3 things to know about Havana Bama—community, culture and cuisine

Karlene Nazario is the woman behind Havana Bama. (Candace Ollis / Clo Photography)

Croqueta de jamon, pastelito de guayaba y queso, empanada de carne—have you ever eaten one of these in Huntsville? If you have, you probably got them from Karlene Nazario, owner of Havana Bama.

And if you got them from Karlene Nazario, you’re lucky to know her. Her positive energy is contagious, and she shares her love through food, bringing Cuban flavor to Huntsville.

We got the opportunity to chat with her about Havana Bama, and here’s what you need to know.

The cuisine—how it started

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Customers started calling them by their shapes. “I’ll take two circles and three triangles!” (Havana Bama / Website)

In March of 2018, Karlene Nazario, along with her husband and two children, moved to the Huntsville area. And that’s when Havana Bama started.

When she moved here, Karlene quickly started to miss the Cuban food she had grown up on.

“It was a need for me to create what I missed back home.”

Karlene Nazario, Owner of Havana Bama

“Back home” is Miami, Florida. She grew up in Miami, where her mother moved to from Cuba in 1961 (shortly after Fidel Castro took over). In Miami, Karlene ate pastelitos—pastries—for breakfast each morning.

Everything revolved around the kitchen in her home. One of her core memories is her grandmother being in the kitchen. She explained that it was a place of sharing—not just food, but stories. If she wanted to share something with her family, they were probably in the kitchen. So, things got shared in the kitchen and over croquetas and pastelitos.

When she came to Huntsville, there were no croquetas or pastelitos. She used to pick them up at bakeries in Miami, so she didn’t know how to make them.

“I didn’t grow up doing this. This was all new—I had to invent it.”

Karlene Nazario, Owner of Havana Bama

Having to learn it all herself didn’t stop her. She started cooking the food she loved and missed. By May 2018, two months after she moved here, she had a name for a business—Havana Bama.

The culture—watching it grow

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Karlene’s mother painted the wooden piece on the left. (Sarah Gronberg / Hville Blast)

The name Havana Bama combines the culture of Miami and Cuba (Havana) with Karlene’s new home (Bama). Her husband, Jonathan, came up with the name in an instant when she told him that she wanted the name to encapsulate both.

And that’s Karlene’s biggest motivation—”to keep the tradition going.”

“My need to continue traditions not just for myself but for my kids turned into this.”

Karlene Nazario

The culture goes deeper than just the food.

“I don’t want the language to be lost, the history to be lost, the culture, the music…”

Karlene Nazario, Owner of Havana Bama

Havana Bama reflects that desire to bring not just the food of Cuba and Miami, but also the culture, to Huntsville. Karlene sells items from other small business owners that reflect her culture.

You can find everything from little cafecito (Cuban coffee) mugs to Cuban bread-scented candles in her shop.

But let’s get back to the food—AKA Karlene’s love language. The food is what has grown the Havana Bama community.

BONUS: Looking for more international food in Huntsville? Here’s our guide.

The community—what it’s become

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I got to try these delicious pastelitos and wow. (Sarah Gronberg / Hville Blast)

Havana Bama is all about community. Karlene explained that her culture is very giving. So, when she started making the Cuban food she loved, it was only natural to share it.

She would give her pastries and coffee to the people at her apartment complex and at her daughter’s school, and the community has only grown from there.

Karlene loves hearing people’s reactions when they try her pastelitos and cafecito and when they come back for more. She loves getting to talk with customers and interacting with them on social media, getting to know them better and sharing in their accomplishments.

“It doesn’t end at the purchase—it continues. I get very much involved in their lives as much as they want me to!”

Karlene Nazario, Owner of Havana Bama

So, if you haven’t tried Havana Bama yet, you need to for three reasons. One, to try the amazing food (of course). Two, to experience the culture. And three, to meet Karlene—my personal favorite reason.

Here’s how!

Where you can get it now + in the future

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This menu is making me hungry. (Karlene Nazario)

Ready for a pastelito de guayaba y queso (a guava and cream cheese pastry—Karlene and her daughter’s favorite) or a croqueta de jamon (ham croquette—Karlene’s son’s favorite)? Havana Bama is at markets and festivals around town and offers delivery.

You can reach Karlene to make an order through email (on her website) or Instagram. She requests that people order at least 24 hours in advance of when they need it for her to prepare.

She’s most active on Instagram, where you can keep a close eye on events like markets and festivals that she’ll be set up at, too.

In the future, she hopes to open a ventanita like the ones in Miami. A ventanita is a little shop with a window where customers can walk up and grab Cuban pastries and coffee.

Karlene is looking to take that next step with Havana Bama by opening a ventanita. Having just left her part-time job, she’s ready to take Havana Bama to the next level. She’s doing it with the help of her little taste-tester, her son, and her little photographer, her daughter. As she grows her business and community, she says she has to give 100% to Havana Bama.

“It’s either do or do!”

Karlene Nazario, Owner of Havana Bama

To that we say, “Dale!” (a word that Karlene taught me).

Have you ever tried Havana Bama’s delicious pastelitos and cafecito? Let us know by tagging us on social media @hvilleblast or by using our hashtag #hvilleblast.

Sarah Gronberg
Sarah Gronberg
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