Welcome to The NC EAT & PLAY Podcast. Today, we will be talking to Randy Hernandez, owner of Casa Cubana & Rum Bar and Red Monkey, which are both locally-owned restaurants here in Raleigh.
I started NC Eat & Play to highlight and celebrate local businesses, establishments and “worth-the-trip” destinations in North Carolina. Growing up here, I love the fact that we’re helping thousands of locals discover great local food finds and activities curated for sensible budgets and everyday play.
A Look Back at the Week
I recently went to Apex Community Park and let me just say, it’s so incredibly beautiful there. We hiked a trail that surrounded a lake and it made me so happy. It’s stroller-friendly and has tons of different paths to choose from. There were a lot of people enjoying this park, but everyone practiced social distancing really well.
I have a new favorite savory food truck to share with you! Arepa Culture is consistently ranked and nominated as one of North Carolina’s greatest food trucks and they have definitely earned it! Their arepas are just packed with meat and they were AMAZING.
Did You Know? I’m Passionate About Mac & Cheese
Today’s DID YOU KNOW is about MY LOVE OF MAC AND CHEESE!!! That shouldn’t come as a big surprise since I love southern food, comfort food and of course, cheese!
If you’re familiar with the area, then you know that you can’t bring up mac & cheese without thinking about James Beard Award Winning Chef, Ashley Christensen. One of her popular restaurants, Poole’s Diner in downtown Raleigh, has the best mac & cheese that I’ve ever had. It’s actually a mac & cheese au gratin and it is famous for good reasons. I dream about this dish and crave it all the time. And DID YOU KNOW that her famous mac & cheese recipe is available in Garden & Gun? That’s a huge score and I’m thrilled about this. I’m definitely going to try it out and I’ll let you know how it goes. Post below on how it went.
Ashley Christensen is not only an amazing American chef, but she’s also a restaurateur, author, and culinary celebrity. She won the James Beard Award Best Chef Southeast in 2014 and in 2017 received Eater’s Best Chef in the Nation award. She was among the five finalists in 2018 for the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef. Last year in 2019, she won Outstanding Chef. Along with Poole’s Diner, Ashley owns several Raleigh restaurants including Death & Taxes, Beasley’s Chicken + Honey and Poole’side Pies. Definitely check them out!
The Main Course
Today, I’m excited to welcome and speak with Randy Hernandez, owner of Casa Cubana & Rum Bar and Red Monkey. These are both locally-owned restaurants located in Raleigh, NC and doing some amazing things for the community.
Casa Cubana & Rum Bar features authentic home-style Cuban food, similar to the famous food you would find in Miami. Red Monkey features pub fare with global influences & cocktails with whimsical decor. I’ve tried both of these restaurants and I love them both.
Randy Hernandez was the first-ever collaboration I ever did with NC Eat & Play. I only had NC Eat & Play for about a month when Randy reached out and invited me to Casa Cubana & Rum Bar. Randy is very well known in the area, so I was super excited to meet him and try the food. He definitely knows what he’s doing and has some awesome food. His restaurants are also very family-oriented.
The phone system at Casa Cubana has been upgraded with 5 phone lines to help keep up with the takeout order demand. This way, they won’t miss any calls from customers and you’ll never hear a busy signal. Who doesn’t love that?
Randy’s go-to at Red Monkey, which is located in Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh is actually the mac & cheese! Of all the restaurants in the mall, Red Monkey is the only one that is family-owned and is actually surrounded by restaurant chains. When Randy first purchased Red Monkey, he did keep some of the original recipes and menu, including the mac & cheese because it was so delicious.
COVID-19 has definitely affected the restaurant business and Randy and his team had to adapt to the changing times. In addition to adding the additional phone lines, he also opened up the drive-thru window and additional parking to accommodate curbside pickup orders. They also added a delivery program, where some of the servers are now delivering orders too. Casa Cubana went from being a dine-in only restaurant and quickly adapted to offer other options for customers. They also have a grocery store within the restaurant! How cool is that?!
After working with local vendors, they are able to offer groceries to customers at a lower price point. So, customers can come by and purchase bulk items of raw meats such as chicken or beef, all prepacked from the vendors. This also helps eliminate additional food handling as well as offering some savings to customers. So, you can order a family-style dinner from Casa Cubana and also pick up your groceries at the same time. They also offer a popular mojito mix and beer as well as paper towels and other household items. It’s a one-stop-shop and a way to enjoy delicious food while getting the necessities you need.
Currently, Randy is offering 2 different packages for families at Casa Cubana. On Thursdays, they offer a Tacos To Go Package, where they provide you with all of the ingredients including tortilla shells, your choice of meat, toppings, and sides. They provide you with everything, no cooking required, and all you have to do is have fun assembling tacos with your family. It’s a great way to spend more time with your family and enjoy the extra time together while devouring tasty tacos. Awesome, right?! Casa Cubana means “Cuban House” and they truly want you to feel at home and like family.
Even during these difficult times, Randy has been extra mindful of the community and trying to look out for others while supporting the local community. Every Wednesday, Randy picks a different company or medical facility and donates food to the first responders and essential workers. It started off with supporting the hospitals and has expanded even further due to online donations from customers. The combination of donations from their generous customers, along with Randy’s contributions has allowed them to also offer additional lunches to essential workers and to help families with lunches for kids. Randy notes that not many have participated in the kid’s lunch program yet and hopes that more parents reach out if needed. Randy and his team are ready to help kids in need of lunch, so please reach out to Randy if you need a little extra help during these difficult times.
For Randy and his team, it’s been amazing to see the community come together and help each other. For instance, there’s a local painter in the area, Fernando that comes into Casa Cubana every other week and randomly picks a company to donate lunch too. It’s a team effort and community effort and Randy is looking to help out more. If you have a recommendation of a facility that you know could use some lunch, just give Randy a call.
It’s also been amazing for Randy to see many of the local restaurants and businesses come together and support each other. It’s about collaborating and working together to benefit and help each other.
Randy is originally from New York and has always been into development. About 9 years ago, Randy’s brother who resides in Wake Forest mentioned that there was a restaurant for sale. He never really thought about owning a restaurant, but always made empanadas with his daughters and always talked about opening up an empanada store together. Randy, ready to make a change from the busy NYC lifestyle decided to relocate and purchased the restaurant. He soon opened up another one and eventually sold them both to purchase Red Monkey. At the time, there weren’t any Caribbean restaurants in the triangle area and the community was looking for some options, which led to him opening up a Latin night club.
Although the restaurant business is incredibly challenging, Randy LOVES what he does. He feels incredibly blessed and recognizes that this has been a team effort with extraordinary support from his family, friends, staff and community.
For more information about Red Monkey Latin Fusion Kitchen
For more information about Casa Cubana Restaurant & Rum Bar
I want to thank you for listening to this podcast. I always like to end every show by asking for your willingness to support local businesses as much as you can. I really hope that the information we share is of benefit to you and encourages you to support, shop, dine, explore and play more, locally.