Service with a smile, always, at “Smiles Coffee”!

Day 41, Central America trip, Dec 2012 – Feb 2013
Day 4, Granada, Nicaragua

Today is my 4th day in Nicaragua and I have woke up a bit earlier than normal to visit the bell tower of La Merced Iglesia (aka Merced church) as it is Sunday morning. I saw two common traits between Vietnam and Nicaragua: the swelling heat and the horn blowing from autos. Nicaraguan drivers, especially the taxi drivers, blow the horn at everything in sight. Thanks God, it’s not as loud and goose bump annoyance like Vietnam but its still a discomfort, nevertheless. My tentative plan in the morning was to visit some more Granada/Nicaragua’s landmarks after the climb up the La Merced Iglesia (aka Merced church) bell tower. However, the tropical heat has gotten the better of me. I changed my mind and started walking back to a nearby cafe I saw earlier to take refuge from the swelling heat and to also appease the noise my stomach were making by then.

Smiles Caffee: Cafe’ de las Sonrisas

Smiles Coffee; Cafe de las sonrisas

As a matter of fact, I’ve passed by this humble entrance of the cafe a few times before. The cafe is next door to the artisan hammock shop which I kept telling myself to return some other times. Being a predominantly Catholic country, most shop closed on Sunday as it is rest day. Luckily, the cafe is open. Once step inside the humble entrance, customer are greeted by an interesting news clip and article on the left wall. If you’re anything like me, my biggest complain about dinning experiences in the United States, in general is not the lack of service but the noise level. Add-on happy hours and you’re practically screaming on top of your lung and vice versa with your dinning companions.

Here come Smiles Cafe in the colonial city of Granada in Nicaragua that fill in the lack where other restaurants in the United States came short. When dinning at Smiles Cafe you are assured a pleasant, tranquil dinning experience surrounding beautiful garden where your waiter or waitress are never grumpy nor retaliate with nasty remarks but yet with a smile, always!

Smiles Cafe: the Americas’ first cafe managed by deaf-mute people.

Smile cafe: The America first cafe, managed by deaf and mute people

What an interesting discovery, by chance!

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Such a win-win set up. DSCN5596

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Being a tourist easy. Being a responsible tourist and having the power to dictate someone’s self integrity and social integration for people with  disability through your choice of where to dine, is powerful yet so easy. Smiles Cafe have a beautiful set up in such a cheery and bright space.

The cafe features a tropical garden in the center, even with hammocks

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Once I sat down, my waiter gave me a leaflet with some simple phrases in sign language (with pictures). The wall also have the large mural with sign language lesson.

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The menu is also brilliant.

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Your server (waiter/waitress) maybe both deaf-mute (in my case), the pictorial menu came in extremely handy.

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I am lactose intolerant, so I always have to ask extra questions about the ingredients that came with the food, and  double asked to make sure there’s no creme or cheese in my food, with the exception of pizza or cappuccino. Both item must be well cook so I can handle it. Here at Smiles Cafe’, all the ingredients for each entree/dish is listed on the menu. Should you not want an item, simply point it to the “not want” or X out small thumb print at the top.

I got a Spanish crash course from the stickers on the table while waiting for my food

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I first ordered a pineapple smoothie (without sugar/milk and with purified water only) for to go.

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Like any other restaurant, my coffee came later, even after I cancelled the smoothies but I accept the smoothies anyway, because I felt bad, but also I blamed it on my inability to communicate effectively with a mute-deaf waitress. Eh…user’s error, as I always say, lol!

I appreciated a mini carafe of milk that came with my order of the coffee. It looks more appealing to the eye and more presentable too.

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Tips: Central America coffee ordering is slight different from the USA.

  • If you order just coffee, by default, it will be black coffee (cafe negro), as it is least expensive on the menu.
  • If you want milk with your coffee, you must specify it with your server that you want coffee, with milk (cafe con leche). Extra charge applies for coffee with milk.
  • Don’t order coffee North American style and expected creme and sugar to come by default. There’s no creme (North American half & half style) served with coffee. Only milk is available which tasted like 1-2% fat. Tasted bland to me but a nice change if you don’t want black coffee.
  • If ordered cappuccino, and you preferred it Starbucks’ style (ie Guatemala), don’t forget to say no to the nasty extra stuff they sprinkle on top of the coffee like cinnamon, cardamon. It ruined many of my coffee experiences, because I sometimes forgot to say so and it became flavor coffee. I’m not a fan of flavored coffee.

My food finally came

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I know the food is nothing exciting but just an average, typical American breakfast consisted of fried eggs, bacon and toast. The Nicaraguan touch was the saute’ ensalada consisted of Julianne cabbage and carrots.

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As always, I am always supportive of NGO or organizations that improved our social and well being. Given the fact this is a restaurant operated by mute-deaf people, it has already earned a special place in my heart. However, in keeping truth to my “Restaurant Review” series, I would still subjectively review both the pluses and the not so pluses of this restaurant.

Pluses:  

  • A diverse, international menu to choose from.
  • Each dish/entree actually listed all the ingredients that came in the entree. This is a ++ in my opinion, particular for people with food allergy or sensitivity to certain ingredient.
  • Pictorial, bilingual (English/Spanish) menu is without doubt, very helpful for folks with limited command of the Spanish language.
  • Spacious restaurant, well laid out space and clean.
  • Excellent employment integration/opportunity for those with disability.
  • Open on Sunday
  • Steps away from La Merced church so if you’re visiting the church bell tower in the morning time, save your appetite for breakfast here.
  • Next door to the handmade hammock place (by the same organization) where you can have a hammock made by your specification. Great gift idea.

Minus: 

  • Since I ordered both the coffee and smoothie (by mistake). I wanted to take the smoothie away because I was full from having a breakfast and coffee. They didn’t have that option (or maybe my new sign language lesson is too bad that the waitress didn’t understand). So, I sat there, tried my best to finish my smoothie and I didn’t enjoy that experience at all. And no, I don’t waste food, especially after I see how local people live.
  • The saute’ vegetable was under seasoned (no salt). I have a pretty sensitive taste bud (not as much after my oral surgery) but having to shake salt from the table do not taste the same if it were prepared by the chef. The cooking steam is done so shaking the salt by yourself will not even out the flavor.
  • I requested “no sugar” in my smoothies. It came with load of sugar.

Total spent: 130 Cordobas/$5.42 USD (breakfast, coffee with milk, 1 smoothie)

Usually, I’m a pretty easy going person that don’t sweat the small stuff but became a completely different when it comes to food. Smiles Cafe could have been perfect if it were not for the few minor inconsistency listed in the “minus” section above. I think these are easy fixes and could make future diners’ experience becomes perfect. Overall, I would return to this restaurant again if I’m ever in the area. Besides, it’s a genius idea, and a win-win set up where you can get great meal in a nice, tranquil ambiance and help support people with disability.

Dirección: Calle Real Xalteva, Iglesia de la Merced, media cuadra al Este
Granada, Nicaragua
Tel: +(505) 8559 8315
Email: contacto@tioantonio.org
Face: centro social tio Antonio
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