Ozzy Llanes was born in Cuba in 1982 and came to the States in 1995, at the age of 13. Living in Miami first, he moved to Atlanta in 2010 with his parents and his wife Susan Dykstra, who is the CEO of Van Michael Salon. In August 2020 they opened Cubanos ATL, a to-go Cuban sandwich shop in Sandy Springs that was an instant success. Like many such restaurants in Cuba and Miami, Cubanos ATL operates from a custom-designed, house-like building with a window for customers, set up in the parking lot of a shopping center at 6450 Roswell Road . Llanes’s focus on ingredients includes buying bread from Florida’s La Segunda Central Bakery, in operation since 1915. For more information, see cubanosatl.com.
Cubanos ATL is in a house that you built yourself, right?
We just had this little house we were serving out of, with its own kitchen, but we’ve been going so fast that we had to get another, bigger kitchen. It’s almost two miles north on Roswell Road. My office is there. We had no choice but to open a bigger kitchen area because now we’re doing 150 to 200 sandwiches a day.
How’s it been so far?
It’s been incredible, since day one. We have the best neighbors in the best community in the world. The first day we opened was a Saturday which was a huge mistake. People were just ready to go. The first 40 minutes we sold 225 sandwiches. We were completely sold out, and from there it’s just been steady, so from that aspect it’s been really cool.
You’ve partnered with the oldest Cuban bakery in the country.
Yes. The bread is so important for the Cuban sandwich. We have three sandwiches on the menu and just to keep it consistent and fresh for each is hard. We make everything in one spot so I can control who is making the sandwiches on a daily basis. There’s no playing around with those things. If we need 300 sandwiches or a thousand we can figure it out, but we can make those a thousand times the same way, every day. We have the platform now, so we can do that.
You’ll be adding other items to the menu?
Sandwiches are our number one thing. We don’t want to do rice yet, which people ask for, or croquetas or pastelitos… It’s important for me that we don’t drop the ball with what we have now. Have you ever tried the Cuban steak sandwich, the palomilla? You put shoestring fries with it. It’s one of my favorite sandwiches but we would need to have a hood to be able to sear the steak, so we’ll do that when we’re ready. I don’t want to push it. Those are things we want to add in the future.
You have a flan on the menu — the Llanes Family Caramel Flan.
It’s the same way both my mom and my grandmother used to make it in Cuba. Flan is a weird dessert in that you can make it so many different ways. Adding half an egg changes the whole the whole way [it comes out]. There is no wrong way, which is awesome. It’s just the consistency. I had one the other day — it was Mexican-style flan and I couldn’t finish it. The taste was unbelievably good but it was all soft and that just freaks me out.
What about your coffee?
It’s authentic Cuban coffee. A lot of people are doing cortaditos but using the wrong coffee. They use Italian-style coffee beans, and it’s not going to taste the same. I don’t care if you make it exactly the same way, it doesn’t have the same feel. We’re definitely doing pretty good with the coffee.
Do you get Cubans coming in?
Yes, we’ve got a pretty large Cuban community. They tend to come more on the weekends. My everyday clientele is from this area — a mix of everybody. We’ve been going really fast but everything is working out.
What music are you currently playing in your kitchen?
“Buena Vista Social Club.” Cuban artists from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s reunited in 1999 and did a world tour. If you haven’t seen it, I strongly recommend watching the documentary.
And here’s another example of my roots: “Hubo Un Lugar” (“There Was A Place”) by Diego El Cigala and Bebo Valdez. As you know, most Cuban people are a mix of Spanish and African heritage. The pianist is Valdez, one of the top Cuban pianists in the world. The singer, Diego El Cigala, is from Spain. They did a documentary called “Lagrimas Negras” (“Black Tears”). It’s one of my favorites as well. I feel they really express the Cuban passion and flavor though this collaboration.