DO IT YOURSELF
Viva Cuba began when Seb McGowan and Michael Cook, friends from early school days, who after university back packed round the world, worked in bars and restaurants in Leeds and Australia and then decided to take the plunge and set up on their own business.
Their first restaurant, Viva Cuba, opened in May 2001 in Leeds on Kirkstall Road in the premises of the former Yorkshire Bank.
A frantic exercise in “do it yourself ” preceded the launch of Viva Cuba, Seb and Michael took off for Cuba determined to research every bar and restaurant in Old Havana – what a sacrifice! – and returned to Leeds laden with paintings, artifacts and photographs.
They stripped the old bank premises from top to bottom , did all their own interior design, and acquired all their furniture second hand. The chairs came from the closure of a local Methodist Church with places for bibles and hymn books – ideal for restaurant menus.
A proud possession of Viva Cuba is the display of the signature of Fidel Castro personally collected by Seb’s grand mother, Stella, who was born in Santiago de Cuba and met Fidel when he was a young lawyer.
The original ground floor restaurant has since been extended and with the addition of a balcony and private dining area we can accommodate up to 100 customers.
Viva Cuba is popular with local residents, journalists, politicians, Leeds United and Leeds Rhinos players and Yorkshire cricketers.
It is a favourite port of call for visitors from Cuba, the Cuban embassy in London, actors and musicians from the Grand Theatre and West Yorkshire Playhouse and diners regularly enjoy the music of the famous Cuban jazz violinist, Omar Puente, who is now a teacher at the Leeds College of Music.