A handful of family members and friends gathered last night at 8 p.m. at La Ermita de la Caridad to say goodbye to Raúl Galindo, the king of the Cuban sandwich. It was a sad, sudden end to what had been a lively life spent behind lunch counters in Havana, Chicago, and Miami.
Galindo passed away last week in Texas after undergoing a heart procedure. After several years away from the restaurant industry, he was preparing to open a new joint in Little Havana.
"He was a character," remembers business partner Robert Quintero. "He always had folklore, poetry and stories to tell you." Quintero says Galindo will live on in his recipes.
When we met Galindo for an article on his return to the sandwich biz, the 75-year-old introduced himself with a song.
"Yo no sé nada," he belted out in his trim beard, hipsterish Ray-Ban glasses, plaid shirt, and tie. A book of Cuban poetry was tucked under his arm. "Yo llegué ahora mismo. Si algo pasó, yo no estaba allí."
Galindo lived a rags-to-riches-to-rags life, complete with multiple messy divorces, hurricanes, fierce rivalries, scorned siblings, and battles with the IRS. But he was best known for two things: the chain of Latin American Cafés he opened in Miami with his brother Luis, and his strange sense of humor.
Quintero says he's heard dozens of stories of Galindo dressing up like Fidel or pretending to be homeless just to provoke a reaction.
"He would sleep alongside a church - lay on the ground for hours -- as a manifestation or protest," Quintero says. "He created the scene to see if they had the courage to give him shelter."
Sadly, the jovial singer and jokester was alone at the time of his death, Quintero says. Doctors at Mount Sinai had refused to operate on his heart condition for fear of complications, so Galindo went to Texas on his own. He survived surgery, only to die a few days later in a hospice. "He was always a rebel," Quintero says.
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Quintero adds that he is meeting with prospective investors and still hopes to open the restaurant -- Raúl Galindo's Original Latin American at 101 SW 12th Avenue -- some time this year.
"I learned a lot from Galindo," Quintero says. "Now we'll have to keep the business trucking without him."