| Follow Us:


Cuban Heritage Inspires Cafe, Cuisine and Cooking Show

Editor's Note: Bmore Media is kicking off a two-part series on local female entrepreneurs who work in the food industry. We kick off with a profile of a Marta Ines Quintana, a woman who turned her Cuban heritage into a profitable business after getting laid off in 2008. Also in this issue, you will learn more about Nikki Lewis, who is banking on the public's appetite for a childhood treat. 
Next week: a trip to Iceland turned a Baltimore therapist into a entrepreneur selling skyr smoothies. What the heck is skyr? Check out our March 20 issue to find out. 

Marta Ines Quintana
Age: 54
Companies: Havana Road Artisanal Foods (line of salsas, and ready-made food) & Havana Road Cuban Café, 8 West Pennsylvania Ave., Towson
Number of Employees: 15 filled nine positions within the past year
Childhood Kitchen Memory: Pre-revolutionary Cuba, when food was scarce, even on the black market, her resourceful grandmother making meals from whatever was available.
Inspirational Foodie Book: “Cocina En El Hogar” (“The Kitchen In Our Home”), a 1932 cookbook for American women living in Cuba and featuring Cuban recipes.
Marta Ines Quintana had a successful career in corporate sales and marketing, steadily advancing up the executive ladder. Then the recession hit and, for the first time in her adult life, she was without a job.
It was not a happy period. “I spent six months being depressed,” says Quintana, a lively, attractive woman and Lutherville resident who is married to Dr. Timothy Herlihy and has three daughters.
After sending out resume after resume with nary a nibble, Quintana decided to pursue a different path. She’d always loved cooking and had taken innumerable cooking classes. After her family emigrated from Cuba to the U.S. in 1962, they had traveled widely and she was familiar with several different cuisines.
“I reinvented myself,” says Quintana, who parlayed her knowledge of Cuban food and marketing skills into a thriving business that she expects will make $1 million in sales next year. It includes a line of condiments, ready-made foods, catering and Havana Road Cuban Café in Towson.
On the horizon is a TV cooking show. Quintana has signed a letter of intent with Maryland Public Television for a Cuban cooking show. She says she can’t release any more details just yet because it is in the early stages.
She started Havana Road Arisanal Products in 2009, with an order from an order from a single Whole Foods store. Within three months, 15 Whole Foods carried the retail line, which includes Cuban black beans and rice, shrimp and rice and other prepared foods. Next, she added a wholesale line that she sold to Whole Foods for use in their prepared food bars.
But that move required a larger commercial kitchen than the one she’d been renting. Her search took her to Towson, where she created a commercial kitchen in a vacant former restaurant and, soon enough, noticed that the whole front of the space was empty.
She took advantage of that empty space to open Havana Road Cuban Café in 2010. It debuted to rave reviews from the local media and has been nominated in the Maryland’s Favorite New Restaurant category for the 2012 Restaurant Association of Maryland awards.
But like most such ventures, there are days when it’s packed and others when it’s not.  
“You have to have emotional strength,” says Quintana, who cashed out her retirement account to start and expand her business. But now, all divisions are operating at a profit, she says.
The two main challenges in the restaurant industry are getting enough cash to get through the first year of operation and a location that gets street traffic but is also near neighborhoods, says Marshall Weston, president and CEO of the Restaurant Association of Maryland.
But being an ethnic restaurant doesn’t limit the customer base. “Customers want a variety of choices,” says Weston. “We see lots of small, ethnic restaurants around the state that do well.”
Quintana is hardly resting on her laurels. She’s already done shows on local stations, hopefully a step towards a national audience as the Cuban Rachel Ray.
“I’m branding myself as the next Food Network chef,” she says.

Barbara Pash is Bmore Media's new innovation and jobs news editor. She can be reached at [email protected]. Pash is an award-winning journalist who has written for Maryland Life magazine, the Baltimore Business Journal and Maryland Reporter, where she is a contributing editor. 


Marta Ina Quintana, owner of Havana Road Cuban Café.

Cuban and American flags fly outside Havana Road Cuban Café.

Cuban and American flags fly outside Havana Road Cuban Café.

Ropa Vieja with black beans, rice and sweet plantains.

Coffee flan with caramelized pecans.

All photographs by STEVE RUARK

Signup for Email Alerts
Share this page
Signup for Email Alerts