Today, the owners of Durham’s Old Havana Sandwich Shop revealed to the INDY that plans for a new restaurant are finally in the works. COPA will open at 107 West Main Street by mid-February.
COPA, named after the family of co-owner and chef Roberto Copa Matos, will highlight an array of Cuban fare beyond the more popular pressed pork sandwiches we’re accustomed to. Much like Old Havana’s”Lost Dishes of Cuba” dinners, which we wrote about earlier this year, COPA’s menu will highlight the various cultural influences of Cuban cuisine that are often forgotten. The new restaurant will offer a variety of small plates and larger plates—like paella and arroz con pollo—that are meant to be shared. The bar will feature a full cocktail menu.
“The whole heart of the menu for the small plates is coming from these nineteenth-century Cuban dishes that we’ve been exploring and playing with, because they’re suited to the farm-to-table concept we’ve been committed to,” says Elizabeth Turnbull, who is married to Copa Matos and co-owns the business.
Of course, sustainably raised and local pork remains at the forefront.
“Pork will stay at the center of the menu, because you can’t do Cuban food without pork,” Turnbull says. “Roberto’s looking forward to working with smaller animals, like lamb and rabbit and duck and chicken. He likes the idea of tying it into things that are sustainable and reasonable for direct farm connections. When you read these old recipes, that’s what most people ate because that’s what they had in their backyard.” This new venture, however, means that Old Havana will close at least two weeks before COPA opens.
“Old Havana will be going away, but the best parts of Old Havana will be absorbed into COPA,” says Turnbull.
The kitchen at Old Havana currently runs on a small double oven and two stovetop burners. Copa Matos, a scientist by trade, is excited about conducting grander experiments in a bigger space, which was once occupied by Revolution restaurant. The total square footage is 5,500, with a seating capacity of eighty-five.
Turnbull says they’ll begin interior construction on the space by mid-December. They plan to open up the kitchen, she says, “so it’s flowing into the dining area, so we can keep that open connection that we have with our diners now.”