in traditional versions such as strawberry and chocolate — and dulce de leche and mantecado for other Latinos.
The ones sold by the Farm Stores in Miami Springs are made by The Snack Place, a small business in western Hialeah.
“I buy them for my granddaughters,” said Amaris Caballero, who drives from her home in southwestern Miami to visit the girls.
Lucia, another Farm Stores regular, said she would like the store to add Nicaraguan products such as quesillos — a cheese-topped tortilla.
“What I really like is that I don’t have to get out of my car,” Lucia said.