Alphonse “Al” Karborani was a little boy when he and his family had to flee from their home in Bethlehem to Jerusalem and then to Amman, Jordan, when he was 16.
Karborani, a Palestinian refugee, was constantly paralyzed by the sounds around him.
Explosions. Gunshots. Wailing cries.
He could not escape war and yearned to find a normal life.
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Now Karborani, 64, owns Al’s Coffee Shop, a little restaurant tucked away inside the 2121 Ponce De Leon building, in what appears to be a bank lobby. It doesn’t have a sign outside, but anyone who works or lives in Coral Gables knows about Al and his small shop that consists of six tables and 18 seats, where they offer a wide variety of menu items that include American, Cuban, Middle Eastern, Italian and Asian inspired dishes.
As creators of the daily recession special featuring the “recession sandwich” (a sandwich that normally costs $5.50 for $3.75) and the “bail-out salad” (a salad marked down from $6.50 to $4.95), this family-owned-and-operated coffee shop is now celebrating 18 years in business by promoting their adopted Miami heritage with “Croqueta Party Tuesdays.”
For the past two months on Tuesdays, Al’s Coffee Shop serves ham croquettes, a small, oval shaped cylinder of minced ham, rolled in eggs, bread crumbs and fried, for 25 cents.
It has been so successful that Al’s Coffee Shop now plans to start also offering chicken croquettes, so that non-pork eating community members can join the party.
“I may not be Cuban, or Latin, but I consider myself one by association. From being raised in Miami, I’ve learned you simply can’t have a party without croquetas. It’s a staple that belongs to this city,” said Justin Karborani, 33, Al’s son and creator of Croqueta Party Tuesdays. “For just a few minutes, or a few hours, our customers can come and join our party and forget about their daily work stress.”
On a recent Tuesday, Jorge Venerio, a customer-relations manager for Transportation America, started off his day with breakfast and four croquettes – but took out 38 more.
“I come frequently to have lunch or breakfast, but on Tuesdays, I come and buy about 30 croquetas at a time to distribute at the office,” said Venerio, 36. “Every Tuesday, I’m the favorite guy at the office. When I walk in, everyone’s like, ‘Hey! What do you have there?’”
Al Karborani would never have imagined he’d be hosting Croqueta Party Tuesdays 46 years ago when he went into exile and peace was only a dream to him.
In 1969, at age 17, he decided he had had enough of war.
“My only escape was when I dreamt of a life in the United States of America,” said Karborani. “I wanted to study in peace and raise my own family in peace, so I said goodbye to my parents, sisters and brothers, and I left to the United States.”
Karborani booked a connecting flight from Jordan to Miami to Oklahoma City, where he had two older brothers.
But he never continued his flight to Oklahoma. Once he landed in Miami, he decided he couldn’t leave “The Magic City.”
Times were challenging for Karborani upon his arrival. He got by by pumping gas at a local station and by sleeping in his car while studying at Miami Dade College where he earned a degree in medical technology, which led him to a 25-year career with Baxter Diagnostics.
In 1995, the company moved to Germany. At the time, Karborani had a wife and three children and refused to put his family through the stress of migrating, a pain he knew too well.
Moving was not an option.
“There were days when all I had to eat was tomato paste and bread,” he said. “I know what it’s like to be hungry. I know what it’s like to want something delicious and appetizing to eat and to not have the money to buy it. That’s why I do what I do.”
The Croqueta Party now sells an average of 1,000 croquettes every Tuesday, and it’s expanding.
Al’s daughter, Dena Karborani, invented and sells an omelet made out of eggs, croquettes and potato sticks.
“My brother and I like keeping things fun by combining creativity with what our customers like,” said Dena Karborani, 30.
Vilma Urquiza, a long-time customer, agrees.
“My daughter had Secret Santa at her school and all her Secret Santa kept on asking for was croquetas from Croqueta Tuesdays,” said Urquiza, laughing. “The croquetas just make Tuesdays more fun.”
If you go
What: Croqueta Party Tuesdays
Where: Al’s Coffee Shop, 2121 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables (inside the 1st United Bank building)
Hours: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays
Orders: Orders for pick-up or delivery can be placed by calling 305-461-5919 or online at http://alscoffeeshop.com/.