Havana’s state-run food establishments obsessed with repairs but not services

Havana’s state-run food establishments obsessed with repairs but not servicesHAVANA, Nov. 6th (HT)  Even though a large number of establishments used during the last half a century by the state-owned food service sector were leased out or managed by cooperatives, over 50% still remain under government control.

The process seems to have come to a standstill due to different complications, however, the main story here is that there is an obsession when it comes to repairing and then remodeling these bars, restaurants and cafes again and again.

A good example is that of the El Camaguey cafe/bar on Santo Tomas Street in the La Victoria neighborhood in Central Havana. Guillermo, a neighbor, said: “I’ve been living here for over 30 years, I have seen them change the bar and alter the internal structure at least three times, in a nutshell, before they used to sell cooked food and the place was always busy, now they only sell cigarettes and shots of rum.”

“It seems like they are always repairing El Camaguey, God knows why and what for!” Another person added next to Guillermo. A widespread suspicion popped up in our conversation although this isn’t about directly accusing the successive administrators of the above-mentioned cafe.

The reality is that repairing is a lucrative business, they allocate materials and a lot of them end up far from the place where the remodeling work is taking place.

New opinions surface when visiting other places, such as the Toledo restaurant on the corner of Barcelona and Aguila streets, also in Central Havana. It really does have a beautiful interior, which recalls the Spanish city that shares the same name.

There are even two beautiful stained glass windows, miraculously conserved after more than 60 years, recreating the hundred-year-old buildings which were the royal city on the Tagus River’s shores.

 Havana’s state-run food establishments obsessed with repairs but not services

Entrance to a State-run cafeteria on Carlos III St. at 1:00 p.m.

The story goes that a new administrator came and decided to make repairs, to change internal structures, build unnecessary walls and luckily the pretentious building works didn’t continue as he was sent somewhere else.

Even though El Toledo falls in the “Luxury Restaurant” category, regular customers believe that far from improving, there are now less things on offer and a lot of the time they just open up the snack bar because the dining hall doesn’t have anything to offer.

Talking to the retired accountant Eugenio Andres, he gives us a vital clue to the problem that exists in the city: State distribution is completely centralized, menus depend on business decisions which are still under superior orders that stem from restricted deliveries. If there is or isn’t anything, according to what has been decided, is the only thing an administrator can do.”

“The conclusion is that, without the possibility of personal initiative or other sources of supplies, which are impossible and even banned, there is always the option of building. Designated materials in the budget need to be used so as to justify their use, ensuring new allocations,” the interviewee concluded.

It used to be custom (now an abandoned practice) to put statistics from years ago on an information board where the public could look at it, setting out saily and monthly sale targets. In the cases observed, statistics revealed that over 70% of what needed to be sold was cigars, cigarettes and alcoholic beverages, in fact pure food establishments were and are minimal.

The other side of this devalued currency is the leased out stores or those managed by cooperatives, where workers and bosses take full control of management. They receive poorly-managed establishments from the State and do what they can to remodel them – just once because you can’t give yourself the luxury of remodeling too much – investing what the food service generates to improve services and put more products on sale.

So many problems are also created, combined with complaints because they need to get supplies from the retail market (for a lack of a wholesale market), causing an inevitable hike-up of prices. This subject deserves a follow-up article, but right now there is one question: Wouldn’t be better to donate the materials allocated to the state-run food service sector to the thousands of victims left behind by the hurricane, building collapses and fires?