FINE DINING

LINDA'S LA CANTINA: A SAFE CHOICE

By FRANCISCO GONZALEZ

 

We went to a classic Orlando establishment, Linda’s La Cantina, which first opened in 1947 and has been known for their amazing steaks. Linda's is located on the edge of Baldwin Park. Before Baldwin Park existed, it was a Naval Air Station and they served servicemen and women here for years. Their walls pay tribute to those military veterans and their history here in Orlando. Due to the pandemic, Linda’s La Cantina was closed on their anniversary - March 17 which is St. Patrick's Day. In their entire history, they have never had to close like this. Like all restaurants in (most of) Florida, Linda's can only be at less than normal capacity. It’s tough for any restaurant to survive this way, but the owner, Karen (Al & Linda’s daughter) has been running the place since she took it over in 1984.      

 

Linda's daughter Karen worked her way up from the bottom to the top. She began as a server and then became not only the Vice President of the company but eventually the owner of the restaurant. Her mother Linda passed roughly ten years ago but the steaks still taste as good as they did in 1947. Karen's family came from German lineage and many of their secret recipes derive ingredients from their heritage. Her grandparents, Edie and Rudy, lived in Louisville, KY and were originally jewelers. Her parents bought Linda's La Cantina from the D'Agostino family who also owned a restaurant on 17-92 called Villa Nova Restaurant.       

 

A fire in 1994 nearly wiped out the business and the family. In the end, the family's faith and perseverance led to the preservation of their restaurant. Karen credits her grandfather's strong faith in God to his success. When asked about his deepest held belief Karen said: "My grandfather always said, 'In life, when you help people, whenever you see one little thing you can do that's the most important thing.'" Near the end of the meal, she came by and chatted with us for nearly a half hour, telling us stories and answering our questions. People like her are like libraries full of stories and history.         

 

Linda's La Cantina has 31 full-time people on staff here and they’ve been able to hold on to all of them. She applied for the PPP loan but nothing has come in yet, but she’s hopeful they will get something - 75% of the government grant will go to payroll for her staff. After just a few days of being reopened, Karen told us she feels like they will survive and we will all be fine. People are not afraid to come out and eat there. In fact, she has had to turn people away to keep with the lesser capacity rule. Linda’s La Cantina takes reservations and we had to come here late on one of the initial nights the dining establishment re-opened. The rest of the week, they are only available for 4:00pm and 9:00pm reservations. All other times are booked! During the shut down, they took the opportunity to paint the veranda outside and install some new designer “backs” to those booths, which are usually more open between tables. These booth backs provide an additional way to keep everyone safe and more socially distant. There’s probably a reason they’ve been in business for over 73 years. They have thought of every way to survive and keep the secret family recipe alive for patrons like us.       

 

During the first week restaurants were re-opened after the Coronavirus shutdown, we took the opportunity to dine out at a restaurant every day to support these local businesses and their wait staff, but this one was probably the most special one - and we came dressed for the occasion! In fact, this was the first opportunity I had to wear my new sport coat which I had ordered before the pandemic! It finally got some mileage tonight. Thank you to the Editor for introducing me to Linda's La Cantina.

 

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