FAIR LAWN, N.J. — Borough resident Ben Rivero has opened a second Casual Habana location, this one in New Milford.
It seats 108 guests - nearly twice as many as the Hackensack location - and features a sparkling new bar.
"My approach is craft-everything," Rivero said. "My food is based on classic cooking techniques coupled with my life influence."
Rivero moved to the U.S. from Cuba with his family in 1980 when he was 9. He brought his grandmother's traditional recipes and ideals of hospitality with him.
Rivero learned the importance of effective customer service when he worked at his father's grocery store in Newark in the late '80s. He studied at New York City's Institute of Culinary Education in the 1990s.
"I only worked to learn how to run a kitchen," said Rivero, who trained at Zagat-rated restaurant Latour with Master Chef Michael Latour and at other highly acclaimed restaurants.
Despite his classic training, Rivero says his traditional Latin dishes are what keeps customers coming back.
"Empanadas are a staple at every hole-in-the-wall place," Rivero said. "I don't believe in $5 empanadas. They should only be about a buck.
"And now having a bar makes business so much easier," he added.
Rivero's grandmother passed away before her grandson learned to cook, but her name is part of the menu: Arroz con Pollo de la Abuelita.
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